1/ What attracted you to a career in Design Research? And what is your favourite thing about it?
While I was at university, I came across Jane Jacobs’ influential book, ‘The Life and Death of Great American Cities’. Her passion and determination to improve her neighbourhood using a community-based, people-centric approach really resonated with me and she quickly became one of my personal heroes.
At the time, several urban planners actively resisted her book. Many questioned her lack of credentials (she was never formally trained as an urban planner), while others thought that her primary method of street observation was disconcertingly subjective compared to the statistically-oriented methods that are often used. However, her passion for her neighbourhood and ability to observe and empathise changed the way cities are currently planned and opened our eyes to important human-centric aspects that are typically rendered invisible by modern narratives of development.
Jane Jacob’s attitude and passion showed me that creating good design solutions goes beyond education or professional practice. It is far more important to have empathy, relentlessness and a strong desire to change or improve things. This is why I chose a career in Design Research. I want to help design solutions that can make a positive impact on people’s lives. It’s such a privilege to be able to listen to people, design for them and channel my inner Jane Jacobs.
2/ How do you feed your creative energy?
Well, I naturally gravitate towards things that excite me or make me feel creatively charged. I’m lucky to have friends who often share quirky articles, cool websites and interesting services - these things often give me a creative buzz. It is always important to keep yourself updated about the latest happenings and trends. Social media has been really helpful for that. It might seem like a counterproductive activity but looking at memes or random comics can sometimes give you a spark of inspiration and set bigger things in motion. I have started a few interesting passion projects with friends because of a meme that gave us a good laugh.
In general, I feel it is always important to approach everything with a child-like curiosity and be open to new experiences. Inspiration is a sneaky thing, so open up your mind and experience as many things as possible.
3/ Is there a particular design challenge or problem you’re passionate about helping solve?
As a born and bred Singaporean, it has always been my dream to be able to contribute to the nation. In particular, I would like to use design research to get more Singaporeans involved in the design of their city and immediate environments. The city often adopts a top-down approach to deal with planning and governance but I believe that there is a huge potential for increased public engagement.
This was a problem I tried to tackle while I was in university. Widely known as a ‘city within a garden’, Singapore government has spent tons of money and effort greening the outdoors. Yet, many Singaporeans are indifferent to the nature they see everyday. This is why I started a participatory design project in a local co-working space to challenge Singaporeans to think about ways their environment can be improved with nature and encourage them to take ownership of the greenery around them. Seeing the co-working community get involved in the project and appreciate the nature in their office has been very rewarding. It has also fuelled my passion to continuously work on people-centric projects that bring about a positive change, especially in the area of environment design.
4/ What advice would you give design students looking to start a design career in Singapore?
Think bigger - there is so much more that you can do. I believe that most people in Singapore do not think of design education as something that can be applied to many areas. Most students pursue a design degree to focus on very specific skills, like graphic design or interior design, but I think being naturally creative is a super power. If possible, I would like to see more young designers apply the thinking process that is taught in schools to solving ‘wicked problems’.
5/ Can you share an example of a work project that helped shift how you view your city?
While working on the Green Spaces participatory design project, I had a few industry experts tell me that my biggest obstacle would be getting Singaporeans involved and excited about nature in their work environment. Even if the government were to mandate the provision of plants in offices, most Singaporeans would not be inclined to engage with the nature around them. This was also something that I felt was true - it is a common belief that Singaporeans are just not interested in getting involved.
However, through the project, I’ve learnt that Singaporeans are willing to engage in conversations and and offer suggestions that can help design better solutions. The problem is that most Singaporeans have never been engaged in a meaningful manner and therefore, do not see the value of getting involved. They always seem to think that their perspectives or opinions will never be taken into consideration. By listening to their needs and designing for them, I think it allowed those involved in the project to see the value of their insights and also encouraged them to take ownership of the resulting solutions.