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Revamped President’s Design Award Focuses on Impact

The President’s Design Award will switch to a biennale cycle to implement important changes that reflect the critical role of design today.

Revamped President’s Design Award Focuses on Impact

Enabling Village by WOHA Architects, 'Design of the Year' recipient 2016. Photo by Edward Hendricks

The DesignSingapore Council and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) have decided that it’s time for a revamp of the President’s Design Award (PDA). The joint administrators outlined their plans during a press briefing at the National Design Centre last Thursday.

Over the course of 11 years, the PDA programme has bestowed recognition upon 39 recipients of ‘Designer of the Year’ and 99 recipients of ‘Design of the Year’ awards. The PDA is considered Singapore’s highest accolade for designers and design projects.

“The role of design has definitely changed in recent years,” said Agnes Kwek, the Executive Director of DesignSingapore Council. She posited that both government and savvy businesses are using design as a process for innovation (in terms of products and services), and that design has helped to address complex issues such as urban density, ageing, health and mobility.

As such, the PDA has been updated, in Kwek’s words, “to reflect this critical role of design in our world today” and to “tell this narrative of the impact of design in our businesses, our society and our lives.”

The revamped PDA will retain its two-category format of ‘Designer of the Year’ and ‘Design of the Year’. The big change comes from the judging criteria – nominations and submissions for both categories will now include the ‘impact of the design’ as one of the key judging areas.

For the ‘Designer’ category, nominees will need to demonstrate how their portfolio has had a significant impact on contemporary life and living environments, how it shows a strong social and iconic value, and how it shows national significance.

For the ‘Design’ category, nominees would need to demonstrate the impact of the design in one or more of the four areas: enabling economic transformation; raising quality of life; advancing the Singapore brand, culture and community; and demonstrating ground-breaking design achievements.

The PDA Secretariat will work closely with a ‘knowledge partner’ – the SUTD-MIT International Design Centre (IDC) – to assess the claims of impact submitted by shortlisted nominees for non-architectural projects. The SUTD-MIT IDC will submit an assessment report on the impact claims of the shortlisted design nominees, which will be reviewed by a jury panel.

To accommodate this new key judging area, PDA will now be held biennially.

“A biennial award will allow more time for new architectural projects to fully evolve which in turn, enables us to better assess the sustained impact that the projects have on their surroundings and users,” said Larry Ng, Group Director, Architecture and Urban Design Excellence at the URA.

He added, “For non-architectural projects, this approach will similarly encourage more submissions from multi-disciplinary fields by allowing sufficient time for complex outcome-based projects to incubate and have their impact felt.”

In addition to the judging criteria, the PDA will be deepening its engagements locally and internationally. The DesignSingapore Council has tied up with three renowned international awards to promote Singapore design and PDA recipients globally: the British Design and Art Direction (D&AD) Awards, the Danish Design Award (administered by Danish Design Centre and Design Denmark), and America’s National Design Awards (administered by Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum).

“The collaboration will be quite fluid,” said Kwek. The DesignSingapore Council will be exploring avenues of collaboration including the exchange of award exhibitions and jurors; the mutual hosting of recipients for outreach programmes and the sharing of best practice in design research; as well as the promotion and embedment of design. On the home front, there will be more opportunities for laureates to engage local communities, industries and businesses with design.

Asked if the new, more stringent judging criteria might discourage entries, Kwek remained positive: “We hear the word stringent being mentioned but we also think that this new judging area will allow more entries to come from broader fields like digital or service design. [We expect to be seeing] designs that cannot be pinned down to just one category and designs that have been sitting in the margin.”

The call for entries for the PDA 2017/18 opened on 20 July 2017. Members of the public have until 1 September 2017 to nominate designers and design projects, and nominated designers have until 15 September 2017 to submit their works and credentials.

Designers who wish to make a direct submission may also do so with a third-party endorsement till 15 September 2017.

Complete and comprehensive guidelines and case studies of how the new judging process will work can be viewed here.

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