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Patrick Chia: Design Incubator

The Founding Director of the National University of Singapore’s Design Incubation Centre unpacks the insights of the academy with a new book and exhibition. Narelle Yabuka has this story.

Patrick Chia: Design Incubator


May 6th, 2013

When Patrick Chia returned to Singapore from his industrial design studies in Australia in the 1990s, he found a rather sedate environment in which to practice. “There wasn’t much going on in the Singapore context,” he says, with most opportunities to be found in the designing of furniture for large multinational corporations.

“There’s been a big shift in the last three to four years,” he adds. The Design Incubation Centre (DIC), it would seem, is one of the many factors that has encouraged this shift.

Design Incubation Centre

Roly Poly helps individuals connect when they are not in the same space. When the user moves one of the two devices, the same movement is echoed in the other

Chia has led the DIC since its establishment in 2006. He was recognised in Wallpaper magazine’s Annual Design Awards as one of the ‘Best Breakthrough Acts’ in the same year. Alongside his role at the DIC, Chia continues his own design practice. This involves collaboration (since 2002) with Japanese company Time and Style.

Design Incubation Centre

B1 & B2 Lights in maple, teak or aluminium

Now he has authored a 256-page book (published by Laurence King) that documents the DIC’s design research, process, and philosophy, and contemplates the future of design practice. Titled Design Incubator: A Prototype for New Design Practice, the book was launched in Singapore on 30 April 2013 at Space Asia Hub alongside an exhibition of projects developed by the DIC.

Design Incubation Centre

Touch Hear – an intuitive text-recognition dictionary

On one hand, the book is an archive of seven years of investigation and development. On the other hand, it can serve as a handbook of sorts for designers, educators, innovators, business managers, and any users of design methodology who are seeking progressive approaches to practice.

Design Incubation Centre

Design Incubation Centre

Perigot – the zipper serves as a representation of the product line’s identity

“This isn’t a technical handbook,” says Chia, “but it will be quite useful for anyone who wants to look deeper at our insights and processes. ‘Design thinking’ has been quite well promoted lately,” he continues, “and it’s a bit of a buzz word, which can be dangerous.”

Design Incubation Centre

Explorer Concept Vehicle features large panoramic windows that transform ordinary routes into leisurely journeys

Having said that, Chia is well aware of the emerging possibilities for Singapore’s industrial design graduates today. Employment of young designers is currently his number one concern for the industry, so it pleases him to see his former students working in institutions such as “hospitals, insurance companies, and banks – looking at the service-related experience.”

Design Incubation Centre

ABE the Tummy Dummy – an abdominal simulation device for medical students

He explains, “As the DIC does more and more collaborative workshops, with invited stakeholders from different domains, various industries are able to see the value of design – even though they might not know how to measure it directly.”

“This opens a lot of opportunities for our students, but it depends on whether design can be regarded as something of very high value. It also depends on how these young designers manage their projects – how they translate a concept into something that can be measured. We are concerned with that at the moment.”

Design Incubation Centre

Botanika in white SLS nylon

Design Incubation Centre

Soft Bowls in white SLS nylon

Along with his team, Chia is also currently focussed on ‘big data’, how design can be applied in this field, and how the DIC’s teaching programme can be further developed to equip students for the emergent world in which they will be practicing. Perhaps, says Chia, “our students will use circuit boards to make prototypes for the testing of ideas in a similar way to how they make a sketch or a 3D model.”

Design Incubation Centre

Layered Plates in Corian and teak

Outside the DIC, Chia is eager to start working on a new furniture collection – “to use my hands and get back in touch with that process of ‘doing’, which is a thinking process”. He is clearly also thoroughly engaged with his teaching and research activities at the DIC, and building on the progressive work of the last seven years.

“How do we continue this kind of culture? How do we build up areas that may be lacking, and develop important programmes that the faculty currently may not have the capability to accommodate? How do we make that happen?” No doubt, Chia and his team will find a way.

Design Incubation Centre

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