IS design art or is art design? If you're fond of such esoteric debates or just like looking at pretty things, you're in for a treat this month as Singapore plays host to two major design events this month.
The Design Society Festival kicks off tomorrow for a week, with SingaPlural picking up the pace from March 8 to 15. Both will feature talks,exhibitions and workshops, all with a view to raising awareness and appreciation of design, especially by the local creative set.
With its debut event, The Design Society (TDS) - a non-profit body set up to raise the standard of design in Singapore - is hoping to reach out beyond just those in the industry. For the last three years, its annual conferences were well-received by its peers. Now it's gained enough confidence to want to expand it from a one day conference to a week-long affair that builds in an element of entertainment and education.
"The time time is right to expand it into a festival as we hope to build a platform that can foster partnerships and relationships between the design community and the public as well as promote and share design awareness and knowledge with a wider audience," says Larry Peh, an executive committee member at TDS.
He adds that the festival is not only for those within the creative fields but also for the man in the street who wants to know or learn more about what the creative industry has to offer.
"In the long run, we hope that the festival will be the premier event for the creative profession and the public, bringing opportunities for creative students and enthusiasts face-to-face with the professionals who have groomed and made the industry in Singapore flourish," he says.
TDS hopes to attract 10,000 people to the festival, with plans to make it an annual event.
The conference element will remain. This year, personalities such as multi-disciplinary artist Grace Tan and furniture and product designer Hans Tan will be talking about their works.
Ms Tan, who works with both fabrics and metals, will talk about the craft of creating her sculptures. Incidentally, craft is also the theme of the festival. "Most people consider craft with handicraft or the arts and craft which is often associated with something rather low-brow," she says. "But I hope they will see craft in a new light, beyond the banal or kitsch. For me, I hope to show that craft is a form of passion, dedication and self-discipline."
If you have always wondered who designed the black and white menus at the Five & Dime eatery or the fun and cartoon-like menu at Outpost 903 Gastrobar, then be sure to get on the festival's Tiong Bahru Design Trail.
On March 8, four design firms in the neighbourhood, Bravo Company, Bureau, Foreign Policy Design and Tofu, will open their studios to visitors.
Edwin Tan, creative director at Bravo Company says that holding an open house is a chance for visitors to "learn more about our creative process, the thoughts that went into our works and the objective of each project." Mr Tan has worked on branding for Five & Dime and Violet Oon's Kitchen.
Jenny Widjaja, co-founder of Tofu says that the open house will let visitors see that "the creative process is so much harder and time-consuming than what many people think it is. Being a designer is not about looking the part. Design is more than enlarging a logo or trying a few more layouts." Tofu designed the branding for Leedon Residence and Matt's The Chocolate Shop.
Other events happening along the trail include an exhibition of redesigned book covers, and the chance to meet local fashion and jewellery designers.
TDS's Mr Peh says that Tiong Bahru was chosen as the trail location as "we want to share the creative and vibrant vibes of the estate and at the same time bring participants down memory lane in a whole new different way."
While most of the festival features local designers, there are some international elements. For example, design buffs will also be able to see what a group of Spanish designers are doing in an exhibition titled The Swap Show - Because Sharing is Good (First Edition: Singapore X Barcelona).
Organised by Foreign Design Policy, the show is an exhibition exchange between design studios and creative agencies from cities around the world. For this first show, four graphic design studios from Barcelona will show their works here. In June, four Singapore firms will do the same there.
"We hope to share good works with the design community as well as non-design circles to up the knowledge power and awareness of graphic design," says the firm's principal, Yah-Leng Yu, of the first graphic design exchange exhibition in Singapore.
The design buzz continues with SingaPlural from March 8. Unlike TDS's festival which is more a ground-up initiative, SingaPlural is headed by the Singapore Furniture Industries Council (SFIC) and is more industry-driven.
The week-long SingaPlural features local and international design talents across various design disciplines from furniture, architecture, interior, graphic and landscape design through exhibitions, installations, workshops and seminars.
This is the second year that SingaPlural is taking place.
Ernie Koh, president of SFIC says that as design has today become an integral part for a successful brand, it is timely that SingaPlural take place. "It is a long-term goal of SingaPlural to present a common, dedicated platform for all Singapore creative disciplines to showcase the best of their talents and works," says Mr Koh. He emphasises that "it caters to both trade professionals and the public alike. In short, SingaPlural is for all to enjoy and a chance to engage with various design and art forms."
Some events will take place along Orchard Road, such as at Park Mall and *Scape to make SingaPlural more accessible to the public.
One such example is Design Larger Than Life, a display of 10 larger-than-life outdoor installations along Orchard Road. People are encouraged to interact with the installations, such as plucking artificial $5 notes off the Money Tree. The work by industrial designer Joseph Tan aims to investigate and showcase the green-conscious level of the public.
Then there is also 30 Lifestories - an installation of 30 redesigned benches, some by familiar firms such as DP Architects and Formwerkz. The benches are made of planks from the old National Stadium and will be displayed at Dhoby Ghaut Green and Handy Road Open Space. You can even sit on them if you want.
Selwyn Low, a director at design firm Farm, which organised the project says, "Not only have the designers captured the energy and life of the former stadium, they have cleverly introduced new ways of bringing Singaporeans together."
Furniture design inroads
The annual Furniture Design Award is also part of SingaPlural. This year's theme Co-Exist challenges participants to think up pieces for the home designed for multiple usage and versatility to co-exist with the environment they are placed in. The finalists' works can be viewed at *Scape Warehouse.
This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the Furniture Design Award, and there is a special exhibition at *Scape by past winners, such as Outofstock, Nathan Yong and Kenneth Cobonpue who have gone on to make their marks on the international furniture scene.
Christopher Soh, business development manager for Air Division says SingaPlural is an all-embracing event that allows creative talents from all industries to come together and showcase what Singapore has to offer in the field of design.
The furniture company is teaming up with students from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts to give its Park Mall showroom a makeover as part of the 48 Hours Challenge competition.
"Since we have embarked on our community programme of working with talented young design students from all faculties, this exercise will be no different," says Mr Soh. "To allow students to work with clients is extremely crucial in showing what is expected of them when they set out on their design careers."
SFIC's Mr Koh says, "we want to engage visitors to get them closer to design and everyday objects to raise their awareness on the influences of design around us and at the same time involve all their senses for design appreciation."
Edmund Seet, partner at Bureau, which is holding an open house says, events such as the TDS Festival help to open people's eyes to the local design scene, and hopefully reinforce the value of design in society.
"Not enough people know of Singapore design studios or embrace them enough," he says.
Photographer Jing Quek is partnering Taiwanese pineapple tart maker Sunnyhills at the TDS Festival. He is curating an exhibition of design, architecture, art and photography books at the Sunnyhills store in Raffles Hotel. Visitors can sip tea and munch on the tarts while browsing.
"Ground-up initiatives such as these are valuable in making Singapore vibrant, and empowering communities to make a difference to Singapore's cultural scene through their participation," he says.
The participants' enthusiasm have rubbed off on folk such as financial consultant Michael Lee. "I have no background in design, but I'm curious to see what these creative folk come up with."