Singapore’s government is pulling out all the stops to promote creative entrepreneurship in the city-nation.
In addition to studios, exhibition spaces, and a shop, Singapore’s National Design Centre is now home to three of the city’s public makerspaces, offering citizens access to digital fabrication machines, power tools, and electronics. Jeffery Ho, the executive director of the DesignSingapore Council, hopes that such prototyping labs will become as ubiquitous as photocopying shops once were. “If this is a successful model . . . we will go into the housing estates,” he says. “That is very relevant for us because we don’t have garages in Singapore.”
The DesignSingapore Council is an agency set up in 2003 when the nation began developing a creative economy. In just over a decade, it has nurtured a thriving design scene—Singapore was designated a UNESCO Creative City for Design last year—and is now set to forge closer ties with technology and entrepreneurship, in line with the government’s plans to turn the city-state into what it refers to as a “smart nation.”
It’s a national icon that’s over 50 years old, yet few have seen this side of Singapore’s tourism mascot – a Merlion that looks straight at you.
This mythical creature’s side profile is typically the face of souvenirs from Singapore, but designer Donn Koh found this “stern and so stone-cold” that he gave the half-lion and half-fish a friendly makeover.
Imagine a child’s drawing of a fish with a lion mane. Add on lines for a smiley face, dots for pimples and eyes, and you have the smiley “Merlion Chouchou”. This is just one of three designs, including a cheeky and a sad-faced version, of a cute pillow-like Merlion plushie designed by Koh of industrial design consultancy STUCK.
“This is the first Merlion that looks at you. I think that gives it a bit of a friendly connection,” explains Koh who was also assisted by designer Ng Xin Nie. “It has that combination of innocence, a bit of silly and suddenly its approachable. In some ways, it also feels a bit Hello Kitty-ish because it’s got an unassuming face.”
The Merlion Chouchou is just one of 50 “Souvenirs From Singapore” STUCK designed in celebration of the nation’s golden jubilee. They had been approached by local design label Supermama to produce souvenirs based on the 50 national icons selected by the SG50 campaign.
“Made in Singapore” has always been a challenging term for Singaporeans. Manufacturers grumble about the high costs of labour and land here. Designers lament the lack of expert collaborators willing to experiment and innovate. Consumers complain about paying a premium for local products that are no better than overseas imports.
Four on-going exhibitions in Singapore coincidentally retrace the nation’s history of making, offering an opportunity to understand and reflect on some of the issues that plague craft, design and manufacturing in the city-state today.