Design Education Summit

Design is not just a job - it's a way of thinking: Minister

Singapore's young must be nimble problem-solvers in a world disrupted by Covid-19, says Lawrence Wong

A group of primary school pupils has come up with a novel solution to tackle the challenge of how to motivate patients at a hospital to attend physiotherapy sessions.

The pupils from Princess Elizabeth Primary, who were part of the school's applied learning programme in innovation and enterprise, came up with a simple but effective method.

They turned the physiotherapy exercises into tactile games, which were popular with patients.

Yesterday, Education Minister Lawrence Wong cited this example of contributing to the community through design thinking.

He was speaking at the Design Education Summit, held virtually yesterday and attended by more than 600 local and international educators and industry experts.

The event, which is in its second edition, was organised by DesignSingapore Council - the country'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 reframing and resolving problems.

Mr Wong said that in a world disrupted by Covid-19, 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 noted a surge in logins near the end of every month, and the design team attributed this to the number of people who were checking that their salaries had been deposited.

In response, the team added a new "peek balance" function to the bank's app, where users can check their account balances without having to input their login 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, he noted.

Mr Mark Wee, executive director of DesignSingapore Council, pointed out that "given the difficulties the pandemic has imposed on businesses and society at large, this summit serves as an important reminder of 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 world."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 05, 2021, with the headline 'Design is not just a job - it's a way of thinking: Minister'. Subscribe