Highlights of Singapore Design in 2012

Here are my five trends of the Singapore design scene last year, which I think could possibly impact what we see in 2013.

1. The continuing rise of craft and Singapore designs
From coffee to bags, homeware to letterpress and even haircuts, these are just some examples of what young Singaporeans are getting their hands into nowadays. The interest in craft and the Do-It-Yourself culture started before 2012, but last year we saw many of such initiatives blossom and even more new ones join in the fray. This has since hti critical mass in the form of “Handmade Movement“, a fair for independent craftsmen and women that will be held in Singapore in January this year.

With more Singaporeans crafting a career, means more designs and products inspired by this city, as witnessed in the growing collection of Singapore design products — so don’t be surprised if we see our own MUJI or G.O.D soon.

2. Singapore design is entering mainstream
My confidence that Singapore might one day see a ‘national’ design label  is fueled by the growing awareness of the business of design here. Supporting our local designers is an emerging network of shops, online stores, flea markets, and even neighbourhoods such as Tiong Bahru, that sell Singapore design products as part of an assortment of lifestyle goods ‘curated’ from all around the world.

One interesting Singapore retail project is Outeredit, which not only sells designed T-shirts, but the creation process too. For each collection, customers are introduced to the designers, get to see them cross-collaborate, and finally vote for the designs to be printed.

Such avenues are exposing and defining local design to the Singaporean consumer, and if they grow and take off, that can only mean the same for Singapore design too.

3. ‘Designer’ cafés and restaurants
Who hasn’t visited or at least heard of one of these ‘designer’ cafes and restaurants that have sprouted up across the island? This has to be one project type that will define portfolios of the 2000s of Singapore design studios when we look back one day. While they all serve all-day breakfast, artisan coffee and indie magazines (ranging from just one to all three), one is amazed at how many different ways designers have come up with to brand and package their interiors! They have certainly introduced the dimension of design to the dining experience for Singaporeans, but as William Chan of TMRRW and PHUNK fame tweeted last year: “Nice to know that cafes here are paying proper designers for interior & branding. now they just need to hire proper chefs to do the cooking.”

Remember bubble tea and ice-cream parlours? I think this trend will go bust this year and we’ll be left with only those have the best design taste.

4. More Documentation of Singapore Design
With publishers turning their sights to Asia for new revenue streams, Singapore’s design scene has started receiving attention too.  The architecture scene here, in particular, has seen the most activity. Pesaro Publishing this year published a guide to 21st Century Singapore Architecture, and is working on books for WOHA (its third), K2LD and Cicada Designs. Some design firms have even went into self-publishing, such as DP Architects, and Ong & Ong’s Three Sixty Review.

Graphic designers here also got into the act too. The Design Society published a book detailing the historical evolution of the scene (which I authored), and the studio Hjgher published Creative Cultures, a directory of 100 individuals and groups from Singapore’s creative scene. There’s also a growing buzz between the nexus of graphic design and publishing with Epigram and Studio Kaledio coming up with books that have given the Singapore literary scene a much more exciting face. Finally, if the rumour mills are to be trusted, we are looking forward to books in 2013 about d.lab, and the Singapore Institute of Architects, who celebrate their 50th anniversary in 2013.

Publications are important materials that represent a design scene. They provide potential clients a glimpse into the work of studios; researchers a documentation of the work of designers here, and fellow designers a reflection of the scene they are in.

5. International recognition of Singapore Design
From the Design & Advertising Direction (D&AD) to the SaloneSatellite, and the World Architecture Festival, Singapore designers received many accolades and awards this year. While we did not show  at the Venice Architecture Biennale, Singapore design still travelled overseas with Thesus Chan holding an exhibition for the latest issue of his two-decades old WERK magazine in Japan’s Ginza Graphic Gallery, and Hjgher’s Creative Cultures featuring  as part of DesignTide Tokyo. This year, I hear there will be a Singapore pavilion at the SaloneSatellite for the first time — we have indeed grown.

At home, it was relatively quieter last year. Even though we held the World Architecture Festival and 100% Design Singapore for the first time, these were trade shows that confined themselves to the scene. What was missing were public-centric design programmes, with the only two major on-going events being the annual ArchiFest and President’s Design Award exhibition. The Singapore Design Festival did not make a return in 2012, but at the end of this year we will see the launch of the National Design Centre. Hopefully, that will be more than just a business hub for design.

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