Friday, 18 April, 2014

Published December 07, 2013
Maker's Mark
Young local designers are making a difference with award-winning concepts. By Tay Suan Chiang
BT 20131207 SCYOUNG 864823


  • 1 of 8
BT 20131207 SCYOUNG 864823
BTL 20131207 SCYOUNG 867830
BT 20131207 SCYOUNG2 864822
BT 20131207 SCYOUNG2 867509
BT 20131207 SCYOUNG1 867346
BT 20131207 SCYOUNG3 864748
BT 20131207 SCYOUNG364F3 864749
BT 20131207 SCYOUNG4 864669


WHEN it comes to recognisable homeware items, Japan has brands such as Muji and Yu Nakagawa, Hong Kong has Goods of Desire and Malaysia has Royal Selangor. But Singapore? Nothing comes to mind. "I'm jealous that other countries have their own brands, but we have none," says Edwin Low, designer and founder of Supermama.

Mr Low, 34, hopes to change that with Singapore Icons, a collection of porcelain ware, with the intent to identify new Singapore icons as alternatives to the Merlion.

The collection of plates features five designs - HDB flats, a tembusu tree, the Vanda Miss Joaquim, a construction crane, and lightning patterns to represent Singapore's rapid change.

Singapore Icons won Design of the Year at this year's President's Design Award. The plates have not only been popular as tourist souvenirs, but have been eagerly snapped up by Singaporeans too.

"What you buy as a souvenir at a destination represents the country. I asked myself what more can we do apart from the Merlion and keychains," says Mr Low. "I don't want Singapore to be represented by shabbily produced keychains and fridge magnets."

He picked five designers for the project: James Teo from design firm ampulets, Mark De Win from Relay Room, Fion Lum from Quiet Studio, Melvin Ong of Desinere and Chang Shian Wei.

"No designer can understand our local context more than Singapore designers," says Mr Low, a design masters graduate from National University of Singapore. His brief to the five designers was to identify, research and create visuals that best represents the country. "The selected icons must be based on real objects, and actual context. They cannot include the Merlion as it is not a real animal," Mr Low explains.

His role in Singapore Icons is as producer, rather than designer. "Design, at the most misunderstood level is purely execution - sketching, creating artwork and so on. However, to me, it is about putting things together, making the smartest decisions from constraints. This is the exciting part and the true pivotal point of design."

The porcelain ware is produced by Kihara, a Japanese ceramic brand with 400 years of porcelain making experience. Mr Low, who doesn't speak Japanese, worked with a Japanese partner for the project.

Singapore Icons forms the first collection for Democratic Society, a range of products which Mr Low is producing under his company Supermama. Other items under the Democratic Society label include From Another Time, a series of porcelain cups with illustrations of Singapore's history on them; Good Morning tea towels and placemats designed in Singapore but made in Japan; and Familiar Objects, a range of paper weights.

The former design lecturer at Singapore Polytechnic started Supermama with his wife - who inspired the name - in 2011. It is an artist residence studio and a space for designers to hang out at its Seah Street office, while its retail outlet is located in Singapore Art Museum @ 8Q.

Up next for Mr Low is a collection with Japanese companies Shotoku Glass Co and Nousaku, which he hopes will be ready by March. "I try to work with designers to launch a small collection every March and September," he says. "I also test out random pieces with different craftsman to gain better understanding of how different craft facilities work now that many are knocking at my door."

Darren Yeo | QQQ

BESIDES waiting for a bus or an ever-elusive taxis, waiting to see the doctor comes close to being one of the biggest annoyances that we all have to put up with.

Darren Yeo often visited Singapore General Hospital, not to see a doctor, but rather to wait for his wife, a pharmacist, to finish work. "At the hospital, I noticed many others waiting as well, except they were waiting for more urgent reasons," says Mr Yeo, 26. "I realised that most patients would queue half a day in hospitals, travelling across many different departments before getting what they need." This led him to think of ways of using technology to shorten the waiting time.

Mr Yeo, who had previously worked at design consultancy firm Orcadesign and is currently pursuing a masters degree at Imperial College London, came up with the idea of QQQ, which won him a prize at this year's Red Dot Award: Design Concept competition.

The former industrial design graduate from National University of Singapore explains that QQQ is a mobile phone application that will attempt to make queuing less of a hassle.

As the appointment time approaches, an alert notification will sound through the app. Users can then assess the situation - whether to stay in the queue or to reschedule it for another time. An approximate waiting time, which factors time required to get to the hospital, is shown to the patients.

Should they decide to go ahead with the appointment, the app will show the user how to get to the appointment using GPS technology.

Even as patients are waiting at the waiting room, QQQ acts as a reward system that generate credits for every minute waiting. These credits are later exchangeable for a gift voucher found within the hospital premises.

Mr Yeo spent a year developing QQQ, doing research, interviews and by observing the daily operations at three local hospitals. He declines to name the hospitals but said there were mixed reviews of the concept. "One hospital shared with me the complexity of their current setup, and the restrictions that were in place to introduce a new system," says Mr Yeo. "The other two are more receptive to the idea, one of them even adopting part of the concept to test it immediately on one of their clinics."

Mr Yeo adds that the app would work not only in hospitals but in clinics too. "With the growing use of smartphones, patients can have direct access to QQQ with their devices," he says.

He has named the app QQQ because Q and queue have similar intonations and each letter Q represents a person lining up in a straight line. "People are obsessed with waiting in queues, so repeating the letter Q three times brings out the emphasis of queuing," he adds.

QQQ is now a concept plan, and will require a later stage of programming and testing for it to be fully developed.

Along Lee, Lin Shini and Eunsung Park | ECO-FLIP

WITH plastic bottles coming under fire for being environmentally unfriendly or unhealthy because of its chemical content, what other alternatives are there?

Apart from stainless steel or tempered glass bottles, there is the newly launched Snapware Eco Flip bottle in fun colours like green, cyan and tangerine, with a white bottle cap.

With its chic, minimalist design, Eco Flip looks like something a Nordic designer came up with. But surprisingly, the glass drinking bottle was designed in Singapore, at an office in Clementi, to be precise.

The Snapware Eco Flip bottle was named a Design of the Year winner at this year's President's Design Award. It's the brainchild of Along Lee, Lin Shini and Eunsung Park, designers at World Kitchen. The American company is the world leader in kitchenware. Apart from Snapware, its Asia Pacific office in Singapore markets well known brands such as Corelle, Corningware and Pyrex.

The three designers work at World Kitchen's Asian Design & Innovation Centre (ADIC), set up in 2010, to create innovative products that specifically meet the houseware needs of the Asian consumer.

Mr Park, 35, a Seoul University design graduate, points out the differences between Asian and American consumers. "Kitchens in Asian homes tend to be smaller, and Asians have smaller hands, so when we design products for the Asian market, we keep these factors in mind," says the Korean.

The team also designed a rice and soup bowl for Corelle, designed for the Korean market.

"Eco Flip is about bringing healthy hydration to consumers and at the same time, inspire and motivate them to pursue an eco-friendly lifestyle," says Mr Lee, 42, a Singapore PR and an industrial design graduate from University Malaysia Sarawak. Mr Lee previously worked in the design departments of Motorola and Osim before joining World Kitchen.

The Eco Flip bottle is made from 100 per cent pure and natural borosilicate glass, a non-porous, non-toxic and natural degradable material that allows both hot and cold beverages to be kept hygienically. A flip top bottle cap allows it to be opened with one hand. Eco Flip is designed such that users drink from the glass bottle rather than from the cap, which is more reassuring from a hygiene point of view. It also comes fitted with a silicone jacket, which not only protects the glass from damage but also provides better grip.

The bottle took a year to design. Singaporean Ms Lin, 35, says, the biggest challenge of designing Eco Flip was "the height of the glass spout. It had to be at a comfortable height but at the same time, ensuring that the user's lips would not touch the plastic cap." The former Nanyang Technological University student studied mechanical engineering but ended up designing consumer products as "it gives me more direct interaction with users".

Even though Eco Flip was designed for the Asian market, World Kitchen's headquarters in Chicago is so impressed with the design, that the bottle is now sold in the US too.

Duane Lye | OI

WATCHING a stroke patient struggle with a simple task such as eating can be a heartbreaking affair, more so when it is someone close to you.

Duane Lye's mother suffered a stroke last year and lost control of one side of her body. "To see Mum lose her independence and needing help with every little thing is really heart-wrenching," says Mr Lye, 25, a third-year product design student at Nanyang Technological University. "Mum can only use one hand to eat, and she would end up pushing food off the plate and onto the table or floor."

He came up with the idea of a plate that would allow people with the use of only one hand to eat independently.

Mr Lye worked on the design of the plate for four months, before coming up with its final design. Calling it Oi, the plate has an extended curvature on one side that pushes food unto the spoon, allowing the user to use just one hand to eat.

A counterweight on the opposite side of the base prevents the plate from tipping over as force is applied to one side when scooping food.

"Oi is targeted at anyone who has difficulty using both their hands to eat their meals. My mum being a stroke patient is only one of the possible users who can use this product," says Mr Lye. "This product could do well in hospitals too."

For his idea, Mr Lye won at this year's Red Dot Award: Design Concept competition.

Mr Lye calls his plate Oi, because the alphabets resemble a plate and spoon respectively. Even though it is just in its conceptual stage, Mr Lye says coming up with the ideal design was a challenge itself.

"I wanted to be able to combine form and function seamlessly into one product, to maintain normality while dining," he says, adding that he wanted Oi to look as elegant as the other plates on the market, but with a hidden function to help people with disabilities.

"I designed the plate to be minimalist looking, so that people with disabilities can regain their confidence and with a chance to integrate back into society while not being ostracised."

Mr Lye says that he is currently not in talks with any companies to manufacture Oi. "But it would be ideal if there are companies who may show interest as I believe Oi can really help people, which is why I designed it."

This is his second time taking part in an international design competition. He had previously submitted another design for Red Dot but did not win.

"Winning the Red Dot award is the first step towards my career as a product designer and a testament of my design's quality," says Mr Lye, who hopes to work as a designer after graduation. "I want to design products that can help change the way people live."

Eugene Wang | SOUNDBRACE

WHAT fun is there in playing air guitar when you can only pretend to play but not make actual music?

Eugene Wang, 25, a product design student at Nanyang Technological University wants to change that with SoundBrace, a wearable device that uses motion capture and gesture technology to transform the user's arms and fingers into musical instruments.

For now, SoundBrace is just a conceptual idea, but it won Mr Wang a prize at this year's Red Dot Award: Design Concept competition.

The idea for SoundBrace came to Mr Wang when he was on a bus listening to music. "Often, there would be a riff of a song that I wanted to play along to but couldn't," says Mr Wang, who plays the guitar and bass at his church.

"I always wished that music would just come out magically of my fingers when I was pretending to play guitar."

SoundBrace works by using a combination of motion capture and gesture technology. SoundBrace comes in two pieces, to be worn on each wrist. Each brace detects the position of the user's hands and fingers with two cameras.

Each brace also measures electrical signals generated from the wrist to further determine the different finger gestures. To set up, musicians first calibrate by playing an actual guitar to determine baseline measurements for different chords.

Mr Wang designed SoundBrace to be attached with a headphone jack so that users can listen to what they're playing without disturbing others. "An added USB jack allows the user to further tweak various settings by plugging it into a computer," says Mr Wang.

It took him about a month to develop the idea for SoundBrace. "The challenge was mostly aesthetics. How would I design it to look good and intuitive for users," says Mr Wang, who adds that SoundBrace is for "anyone who loves to listen and play music".

This is his first time participating in an international design award, and he almost did not take part, because "the entry fees were not cheap", says Mr Wang. "But my friends encouraged me so I decided to try. It'll be a great boost for my resume if I win."

Mr Wang has no plans to take SoundBrace to production stage for now. "The concept definitely has much more potential than just playing music. But being a student, my resources and expertise to develop this are very limited, so it is on hold right now."

The third-year design student enjoyed drawing and making things as a child, which was why he embarked on an education in design.

"After graduation, I hope to find work, preferably designing consumer electronics or home appliances. That is where my design interests have been for a long time," he says.

President's Design Award

Singapore's highest honour accorded to designers and designs from all design disciplines has been handed out annually since 2006

There are two categories: Designer of the Year and Design of the Year. The Designer of the Year award is given to designers or design teams for creativity and achievements in any design disciplines. The Design of the Year award recognises national significance and creative value to Singapore for projects of products in any design discipline.

2013 Designers of the Year

  • Patrick Chia, creative director
  • Richard Ho, architect
  • Alfie Leong, fashion designer
  • Pann Lim, creative office
  • Harijanto Setiawan, floral designer
  • Yip Yuen Hong, architect

2013 Designs of the Year

  • Being Together: Family & Portraits - Photographing with John Clang
  • Dell Inspiron 23: All-in-one PC
  • Snapware Eco Flip
  • Gardens by the Bay
  • Initial 'Signature' Range
  • Lucky Shophouse
  • Parkroyal on Pickering
  • Satay by the Bay
  • Singapore Icons

An exhibition featuring this year's winners is now on till Jan 22 at the National Design Centre at 111 Middle Road. It then moves to URA Centre at 45 Maxwell Road from Jan 24 to Feb 27, and back to the National Design Centre from March 3 to 16.

Red Dot Award: Design Concept

Started by the Singapore arm of Red Dot in 2005, this annual competition is all about design concepts, prototypes, ideas and visions that are new, creative and exciting. Winning is based solely on the merits of the concept. Entries are submitted anonymously and participants can be individuals or from professional organisations.

According to Red Dot, the odds of winning a Red Dot award are only 4.6 per cent, making it the toughest to win, compared with other design competitions. That has not deterred participants. This year saw a record 4,394 entries from 57 countries, with three winners from Singapore.

Some Red Dot Award winners continue refining their concepts while others are now available as a full fledged product. An example is Lenovo's Yoga ThinkPad which was recently launched. It won a luminary Red Dot award in 2005.

An exhibition of this year's winners is now on till October next year at the Red Dot Design Museum, 28 Maxwell Road.