Dr Yaacob
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

1 Good morning. It is my pleasure to join you today, and welcome everyone to the inaugural Design Education Summit (DEST).  I want to start by first commending the DesignSingapore Council (Dsg) and the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) for jointly organising this event to inspire design education in Singapore.

Why is Design (and Dsg) important to Singapore 

2 15 years ago, Dsg was established as part of the 2002 Economic Review Committee’s recommendation to grow Singapore’s creative industries.  Since then, Dsg has helped raise design awareness in our country through initiatives such as the establishment of the National Design Centre (NDC), and the launch of the annual Singapore Design Week (SDW).  It has also helped to enhance the President’s Design Award (PDA), Singapore’s most prestigious award for designers and designs, to recognise the significant achievements and contributions they have made to our economic competitiveness and indeed to enhance the quality of life.

3 In 2015, Singapore was successfully designated by UNESCO as a Creative City of Design.  This is the culmination of our efforts to place design and creativity as key elements of our national growth strategy.  Not only has this helped articulate Singapore’s brand beyond our shores, it has also helped to recognise their significant achievements and contributions to our economic competitiveness. 

The role of Design for business growth and innovation 

4 In today’s highly competitive economic landscape, design has emerged as a key driver of innovation and growth - it helps companies reinvent their core businesses, unlock new opportunities and discover new revenue streams.  More companies, across the entire spectrum of the economy, have integrated Design into their business strategies and to help with organisational transformation.  For instance, based on a recent study commissioned by DesignSingapore Council, the percentage of companies with senior-level design champions increased almost threefold from 12% in 2014, to 32% in 2016. So the awareness and the adoption is increasing and I think that is a recognition of the impact that design can have on the way we do things. 

5 Design can also improve service and user experience across all types of industries.  A unique user experience will be an important differentiator and determinant of success in the future economy.  I am therefore glad to see a growing number of companies beginning to adopt design as part of their business strategy.  However, I do believe we need to encourage more, especially our SMEs, to do so.  That is why Dsg is working with partners, such as Enterprise Singapore and the Design Business Chamber, and leveraging various assistance programmes to help more SMEs adopt design.  

6 Design is clearly not something confined to a company of a particular scale. It can have an impact on small businesses and even our largest companies are also harnessing design in order to maintain a competitive edge.  One example is Changi Airport, which received the President’s Design Award (PDA) 2018 Design of the Year for T4 in which user-experience was at the heart of the entire terminal’s design - from ensuring staff were interviewed so that counter heights could be adjusted to suit their needs, to creating seamless check-in and retail experiences for passengers after clearing immigration.  Changi is now going further by looking into designing better passenger experiences, especially for the elderly, across all its terminals.

The critical role of design education and talent development 

7 With increased industry demand for design, the job scope of designers will also expand and I think it is going to become a lot more complex but also compelling.  Hence, our design education and talent development programmes must be adapted to help designers acquire the requisite multi-disciplinary skills needed to tackle more complex challenges in future.  

8 Over the years, DesignSingapore Council has ensured that design talent development remains a key priority, through scholarships and study awards that develop and upskill our manpower for the growing needs of the sector.  One example of this effort is Huang Weiming, who graduated from LaSalle in graphic design, and worked in the print and publishing sector for nearly 10 years before he started looking beyond his original design discipline.  Being curious about digital design and after taking a 10-week UX (or user experience) design course subsidised by SkillsFuture, Weiming now works in a bank as part of an experience design team.

9 Another example is the Design Education Review Committee set up last year to look into strengthening design higher education, and embedding design into non-design higher education curriculum.  It envisions a future design education system which will nurture Singaporeans who can build innovative businesses and improve our quality of life.  The recommendations, which will be released early next year, are organised around three strategic thrusts: (i) improving the existing design curriculum; (ii) helping our design educators develop professionally; and (iii) creating opportunities for all to learn design.  In other words, even those in non-Design streams to have design sensibilities. These recommendations will help our designers work across different design disciplines, and also with other disciplines such as engineering and business development, thereby creating new value and opportunities.  

10 The Design Education Summit is the next step in this journey to train and expose our students to design, and grow it as a horizontal capability across all sectors in the economy.  Today in our audience, many of you are educators and you play a key role in shaping the minds of our youths.   I hope that your experience at this event here and listening to the various experts who have come in from different parts of the world and also from Singapore, will inspire you to see how you can imbue your students with design sensibilities, equipping them with the right tools and skillsets for our future workforce. And also, we have private sector practitioners here, and I hope that you will become more involved in design education, because it is not just an enterprise for educators, it is really an enterprise for the entire design community and we hope that you will be able to contribute through ideas exchange or mentorship/internship opportunities, so that we can nurture the next generation of designers.

Shifting Design and Dsg to EDB

11 Recognising the important role design plays in our economy, Dsg has been working closely with EDB over the years.  The two agencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2017, and Chairman/EDB was also the Chairman of Dsg’s advisory committee so as to help infuse design in the corporate sector and within the boards of companies and basically propagate it to the broader economy.   This collaboration has worked well thus far and we now want to give it further impetus by making the partnership between Dsg and EDB a permanent one.  Therefore, Dsg will leave the MCI family and become a wholly-owned subsidiary of EDB from 1 April 2019.

12              We believe this is a good move. It is a move that will enable Dsg to work more closely with the economic agencies under MTI, and contribute to the transition of Singapore’s economy into its next phase of growth and innovation.  This move will not only facilitate the adoption of design across all sectors, but also help to scale up and realise the potential of the design sector itself.

Assurance to Dsg and Companies on Continued Support  

13 I want to emphasise that in this transition, the mandate of Dsg and its team of people remains unchanged.  They will remain the national champion for design, running programmes to promote the design industry.  The NDC for instance, will remain the focal point for designers, collaborators and industry to come together and co-create; while other major showcases such as the SDW and PDA will continue running as before.  

14 As a fully-owned subsidiary of EDB, Dsg will have even more flexibility and autonomy to pursue collaborations and partnerships with other design councils, think tanks, and organisations.  I am confident that Dsg staff will relish the new opportunities and expanded job scope.  They will be able to test new ideas more quickly, and roll out programmes that best meet industry needs.  EDB will provide strategic oversight and help realise synergies with the rest of the creative cluster and economic agencies.  Dsg will be able to tap on EDB’s business networks to help companies from other sectors use design to scale up and thrive.


15 I want to conclude by reiterating the importance of Design to Singapore, especially as an enabler of innovation and growth.  It is an aspect of our economic development strategy that has been emphasised from 2002 in particular, and it is an aspect that is gaining greater momentum as its value and potential is increasingly realised. Design is a strategic tool and an industry that can help propel the competitiveness of our companies and Singapore’s economy to new heights.

16 We believe the future is bright for Design, the design sectors and the designers.  The transition of Dsg to EDB will provide a crucial link and enable Design to have a greater impact on the economy. By developing a national design skillset and mindset, we will be able to nurture creative professionals and companies and to be well equipped to meet the challenges of the future economy, succeed in their ventures, and spur the growth of our nation. So I want to conclude by saying that it is with some wistfulness that we will be bidding farewell to our Dsg colleagues but Singapore is a small place and I am sure we will remain in very close contact. Most importantly, we wish you the very best. Thank you.