Design is underrated in Singapore, and someone needs to do something about it.

What better way then, than to acknowledge worth and confer recognition, by presenting awards to the deserving few design talents and practices in Asia?

From 1988, the Designers Association Singapore (now Design Business Chamber Singapore (DBCS)) and Trade Development Board (now IE Singapore) initiated the Singapore Design Awards (SDA) to recognise the outstanding works of design practices and talents.

With the support of the DesignSingapore Council, DBCS unveiled Singapore’s very own Good Design Mark – the Singapore Good Design Mark (SG Mark) last year – in 2013. The SG Mark serves as a symbol of design excellence to encourage and champion holistic design practices for global competitiveness and is awarded to individuals and companies with well-designed products and services.

Indeed, winners of the SDA and / or the SG Mark Awards 2014 which was presented in March this year wore their Awards like a badge of honour as it showcased their accomplishment as a stellar design leader and innovative design practice.

Popspoken finds out from representatives from three of the Awardees based in Singapore – Kingsmen Creatives Ltd (Kingsmen), ONG&ONG Pte Ltd (ONG&ONG) and Asylum Creative Pte Ltd (Asylum) – on their thoughts of the evolution of Singapore’s design landscape, the Singapore Design Scene and their favourite projects etc.

Salad Stop (Designed by Ong & Ong)

Salad Stop (Designed by Ong & Ong)

Singapore’s recognition of design as a new impetus for economic growth and differentiator and the establishment of the DesignSingapore Council (in 2003) to spearhead the sustainable development of the design sector helped to trigger off the transformation of Singapore’s Design Landscape.

As Simon Ongco-founder of Kingsmenaptly puts it “The DesignSingapore Council is instrumental in creating awareness, raising the profile of Singapore’s design, and engaging businesses and the community at large. It is this holistic approach that has fostered a conducive environment for design in Singapore.”

Adding Colour and Support to the Local Design Scene

The 20th Century saw the prevalence of new technologies and innovations.

This led to the emergence of new design paradigms and innovative initiatives put forth by the highly-competitive design industry, that resulted in elevated design standards and a more vibrant design scene.

Simon Ong shared that in the 70s when the company started out, “above-the-line (ATL) advertising was big and there were advertising agencies that addressed that demand”. At that time, design firms “focused on traditional design.. (and) communication design wasn’t explored yet”.

Seeing the opportunities with the gap for below-the-line (BTL) advertising, Kingsmen therefore went from designing a project to actually producing it.

Robinsons @ Jem (Designed by Kingsmen)

Robinsons @ Jem (Designed by Kingsmen)

The rest was history as Kingsmen went on to become “the first company to be called designers and producers and examine what it meant to design and communicate brand messages through integrated communication solutions that maximise their clients’ marketing dollar”. The company grew and got listed in 2003, picking up several large-scale projects – from numerous flagship retail store projects in Orchard Road to the interiors of Changi Airport’s Enchanted Garden and million-dollar museum and theme park projects in Singapore and the region.

ONG&ONG too, realised that the traditional model(s) of design may no longer be as effective, relevant or sustainable. At the beginning, the focus of ONG&ONG – the company founded by Ong Tze Boon’s prolific parents (Singapore’s first directly-elected President, the late Ong Teng Cheong and his wife, Ong Siew May) – was on architectural design.

However, in 2003, Tze Boon established ONG&ONG’s innovative 360° Design Solution, which leverages on the convergence of knowledge and processes from the various design disciplines.

The company’s distinctive 360° Design Solution is a holistic solution where various design disciplines are streamlined and integrated into the entire design solution.

With the holistic cross-disciplinary design approach, the company grew to become a multidisciplinary design solutions firm, picking up many projects along the way.

The company also picked up several awards, such as the SG Mark Platinum Award for its Singapore Airlines’ (SIA) SilverKris Lounge design and the SDA for its works for OCBC Frank and Audi Centre Singapore – the tallest Audi facility in the world occupying three storeys underground and eight storeys aboveground.

So, with these movers and shakers, is the local design scene in Singapore considered “dead” as compared to the bigger cities like the New York City? Apparently not.

Emerging are a wave of local design mavericks that are determined to help lift the local design industry. Asylum’s Chris Lee is one such example. He “gave up the option of working in New York in the late nineties.” The only compelling reason? Because he “wanted to make a difference to the design scene in Singapore”.

Of course, behind every aspirational story lies a journey fraught with uncertainty and hard work.

Lolla collateral (Designed by Asylum Creative)

Lolla collateral (Designed by Asylum Creative)

Before Asylum’s eventual ride to recognition and success, Chris took on pro bono work for art institutions to rack up a more wholesome portfolio. Today, projects comes more easily now as “clients are also a lot more savvy in terms of recognising good work and demanding them”, Chris said.

Past, Present & Future: Wax Lyrical about your Favourite Projects

Out of the refreshing and prolific projects Chris Lee is known for – such as Frolick, the Salad Shop, the Horse’s Mouth Japanese Bar and the luxe Johnnie Walker Houses – his favourite has to be those that allow him to “break and push boundaries” – like the Hublot pop-up store project (see featured image above).

He likened the project as almost being like an art installation on its own where “architecture crosses into interior design and design into art” and added that he is excited to work on his new projects such as the development of the brand identity of the new National Gallery Singapore – which will open in 2015.

What would be the “baby” for ONG&ONG’s Ong Tze Boon then?

That would have to be the Quincy boutique hotel project – as it was ONG&ONG’s first demonstration of its exclusive 360º Design Solution and the “final work proved that total design really is the way forward”. The aim was to create a distinctive, sustainable and timeless piece that goes beyond existing boutique hotels, and the company handled everything, from the hotel’s design, environmental branding to interior design and landscaping.

As for Simon Ong, he finds it hard to pick his pet project as “every project is unique with its own merits and challenges.”

Comments to the phrase: ‘There is no money in creative work or working for your passion.’

 “I think if you have flair and passion for creative, more often than not you’ll find that the money will follow naturally.” – Ong Tze Boon

Quincy (Designed by Ong & Ong)

Quincy (Designed by Ong & Ong)

For Ong Tze Boon, since taking over the family business, his drive was predicated on how he could transform a patriarchal business into a corporation. Instead of just maximising personal wealth as most entrepreneurs do, Tze Boon believes he is wired a tad bit differently, as he is more concerned about building up the company.

This belief paid off and today, ONG&ONG has “evolved to offer such a vast diversity of design services that we have unsolicited business”, Tze Boon said. “So it’s really unfair to say that there’s no money in creative work”.

To Chris, the above phrase is a myth. “All the best people in every profession out there makes a good living so why should the creative industry be any different? Of course we do not go into this profession thinking about how much money there is to be made but if you are a great designer you should be paid well”, opines Chris.

Disagreeing with the phrase is Simon Ong – who firmly believes that businesses and consumers have an understanding of the value of design and will be willing to pay for good design. We now leave you with his wise words:

In order to do creative work you need passion, but passion alone isn’t enough to produce the best results. Besides having a creative mind, a lot of hard work is necessary. There’s a common saying – “is it 99% inspiration or perspiration?” – one needs both equally. Good design creates a lot of value for businesses and individuals. It enhances our lifestyle.”


Images used with permission from the respective design agencies.