Transformal Role of Product Design in Singapore’s Transition to a Service Economy

Transformal Role of Product Design in Singapore’s Transition to a Service Economy

Peer M. Sathikh (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-617-9.ch023
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Singapore, a city state of 4.8 million people, located at the tip of the Malaysian Peninsula, was founded in 1819, when Sir Stamford Raffles of the East India Company established a trading settlement in Singapore. The meeting point for Chinese, Malays, Indians, Arabs, Europeans and others on their journey through the southern seas, Singapore achieved its initial economic success through international trade as a free port and free market. Given the status of an independent country in 1965, Singapore suddenly found itself in a struggle to survive. It’s small population and scarce resources meant that regional and world markets were larger than the domestic market, presenting the government and its policymakers with distinctive economic challenges and opportunities. This chapter tries to recount the policies and subsequent actions put in place in Singapore from the 1960s till the present, promoting the creative industry, including product design, in order to transform a market dependent economy into a service centered economy. This chapter also discusses if and how such a ‘planned intervention’ played an important role in building up the resources and infrastructure within Singapore and in attracting multi-national companies to locate their R&D and design facilities in Singapore, pointing to where it has succeeded and where it has not.
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From 1965: Setting The Scene

Being a popular air and seaport, it was always easy for Singapore to import goods and products for local consumption. Perishables such as fruits and vegetables were much easier with Malaysia being just across a causeway. However, the products for everyday use such as radio, television, stove, oven, fan, etc., were imported. While Ford Motors and Mercedes Benz had factories assembling cars, the parts used for assembling these cars were completely imported.

At what level was the local expertise in product design and development at this point in Singapore then? Since there was not any manufacture of complete products for mass consumption, the ‘first generation’ engineers had their first encounter of product design in the form of finished technical drawings and plans for parts manufacture and assembly that essentially came from established companies in the United States, Europe and, to a lesser extent, Japan, which were rapidly establishing their manufacturing facilities in Singapore. How was this possible in such a short time?

Key Terms in this Chapter

Singapore Productivity and Innovation Board (SPRINGSingapore): Is the enterprise development agency for growing innovative companies and fostering a competitive Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) sector. It also develops and promotes internationally-recognised standards and quality assurance to enhance competitiveness and facilitate trade.

DesignSingapore Council: Is the national agency to promote design in business and education, and to develop Singapore as one of the leading international centres for design creativity.

Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB): The lead government agency in Singapore that plans and executes economic strategies that enhance Singapore’s position as a global hub for business, investment and talent.

International Enterprise Singapore (IESingapore): The lead agency under the Ministry of Trade and Industry to promote the overseas growth of Singapore-based enterprises and international trade.

Designers Association Singapore (DAS): A non-profit association of practicing designers and design educators from all fields of design.

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