Developing design thinking capability in Singapore

By Sol Gonzalez

In its second report, the Design Education Advisory Committee has laid out the way forward to nurture resilient and design-oriented talent in Singapore.  

Experts in both design and non-design sectors highlighted the importance of collaborating to foster a creative and design-minded generation that is resilient for the future. Image: GovInsider.

The Design Education Advisory Committee (DEAC) announced four successful proof-of-concepts that demonstrate innovative approaches to close current gaps in design education. 


The announcement was made as part of the second term report launch on June 13. 


DEAC is parked under DesignSingapore Council (Dsg), the national agency to promote design in Singapore. DEAC is tasked to develop manpower with the relevant design skills needed by the design industry and wider economy. 


From 2022 when the first term report was launched to 2024, DEAC has spent S$1 million and 3,000 hours to develop and test different prototypes that demonstrate innovative approaches to teaching and learning. 


From a hands-on demonstration with Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools to the presentation of a National Design Project, the report launch event offered an interactive experience that highlighted the innovations around design education. 


In addition, the report proposed a Future Design School to empower the next generation of Singaporeans to adopt design thinking “as a national skillset”, said Dsg's Executive Director, Dawn Lim in a press release.  


Design thinking is a creative mindset to innovate problem-solving through a people-centred approach. This means focusing on the solution to a problem and its impact on people. 


DEAC aims to integrate design learning into everyday curriculums and foster a network of Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs), industries, and policymakers to support the development of a design-minded generation that is equipped to deal with challenges of today and the future. 

From ideas to reality  


Learning through design thinking should be integrated throughout all educational levels to enhance the workforce and contribute to Singapore’s innovation-led economy, DEAC’s Chairman, Low Cheaw Hwei, said in a press release.  


The DEAC’s investment of over S$1 million to refine four prototypes and demonstrate feasibility of design shows how design thinking is applicable in real-life situations. 


One of the proof-of-concepts presented at the event was the Seamless Career Pathway – a paid work-study programme between Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP) and the advertising agency DDB Tribal Worldwide Singapore.  


The year-long programme aimed to enhance job-readiness of students by exposing them to different roles in the industry and acquire skillsets before graduating.  


“[Students] will have an introduction to strategy, business management, social content creation… customer experience and user experience, technology and project management,” DDB Group Singapore’s Chairperson Jeff Cheong shared at the event. 


The programme will onboard three NYP students this year, following the same arrangements as the previous editions in 2022 and 2023. 


“The prototypes that you see don't come about through a sort of transaction between the industry and the schools, but there's a deep relationship being built, and we hope to perpetuate that,” said Low.  

Envisioning the future of education and design 


The Term Two report builds on the recommendations outlined in the first-term report to advance design education in Singapore over the next 30 years. Six pillars aim to guide IHLs to adopt design education. 

The six pillars guide the point of vision of embedding design education in Singapore. Image: DesignSingapore Council.

“To prepare our students for a world of dynamic change, we need them to be adapting to and working with emerging tools and technologies. Hence the birth of this interactive digital experiments with AI studio,” Temasek Polytechnic’s School of Design Director Elaine Ho shared.  


She showcased the institution’s AI-driven design studio as an example of the pillar “design as an ally of technology”. This principle aims to blend technology with everyday use for enhanced accessibility and improved user experience in the face of rapid digitalisation.  


“Design and technology have a strong and essential symbiotic relationship… design empowers technology through humanising it,” Low said. He emphasised the importance of embracing emerging technologies to adapt in the future. 


Temasek Polytechnic set up two interactive stations to show how students use AI such as Stable Diffusion to complement their creative process and increase time-efficiency.  

What comes next  


At the closing session, Dsg members explained why the vision of developing a generation of creative problem-solvers is set for 2050.  


“Great things take time,” Dsg’s Lim said. She highlighted that the effects of years of design education are only visible now.  


For instance, the success of Changi Airport is the result of “decades of [developing] the design mentality” to envision and capture the desired passenger experience and make it a reality, she said. 


Integrating design as a lifelong skill is the goal of Dsg, added Lim. She called for educators to implement creativity and problem-solving at an early stage in school, tapping into initiatives as the Learning by Design programme.  


Moving forward, students who have been exposed to design mindsets may be better fit to communicate and deliver creative solutions in the workplace, DDB’s Cheong said. 


“This is what is going to take Singapore forward,” he added. 

Correction: The story has been edited to incorporate the correct usage of the abbreviation of DesignSingapore Council.