Use design thinking to help S’pore's young be 'innovative problem solvers', says Lawrence Wong

Education Minister Lawrence Wong was speaking at the Design Education Summit, held virtually on Thursday.
Education Minister Lawrence Wong was speaking at the Design Education Summit, held virtually on Thursday.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - A group of primary school pupils who were able to think creatively were able to come up with a novel solution to solve a problem of patients at a hospital who were unmotivated to attend their physiotherapy sessions.

The pupils from Princess Elizabeth Primary School, who were part of the school's applied learning program in innovation and enterprise, came up with a simple but effective solution - they turned the physiotherapy exercises into tactile games, which was popular with patients.

Education Minister Lawrence Wong cited this example of contributing to the community through design thinking on Thursday (Feb 4).

He was speaking at the Design Education Summit, held virtually on Thursday and attended by over 600 local and international educators and industry experts.

The summit, which is in its second edition, was organised by the DesignSingapore Council - Singapore's national agency that promotes design - and the SUTD-MIT International Design Centre.

Its focus this year was on the importance of design as a strategic tool to help Singapore recover from the social and economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Design thinking is an approach to creative problem-solving that applies to businesses across sectors. The focus is on building empathy in re-framing and resolving problems.

Mr Wong said that in a post-Covid world, there is a need to prepare Singapore's young to be "adaptable, nimble and innovative problem solvers".

"And in this respect, design as a discipline and way of thinking has much to offer. Design is not just a job - it's a way of thinking. And today, we see the fingerprints of design in every sector, from banking to manufacturing and IT."

In the corporate world, design has transformed businesses, helping to solve "the company's most frustrating problems, with a lens that puts the user at the centre", he added.

He cited DBS' user experience and design team as an example.

The team researches consumer banking journeys and looks for ways to improve.

The bank noticed a surge in log ins near the end of the month, and the design team attributed this to the number of people who were logging in to check that their salaries have been deposited.

In response, the team added a new "peek balance" function to the bank app, where users can check their bank balances without having to input their log in details.

The new function was used six million times a month in 2019, said Mr Wong.

"So you can imagine the convenience it has brought to consumers and the time saved collectively."

In the span of five years, this user experience and design team in DBS has grown from two people to 60, which is indicative of the value that design as a function brings to the business, Mr Wong noted.

Mr Mark Wee, executive director of DesignSingapore Council, added: "Given the difficulties the pandemic has imposed on businesses and society at large, this summit serves as an important reminder to the efficacy of design - from providing solutions to offering new and exciting opportunities.

"Having a design mindset and its associated skills is imperative to adapting to a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (Vuca) world."