In the Keep It Going panel discussion, “Adopting And Adapting Design”, the panelists discussed making furniture to going mobile and planning islands. Design takes on different forms and functions depending on the kinds of challenges faced. By Ethan Quill
As a little island that could, Sentosa has reinvented itself from a killing field during the Japanese occupation when it was called Pulau Belakang Mati (“island behind death” in Malay) to Sentosa (“peace and tranquility” in Malay) where most of the “killing” is made on the casino floors of Resorts World and by developers of the ultra-expensive homes.
“It took us 40 years to grow the island,” says Chan Mun Wei, Divisional Director, Corporate Planning, Sentosa Leisure Group. “We started in 1972, and we’ve had a measure of success. From an average of six million visitors, we saw 20 million visitors in 2012. A big catalyst was Resorts World. It sets a new benchmark, but at the same time the sustainability issues become more real. We need to balance development while maintaining the island’s charm.
“We went through a big master plan for our land use for the next 10 years, and it is challenging. Sentosa is a success story but it’s very built up. We are only 500 hectares. We are small, and we have to deal with congestion issues. The lines are long for the attractions and the eateries are packed. New developments may be out at sea, on reclaimed land. We may need to build below, so under Sentosa Cove may be Sentosa cave.”
“When I design stuff it’s meant to be forever,” says designer Nathan Yong. “I’m brought up to save and do things efficiently. I don’t see the point of designing things that fall apart after two years. I design solid wood furniture, and use a lot of walnut and oak from companies that collect their wood from farming.
“We are part of a system that consumes a lot. But for furniture, things are slowing down. Customers are more respectful of handcrafted products. These days, many companies are producing in small quantities. And the customers appreciate them more because each piece tells a story.”
“In Singapore, watch making is quite alien,” comments Christopher Long, co-founder of Azimuth Watch Company.. “To be relevant in this business we have to be creative. I told my partner, Alvin Lye, we could introduce watches with more interesting designs. When we first launched Azimuth it was a watch without a brand. People thought we were crazy. But we had some success with it, and other brands tried to mimic us, so we felt it was time to move on. Alvin and I said we should come up with our own identity to differentiate ourselves from the market. Most of our watches are unique. We have created world firsts like the first watch that has a single hand and goes anti-clockwise.
“The big Swiss players — The Swatch Group, LVMH and Richemont, which probably make up 90% of the market share — are trying to stop competition. The Swiss watch competition commission has allowed Swatch to slow down movement supply to third parties from this year to 2021. We buy movements from the Swatch Group (which owns major movement manufacturer ETA). Their idea is to supply these components just to their own brands.
“So how do we get around this? Our challenge is to rely less on ETA by designing our movements and have investors pump in millions of dollars to create movements. If you cannot fit into this game, in the next 10 years you will see more microbrands being put out of business.
But the Chinese (brands like Seagull) are coming to the rescue. “The Swiss are good at watch making, but in recent years, the Chinese have caught up and are trying to fill the gap by supplying movements for mid- and low-range watches. We can transfer technology to China, but the attitude towards made-in-China products is a problem; it is always viewed as inferior, especially to a Swiss brand.”
“To be sustainable in the next three to five years, you have to have a mobile strategy,” states Rohit Ambeker, COO of Acromobile. “There are three dimensions in which mobile applications are impacting sustainability. First, we’ve seen a massive transition of consumers shifting their mode of engagement from the desktop to their mobile device.
This year, e-commerce from mobile surpassed desktop commerce.
“The second is about substitution of traditional media. Consumption of content on mobile is real time. It’s substituting the need now for people to go and buy a newspaper which offers the same content. For businesses, printed collaterals are being replaced by mobile versions. The burden on printing collaterals is going to be reduced.
“The third dimension is around energy consumption. Mobile devices consume significantly less energy than any other medium.
“We wanted to create a way to bring mobile applications to the masses. Acromobile has a software product that allows small businesses to start using an iOs or Android application for less than $2,000 a year.”
That Design–Sustainability Relationship – Champagne on a beer budget and a 20% discount…?
“Design is more to do with user experience,” comments Rohit. “As a consequence of mobile, people have gotten lazy. Everybody wants snippets of information — how do I learn everything about flying a plane from five pages on a mobile device.
In the user experience you have to create as minimum clicks as possible.
If they see a QR code on a poster, they want to be able to scan it, see the promotion, and with the next click be able to buy the product. Beyond that, nobody will bother surfing for content. The desktop experience on the other hand, means you’ve got to go home, relax, turn on my computer…take some time out. With mobile it’s creating an instant, lazy, on-demand culture.”
“It depends on whether you are talking about traditional brands or new start-up brands,” reckons Christopher. “For example, a Rolex watch today and 60 years ago looks strikingly similar. It has become an iconic product. They have tried to minimise changes in their design DNA. Azimuth is not a traditional brand. We started 10 years ago, and we decided that to survive in this business, we have to be different. We’ve adopted an avant-garde approach. We design watches that are totally out of this world, so that people can identify our products.”
“The designer can’t just do anything he likes because he gets a design brief,” says Nathan. “The brief is written by the marketing department, who gets their intelligence from the market. It’s often bigger than what a designer can do.”
“You don’t want to overcook the island or it might look like Ang Mo Kio,” adds Mun Wei. “We are government linked and sustainability is part of an economic strategy. We need to extend the runway for Singapore for the next 30–40 years.”
Adds Nathan: “If they pay $1 to enter Sentosa, that could help funding. A lot of Singaporeans do not like to conserve. They want everything to be new. As consumers, we throw things when they are still usable. When you go to Milan, everything is in marble and old and beautiful. In Singapore everything is new.
You wake up and you have a giant tree in front of your house. Everything is engineered.”
“In the last 20–30 years we have lost many of our artisans,” observes Jose Raymond, of the Singapore Environment Council. “We get them from across the Causeway now. Some 20 years ago our mindset was about getting a university degree. From a system with lots of artisans and a few degree holders, it’s inverted, because of decisions taken in the past.”
Moderator Jose Raymond, is Executive Director of the Singapore Environment Council, which is in the business of getting companies, corporations and organisations to look at the environmental sustainability of their business.
Chan Mun Wei, Divisional Director, Corporate Planning, Sentosa Leisure Group, wants a better tomorrow for the resort island, millionaires’ playground and the location of one of Singapore’s two casinos.
Nathan Yong, founder of Nathan Yong Design is keen for customers to buy things that are well made and last a long time.
Christopher Long is one of the two founders of Azimuth Watch, a Singapore watch brand that prides itself on innovative design.
Rohit Ambeker, the COO of Acromobile, brings affordable mobile solutions to companies looking to raise the level of interaction with its customers.