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Meet #SGID17 Ambassador Steven Louie

Is Singapore’s creative scene becoming too safe, too measured, too… ‘curated’? Hear more from Singapore Indesign 2017 Ambassador Steven Louie.

Meet #SGID17 Ambassador Steven Louie

Steven Louie has over 40 years of experience in strategic planning and interior design projects around the world. He recently joined Geyer’s Singapore studio as Workplace Leader Asia, but before that he worked with Gensler (where he spent nearly 30 years as a Design Director across New York, London, Tokyo and Boston from 1980 to 2008), as well as M Moser and PSG in Singapore.

Louie is also known and respected as an educator. Until recently he was a Senior Lecturer at Temasek Polytechnic’s School of Design, where he was actively involved in nurturing and developing the skills of Singapore’s next generation of designers.

With his decades of working and teaching, Louie has a keen understanding of today’s workplace and culture. And he will share his thoughts with us over breakfast at Singapore Indesign 2017’s Curated Space (72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road) on 7 October at 10:00am. But first, an introductory Q&A:


Can you share some thoughts on Singapore’s current creative scene?

This is a navel-gazing, excessively self-contemplative question that can result in the same answer no matter how many times it is raised. It also implies that it’s being asked in comparison to metrics. What metrics? In comparison to previous years? In comparison to other regional neighbours, or other developed cities?

Before expressing an opinion, I’d like to qualify it by quoting Alexander Dumas (author of the Three Musketeers). He wrote that “All generalisation is dangerous, even this one”.

With that in mind, there is no doubt that there is a creative scene, but in comparison to say, Bangkok, New York, or London, it is not as vibrant, spontaneous, or uninhibited. Rather, I find it measured, safe, and all too familiar. Or as my friend Daniel Du refers to it: “curated”. Perhaps this is a product of endless initiatives to promote design awareness that is politically correct, safe and inoffensive.

 While the focus of this writing is design, there are clearly other areas where creativity has expressed itself freely, especially in the culinary scene. Every week there seems to be another restaurant that seeks to be the new destination.

There are also a number of local heroes who I have come to admire and applaud their unique point of view. They have also been celebrated by Cubes magazine during recent years. These include designers such as Wendy Chua from Outofstock, Joshua Comaroff from Lekker, Hunn Wai from Lanzavecchia and one my newest heroes, Ang Quo Zi from DPA, winner of last year’s Archifest Pavilion competition.

I consider these emerging voices that have been percolating within the design scene to be stimulating and exciting to hear. Collectively, they approach their work based on research and view constraints as their friend. In the ‘old school’ manner of Ray and Charles Eames, “Design depends largely on constraints.”


What are some of the things that drive your practice?

Our practice is fairly straightforward. We are essentially a service profession whose existence depends solely upon people (clients), who are themselves in a constant state of change. It does not matter what particular practice we are involved in – hospitality, healthcare or workplace – all have endured disruptions that have given us cause to consider solutions to address these changes. All have the same common denominator: people.

To borrow a phrase from the Eames, the role of the designer is that of a very thoughtful host, who anticipates the needs of his guests. There can be no other compelling reason to keep you up at night than this thought.


What are you looking forward to seeing and experiencing during SGID17?

The origins of event like Saturday Indesign [as SGID was formerly known] were conceived in the late ’70s in New York City. The notion was simple. If you (the designer/architect) would be willing to give up your time on a Saturday, they will invite the designer of the product to meet and chat with you in the showroom. This would be a luxury of exchange that the normal weekday could never afford to provide.

Fast forward to Singapore, some manufacturers have held up this tradition by bringing their key product designers to meet directly with the design community. It’s a learning experience that makes this one-day event so unique. In the previous years [and this year], talks have been organised throughout the day to discuss some of the pressing issues confronting designers. Singapore Indesign provides an informal setting where the audience can shed their inhibitions and engage in meaningful Q&A exchange.


What did you enjoy the most at past editions of SGID?

There is no question that one of the highlights for me is to meet up with fellow industry colleagues. It’s a great cross section of meeting former students who are starting their careers, to seasoned colleagues whose attendance is an affirmation that one must always stay ahead of the curve by getting out of the office. One almost has the feeling that the day has been set aside as one big festival for designers to gather from the region.


Catch Steven Louie over breakfast, and hear his insights on workplace design at our SGID Insights session ‘Designer Breakfast: The Currents of Workplace Design’ at 10am at the Curated Space, 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road, on 7 October 2017.

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