Designed to boost design education

Mr Tan Pheng Hock, chairman of the Design Education Review Committee, said the role of design has evolved, with companies seeing the capability as a competitive advantage if they can think of the needs of consumers and create products that cater to t
Mr Tan Pheng Hock, chairman of the Design Education Review Committee, said the role of design has evolved, with companies seeing the capability as a competitive advantage if they can think of the needs of consumers and create products that cater to them.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Committee aims to show how design can, in the age of disruption, transform industries

Some nurses in Tan Tock Seng Hospital are doing jobs that doctors used to do.

Due to a redesign in work processes, the hospital set up the Medical Ambulatory Centre (MAC), in which nurses handle non-surgical procedures, , such as blood transfusions, that were traditionally done by doctors.

The MAC, which started in 2015 and has 33 beds, lets patients undergo procedures within a day that would typically take longer.

In the past, someone requiring a blood transfusion would go in on one day to get blood tests done, get the transfusion done on the second day and stay another day for tests and observation.

Associate Professor Alan Ng, head of the MAC project, said: "That's fine, if you have a lot of beds in the system. Maybe 10 or 20 years ago it wasn't so bad as the ageing population wasn't so big."

This redesign, with nurses coming in to shorten the process, worked well to meet the hospital's need to optimise bed space.

Because nurses can be trained to carry out such non-surgical procedures, doctors are freed up for other more urgent cases, said Dr Ng.

IMPORTANT SKILL

We want everybody to be able to understand the importance of design, that in time to come, it's going to be a core skill wherever you go. 

MR TAN PHENG HOCK, chairman of the Design Education Review Committee, on how the role of design is evolving.

This redesign in work processes was an example raised by Mr Tan Pheng Hock, chairman of the Design Education Review Committee (DERC), to show the evolved role design can play. "In the past, we thought of design more from an aesthetic point of view. How do you shape it, and how to make nice, smooth curves," he said.

However, the role of design has evolved, said Mr Tan, with companies seeing the capability as a competitive advantage if they can think of the needs of consumers and create products that cater to them.

Designers' skills these days are multi-disciplinary, he said, and no longer just in conventional fields such as fashion and architecture.

The 13-member DERC comes under the DesignSingapore Council, a division of the Ministry of Communications and Information, which was set up in 2003 to promote design.

The committee was set up as part of the Design 2025 masterplan, launched in March 2016, and aims to make design a key skill in Singapore to give the country a socio-economic boost. It was convened last March and started working last August. The committee will look at how to meet a recommendation in the masterplan - to have the Institutes of Technical Education, polytechnics and universities create designers who are ready to enter various industries.

The DERC will deliver a report in August, with recommendations on embedding and strengthening design education in these institutions.

Mr Tan, 60, said that design thinking is more crucial than just the hardcore technical skills and know-how.

The endgame for design is the customer, so designers have to think from their perspective and understand them to meet their needs.

Mr Tan said those with design capabilities will make themselves more employable in many industries, such as healthcare, banks, IT and the civil service.

Design thinking is important in this age of disruption, and designers can transform industries to meet the consumers' needs.

Said Mr Tan: "We want everybody to be able to understand the importance of design, that in time to come, it's going to be a core skill wherever you go."

Some plans being discussed include letting industry players give input on design curricula or enhancing internship models.

These would lead to students having skills that match industry needs more closely, making them more employable, said Mr Tan.

The institutes of higher learning have a seat on the committee to share their perspectives from the supply side.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2018, with the headline 'Designed to boost design education'. Print Edition | Subscribe