Getting hands-on with design

The 3rd Singapore Design Week brings design closer to the public and businesses

In an airy studio in Geylang, sisters Hani and Aisah Dalduri are hard at work on "slow design". The owners of Fictive Fingers are blending traditional methods like silkscreen and block printing with contemporary techniques.

"They are creating a product that is both sustainable and attractive. They have a strong philosophy, and it goes through every phase of their design and production process," said Ms Stella Gwee, 38, director of Shophouse and Co, which is curating this year's Design Trails event on March 19 and 20. During the event, participants will visit a selected line-up of design-related businesses, including Fictive Fingers, on specially chartered buses.

A highlight of this year's Singapore Design Week (SDW), Design Trails will cover eight establishments, from design studios and residences to food and beverage joints, in areas such as Joo Chiat, Jalan Besar and Geylang.

Now in its third year, the event has been organised around the theme Thoughtful Design. Participants will be invited to venture beyond the superficial look and feel of products and experiences, and discover why and how they took the shapes they did.

In an industrial building in Sims Drive, for example, participants will get to try letterpress printing on vintage machines at PapyPress studio. This will allow them to appreciate the time and energy that go into printing, said Ms Corby Tan, 35, the studio's co-owner.

"We'd really like to get people to appreciate print again, and realise the amount of thought and effort that goes into every step of the process," she said.

Encounters like these allow people to approach design in an unintimidating setting, said Ms Gwee.

"They will see how the developer of The Cranes, a Joo Chiat shophouse, has worked to design a home that could suit a multi-generational family; they will visit The South Beach and understand why hotel lobbies look - or even smell - the way they do," she added.

"It is then that they will start to appreciate how design impacts so many things in their lives."

Design Trails is one of more than 110 events being held in conjunction with SDW, which starts today and lasts until March 20. Other events include the President's Design Award 10th-anniversary exhibition, Maison&Objet Asia 2016, and the International Furniture Fair Singapore 2016.

This year's SDW - its third edition - is not just going to be bigger, but has been designed to get even more people to participate and appreciate good design, explained DesignSingapore Council executive director Jeffrey Ho.

More than half of the week's fringe activities are aimed at the public, so Singaporeans can interact with design and see it at work.

"We hope to raise public awareness and enhance appreciation for design," Mr Ho said. These are priorities for Singapore as a newly designated Unesco Creative City of Design.

Last year, 12,000 people attended SDW activities at the National Design Centre, up from 7,400 in 2014. This year, Mr Ho expects even more people to participate.

SingaPlural, SDW's anchor event at 99 Beach Road, will showcase more than 70 design installations that "push the boundaries of sensorial experiences", he said. Themed "Making 'Sense' Of Design", the event was prompted by the popularity last year of exhibitions that promoted interaction.

"We thought that we should take this idea of interactivity a big step further and have our entire festival centred on the engagement of the senses," he added.

The public will also be able to get creative at the first Design and Make Fair from today till March 20, with workshops on glass painting, leather crafting and ceramic doll-making. And those who cannot create can shop. Over 30 Singapore-designed and Singapore-made products will be showcased across four levels.

This year's SDW also has a stronger business bent. Its signature event will be the new Innovation by Design conference, which will add to the current mix of exhibitions, trade shows and networking opportunities.

The two-day conference will feature Mr Masaaki Kanai, chairman and representative director of Muji's parent company Ryohin Keikaku, and award-winning industrial designer Jamie Hayon. Some 500 businessmen and designers are expected to attend.

Award-winning Singapore designers and front runners in design-led Singapore businesses will also participate in two parallel tracks that will follow the keynote presentations.

They include Chris Lee from Asylum, and Arthur Chin and Ya-Leng Yu from Foreign Policy Design in the Design track, and Janice Wong from 2am: dessertbar, Wang Xiaodan from Grab and Dr Alex Lin from Infocomm Investments in the Innovation track.

"Design influences the innovation process and the impact it has on business success… The conference hopes to inspire and spark new conversations between business leaders and designers," said Mr Ho.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 08, 2016, with the headline 'Getting hands-on with design'. Print Edition | Subscribe