Top of the class
AS A child, Ng Mei Ling would sit in her chair and try to lean as far back as she could. Her late grandparents, worried that she would fall over, often chided her for it. The 22-year-old wasn't being mischievous, but shifting about in the chair marked the start of her interest in furniture design. "Maybe I was subconsciously testing out the design of the chair," says Ms Ng, a graduate from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa). She majored in furniture design for her diploma in 3D Design course.
She is soon to embark on a one-year course to earn a degree in 3D Design at Nafa, which would allow her to explore other areas in design.
Ms Ng says that since young, furniture has always fascinated her. "Other kids would play with toys, but I loved playing with furniture, such as a rocking stool," she says. "It is my dream to start my own firm one day, designing children's furniture."
Her parents expected her to enter university after obtaining her A levels but Ms Ng had other ideas. "They were not supportive of me pursuing design, but I managed to convince them otherwise," she says. Her parents set a condition: if she wanted to pursue design, she had to be the best in her cohort. Ms Ng topped her furniture major class.
Where possible, Ms Ng worked in elements of playfulness and interaction into the designs she created during her three-year diploma course. In her second year, she designed the Breathe Lamp, a table lamp with a balloon wrapped over a bulb, and instead of a dimmer, a pump controls the intensity of the light. Another creation is the Stock and Scion set/Floor Lamp+Coat Hanger & Chair with side table, which was part of an exercise where design students were asked to think as scientists. She was inspired by the various grafting methods employed by botanists. The stock and scion is a floor lamp inbuilt with a coat hanger and a chair with a side table that similarly uses tying methods and "V" shaped joints to graft new elements onto old and discarded furniture.
For her final year project, Ms Ng designed the "Tri cycle" Lounge Chair, which "took me out of my comfort zone". In the exercise in combining different materials, Ms Ng chose to work with sawdust composite, but "it was a frustrating process finding the right materials," she says. Her chair features a seat which juxtaposes a hard plastic and sawdust composite material against soft plastic.
Students' works are showcased at annual exhibitions and sometimes put up for sale. But Ms Ng finds her pieces too precious to sell. "There is a great sense of achievement when I see that this piece of furniture was made by my hands and not from some factory," she says. "My works are like treasures to me."
LIKE most of his peers, Benson Lee thought product design was just about creating beautiful objects. But a diploma course in product and industrial design at Temasek Polytechnic showed him otherwise. "Design itself is about improving lives, and it touches on many aspects of our daily lives," says Mr Lee, 25.
His keen interest in design led him to pursue a degree programme in product design at Lasalle College of the Arts after serving NS. "The course structure at Lasalle takes a different approach to design. It helps me to think creatively as a designer through projects that include design theory, marketing strategies and psychological approaches," says Mr Lee, who graduated from Lasalle last year with a BA honours in product design.
While at the college, Mr Lee racked up a fairly impressive list of achievements. Among his awards are a silver at the Crowbar Awards last year for a health monitoring kit, a red dot design concept award for his personal disaster pack.
He says his parents, like many other Singaporean parents, questioned his choice of study, and preferred that he take the safer routes and study business or engineering. "But I could not see myself doing that for the next 40 years and I did not want to regret later in life for not pursuing my interest," he says.
His parents' worries are unfounded. Mr Lee is now a design assistant at Porsche Design Studio Singapore, part of Porsche Design Group Asia. The design consultancy firm designs luxury items such as aircrafts and boats, as well as fashion, travel and home items under the Porsche label. He is the first and only Singaporean designer in Porsche Design.
Despite his youth, he speaks like an old pro when it comes to what good design is about. "A well designed product enable users to operate it like it is second nature to them. You know a product is well designed when people take it for granted," he says. "Good design does not follow trends, it is timeless. And good design does not scream in your face, it makes you feel comfortable."
He counts German designer Dieter Rams and Naoto Fukasawa of Japan as his design heroes, because "what they do makes sense".
Making life interesting
HE is 20 years old, and soon to enlist in National Service, but Jarron Tham has big ambitions, one of which is "to make Singapore and the world a better and more beautiful place to live in".
The Temasek Polytechnic product and industrial design graduate chose design "because I knew it would sharpen my mind to be sensitive to the world around me and see beyond what we perceive as 'it is', as opposed to 'it can be'".
Before he heads to army next month, Mr Tham is working at Digimagic Communications, in the experiential media department doing product design for exhibitions. His dream is to work at Ideo, the award-winning global design firm. "I firmly believe in Ideo's philosophy for innovation in design. They do myriad projects and I don't like to be stuck on a project for too long," he says.
Mr Tham, who was part of the team that designed last year's National Day Parade Funpack, also hopes to one day develop his own line of lifestyle products. "The world needs more mavericks to make life for everyone more interesting."
Some of his memorable works include a project for social enterprise Saught, where active unexploded bombs from Cambodia are taken and melted into jewellery. Mr Tham designed several jewellery pieces for Saught. Another is Savour, a wine set that comes with a corkscrew, a wine pourer and wine stopper. There is also the Wish Bottle, a fragrance diffuser and bathroom lamp, that tilts, resembling a bottle bobbing in the sea.
He says his dream product is one for the roads. "I want to be the one to design an electric motorcycle that everyone can ride safely, effectively and stylishly, in an environment that sees smoother traffic and responsible environmental impact."
Less is more
DON'T be surprised if a few years down the road, the next light that you buy is one designed by Aaron Lim, a graduate from NTU's School of Art, Design and Media.
"I am fascinated with light and its interaction with humans," he says.
No surprise then that his final year project is a lighting project, Crepuscularis, that envisions design as a way of waking the human consciousness towards the self, the senses and the mind. The title is inspired by the emotive quality of the crepuscular rays that occur during the hours around dawn and dusk when the contrasts between light and darkness are most significant.
Crepuscularis is a trio of lamps called Sanctum, Mirage and Eclipse. Sanctum is a table lamp but resembling an altar, giving the surrounding space a spiritual aura.
The floor lamp Mirage mixes light with water. It has a miniature fan unit that when switched on, creates a water rippling effect.
Meanwhile, the hanging lamp Eclipse casts circular shadows on both the ceiling and the ground due to the chrome reflective ellipse that rises and sinks to create an inverse play of light and shadow.
Mr Lim, 25, is currently a 3D junior technical designer at Design Bridge Asia, an international branding and design agency. He helps to create products and packaging for brands, and 3D equities, which are 3D identities that consumers often rely on to associate and recognise a brand, such as the shape of a Coca Cola bottle.
His interest in design started when he was a child. "With time, I was increasingly fascinated with products, their function, and their aesthetics. I love objects around me, and the only way to love them more is to make them myself."
Mr Lim strongly abides by German designer Dieter Ram's 10th principle of good design which states that good design is as little design as possible.
"Less is better because the design then concentrates on the essential aspects, and the product is not burdened with non-essentials," says Mr Lim. "Yet this does not mean the designer does less, in fact, he would have done more to bring design back to basics."
IF YOU have ever needed to use a crutch, you know how difficult it is to get around and yet still be able to carry your personal belongings. Remembering how his friend faced that problem some years ago, Soo Woei Perng decided to design a walking aid for those with lower limb injuries. FreeMo, short for Freedom to Move, works as a prosthetic leg. The hands-free device is strapped to the user's thighs, leaving the hands free for carrying stuff.
Mr Soo, 20, a product design and innovation graduate from Ngee Ann Polytechnic, chose product design as his choice of study as he found designing "very fun and rewarding as it can help to shape the future of products".
He will be taking FreeMo to compete in South Korea's iCreate, an international convention on rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology. He has not been in talks with manufacturers to produce FreeMo but "I would hope that it can hit the market as it is a revolutionary product that will assist users in walking", he says.
Mr Soo is currently helping out at the poly's school of Design and Environment to visualise and design the Design Resource Lab, before he heads off for National Service.
And when he joins the work force later, he hopes to join a design firm that focuses on consumer products. He strongly believes that a well-designed product can improve the lives of its users. "But at the same time, it must be functional while not compromising on aesthetics."
For example, a coffee maker that he designed as part of his course work looks nothing like a conventional one. Instead it looks like a twin headed snake. "Looks-wise, the coffee maker is a talking point, and I designed it to have two dispensing points, so that two persons can simultaneously enjoy freshly brewed coffee," he explains.
His dream however is to design cars. Last year, he designed an eco car which is powered by fuel cells for a competition.
"My dream car will look like a BMW but paired with the detailing of a Lamborghini."
Helping the needy
LIOW Wei Ting believes that she can do more than donate money to help the needy. She wants to improve their lives through design. She is not quite sure exactly how she will do that but says, "I want to design something to help them. Design is widely believed to enhance life, to make good things better. But I hope design can bring about better living conditions to others who are really in need."
The 25-year-old is currently a design researcher at the National University of Singapore's division of industrial design.
As a child, she loved art and craft, "creating things with my hands, and I thought product design would be interesting", she says. After obtaining a diploma in product design and innovation at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, she went on to study industrial design at NUS. "I enjoy exploring innovations, creating solutions with 2D sketching, 3D modelling, and prototyping, and simulation. Now, I can create objects that enlighten both the lives of others and myself," says Ms Liow.
She has since designed Fil'o, which alerts deaf parents to their children's cries. Fil'o is a watch for the parent, a toy for the child, and a standing lamp to place within the house. A sound detector at the child's toy detects sound from the child and transmits the information to the watch display through graphics and vibration. When the detected sound reaches a certain sound level, different rhythms of vibration will be activated to alert the parent. A blinking lamp would also alert the parent at night. And if you are the sort who multi-tasks while eating, Ms Liow's Tupperwork would come in handy. This lunchbox has a deep and round bowl, allowing food to settle in the centre. It also has a sloping side that allows users to scoop food with one hand, without any food spilling out.
As a design student, she often had to work through the night on her projects. "My parents are supportive even though a designer's life is not easy. They believe that what I'm doing is very beneficial for the people I'm designing for," she says.
Ms Liow's designer ambitions are not limited to Singapore. "Designing for third world countries is something I would like to explore. I would like to be among the people, to understand and explore their culture, observe their needs and help them achieve a better quality of life."