Designing for people in a rapidly transforming Singapore
Singapore is not like other places. A city but also a nation. A culture but also a community.
And that means designing for positive change in Singapore is a unique experience.
It needs a unique set of skills to identify the challenges and opportunities that can lead to better lives and experiences for all Singaporeans.
That’s where Joshua Teo comes in.
Newly appointed as Principal at ThinkPlace’s Singapore design studio, Teo is well placed to meet the future needs of a city-state that is undergoing rapid transformation.
Whether it’s his passion for street photography or his commitment to designing in human-centred ways, Joshua's life-long fascination is with understanding people, what motivates them and how they live their lives.
TP: Tell us a bit about yourself.
JT: I come from an architecture background. I’ve spent the last eight years at one of Singapore’s leading architecture firms doing design that included architectural design but also experience design.
Where I am now, I stand at the intersection of design, business, digital technology and community. For me, the role of a designer is facilitating change, and bringing the right people together to make it happen.
And the kind of changes we are looking to make now, many of them either relate to digital transfromation in Singapore. Either that's the subject of the change or it is a big part of making it happen. In this world it's important to keep hold of the human side of design, to approach change as an holistic experience.
And to make sure that when we are driving towards digtial transforation that we bring all Singaporeans along with us. We need to make sure we are being inclusive and not creating a digital divide.
TP: That means human-centred design, as it touches upon places but also on technology, is a crucial part of changemaking in Singapore, would you agree?
JT: It really is. One of our most senior government ministers gave a speech recently, laying out three big priorities for Singapore.
- Public housing
- An ageing population
When you think about it, all of these priorities touch upon placemaking, public spaces and how we can use design to meet these challenges.
TP: Tell us more.
JT: As a nation our energy use and carbon footprint is critical for our future. Changing the way we do a few things can have a massive impact for Singapore. For example, we spend so much energy cooling our buildings with air conditioning. How might we design spaces or ways of living that are less carbon intensive?
On public housing, we have land scarcity in Singapore – it’s a small country – and we have a growing population. We need to create quality housing and quality opportunities for our people in the future. It’s an area where we can look at the entirety of how people live, what they need and value in a community and in their living environment.
Then there’s the ageing population. Singapore’s demographics are going to hit us hard in the next 15 years and we are not currently well enough prepared. How can we allow these people to age with dignity but also allow them to continue making a contribution to society? How can we use the design tools at our disposal to ensure they lead rich lives?
TP: It does seem that human-centred design and the possibilities it offers are having a bit of a moment in Singapore?
JT: They really are. What I am seeing is a Government that is making a real effort to become more relatable to its citizens. This is a country that is working to get better at co-creation and collaboration. I think that was a necessary change. There is still plenty of work to do and we think at ThinkPlace that we are really well-placed to help with that.
TP: That speaks to the Government’s growing investment in human-centred change but there’s something else special about Singapore and design isn’t there?
JT: Definitely. Because it is a nation state that is the size of a city and because there are fewer layers of government, Singapore can be a brilliant environment to innovate and test things. We are so self-contained, we can rapidly iterate and then test programs and interventions that could eventually be applied much more broadly across Asia and beyond.
TP: What's something interesting about you, outside of work?
I love to take photos. And the kind of photography I am most interested in is street photography. I love just to meet interesting people, get an insight into what thye are doing and try to record it with my camera. Every person has something special and something interesting about their story. As humans we are all natural storytellers and I think this is a thread that comes across from my wider life to my life as a designer in complex human systems.