Design approach may be greatest legacy of Lee Kuan Yew

The waterfront promenade along Marina Bay Sands with the Singapore Central Business District in the background.
The waterfront promenade along Marina Bay Sands with the Singapore Central Business District in the background.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

Mr Lee showed how to handle challenges that confront a changing nation; he leaves S’pore with a guide to go forward into future

As Singapore observes the anniversary of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's passing and launches the new Design 2025 Masterplan, it is important to remember what may be among Mr Lee's greatest gifts.

Mr Lee's accomplishments and his role in defining modern Singapore are too numerous to recount. He demonstrated how to approach the challenges that confront a changing nation and how to do so effectively and with humanity.

In many ways he has left this young nation with a guide to go forward into the future. Through his example, he has given Singaporeans the tools he used to help form this nation. These tools are the very same ones that we see in the world of successful design.

From conception through to execution, virtually every aspect of life in Singapore seems to have been created through a considered and intentional process. Designed specifically for the greater good of the people and ultimately in the best interests of the country.

We often admire great companies such as Apple, Virgin or Tesla and think of these innovators as having the ability to change the lives we lead. These business innovations pale, however, in comparison to designing and creating a successful nation.

In this sense, Singapore is a designed success. Singapore has been gifted the framework to create beautiful, elegant solutions for the complex problems it may face.

Like great designers, Mr Lee demonstrated the value of creating a human experience that connects people and their activities with their environment.

The idea that, through a design approach, one can deliver a great solution and transform everyday challenges into new positive realities. He knew this approach would have to be both rational and emotional.

He demonstrated that having a great idea alone is not enough, that innovation happens only when people adopt a vision. Throughout his life, Mr Lee accomplished this with empathy, focus and passion.

Over the past 50 years, Singapore has strengthened its national fabric by playing the role of connecting meaningful conversations with those who possess deep knowledge of practices and capabilities.

Singapore has cultivated highly capable leadership teams that include a diversity of communities and disciplines, balancing experience with a youthful energy. This focus has always been on designing better outcomes for all Singaporeans, with a recognition of the value of a strong and educated middle class while respecting and honouring the generation of pioneers who helped create a nation of progress and wealth. Mr Lee recognised that this is the foundation of a healthy ecosystem.

Singapore has been a leading example for many other countries and is ready to create solutions that can drive both economic value and human value to Singapore. To both grow a thriving innovation economy and create a more loveable city.

By demonstrating how to design a great nation and build a culture of diversity, Mr Lee has defined an approach based on perpetual learning and a desire for improvement and continual dialogue. The solutions that have produced the success that Singapore is today may not be applicable tomorrow. To know how to address new, unprecedented global problems in a world of constant change would be the key to success.

In this way, he has given the people of Singapore the keys to the future. Ultimately, the design approach that Mr Lee has provided for the next generation may be his greatest legacy. These qualities will ensure that future generations of Singaporeans will be able to face the next 50 years with the same intelligence, dignity and grace.


Tim Kobe is chief executive officer, founder and principal of Eight Inc. and a member of the Design 2025 Masterplan Committee. He founded strategic design firm Eight Inc. in 1989.