“Singapore design is underrated,” declares Dawn Lim, the newly minted executive director of DesignSingapore Council (Dsg). “Design, in general, is underrated. Underrated especially in terms of the impact that it can have on how things work, how the world functions; and how it brings soul to the objects, places and images around us.” 

Dawn took over the reins as executive director at Dsg earlier this year in June, assuming the role from Mark Wee, who has led Dsg since 2018. “I’m loving my new role as executive director of Dsg! It is such an exciting time to be in design,” she enthuses. 

“The world is faced with an unprecedented set of complex challenges including climate change, growing inequality, ageing societies, against the backdrop of technological acceleration unseen before. There’s so much impact we can make to the world we live in – whether it’s designing products that use less packaging, to designing education policies that ensure access for less privileged students to future technologies, to designing a better user experience for healthcare in the metaverse,” she adds.

The world is faced with an unprecedented set of complex challenges including climate change, growing inequality, ageing societies, against the backdrop of technological acceleration unseen before.

Dawn Lim, executive director, DesignSingapore Council

Before she took up the mantle as Dsg’s executive director, she was the vice-president and head of commercial and professional services/hub services at the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB). It’s a vastly different portfolio, but as Dawn points out, there are parallels. 

“I’m very grateful for the multitude of experiences that EDB has given me, which I believe have set me up well for this role. At EDB, I had the opportunity to take on a spectrum of roles and responsibilities over the years. I’ve always had a business-facing role either heading industry teams such as logistics and professional services, or market teams, in particular Europe,” she notes. 

Over time at EDB, she also learnt how to “activate influential stakeholders and leverage platforms to position Singapore as the preferred place for business investment, for example at the World Economic Forum”. She shares: “Fighting for Singapore out there builds a lot of resilience as there are times when the door is closed in your face! We just pick ourselves up, reposition our pitch and keep going.” 

“Very much a design approach in a way – test with your users, pivot and keep moving,” Dawn highlights.

This year also marks the return of Singapore Design Week (SDW), after the festival was placed on hiatus for two years due to the global pandemic. “Following SDW 2019, before the global pandemic, Dsg reevaluated how SDW could be reimagined to create greater tangible value and impact,” she shares. “We landed on a brand-new vision for SDW, marked by the three defining festival pillars of Design Futures, Design Impact and Design Marketplace. I’m very eager to see the public reception of the renewed festival.”

The core of SDW has always been to highlight and celebrate some of the region’s brightest names in design, and that has not changed. “Singapore is uniquely a nation by design,” asserts Dawn. “There is a collective desire in Singapore to make lives better through design. It is the reason why design now permeates every part of our city, elevating individual lives and yielding large-scale national impact.”

Here, she shares more about her new role, the programmes she’s looking forward to at SDW, her favourite local design brands, and more. 

Tell us a little more about what you do as executive director of DesignSingapore Council (Dsg).

I firmly believe that design can make the world a better place. In that same line of thought, Singapore can be a much better place by and through design. I see Dsg playing a critical role in infusing design into every aspect of the way we live, work and play, and putting Singapore on the world map as a global design hub.

As Executive Director, it’s important for me to keep an eye on the future and anticipate how the world is changing so that we can ensure that we are designing a better world and a better future for ourselves. In particular, our future will be a technologically driven one – whether it’s in the metaverse or other Web 3.0 applications – and it will need to be sustainable at its core, one that is inclusive, accessible and planet-friendly. How do we design for this future? And how do we bring the different stakeholders across government, tech, social sector and businesses to design this future together?

What are you most looking forward to for SDW?

We’re featuring some up-and-coming female designers this year. Some key highlights are EMERGE @ FIND where you’ll find emerging talents such as Cynthia Chan and Karyn Lim from Singapore alongside Vietnamese and Thai female designers who are making their mark like Phuong Dao and Saruta “Pin” Kiatparkpoom.

The Front Row’s #FashTag spearheaded by fashion director Daniel Boey is one of the many highlights.

I’m definitely going to be at #FashTag by our very own fashion godfather Daniel Boey where he’s pushing the boundaries in digital and physical fashion and championing issues such as sustainable, inclusive design through fashion. Finally, the beating heart of SDW is National Design Centre and we have so many programmes there, including our main showcase N*thing is Possible where you can shop at Potato Head’s famed Circle Store pop-up carrying a small collection of items.

Do you have a favourite local designer or design brand? 

Too many to mention! Everyday I meet and learn about more and more local designers and brands doing amazing work. I have recently been acquainted with the beautiful cuts from Shirt Number White, Tria the Label and In Good Company. Madly Gems is a personal favourite as I love jewellery. 

Through Dsg’s Good Design Research (GDR) initiative, I’ve gotten to know the brand Werable by Claudia Poh. She creates beautiful adaptive fashion for the less-able; yet her outfits are just as versatile for anyone. That really struck a chord with me as I have had stroke patients in my family and clothes like Werable give them dignity to dress themselves. 

What about a favourite space in Singapore?

I’ve recently gotten a deeper understanding of the design principles behind Enabling Village that was designed by WOHA. I’m blown away by how much consideration there was for the space to be inclusive and accessible to everyone from young to old, able-bodied or differently abled (including hearing loops!). I love that different groups came together to provide an enabling environment for communities like autism eg. Starbucks partnering to train baristas at the café, NHB employing data entry researchers, Art Faculty providing commercial platform for artists. It’s a beautiful representation of what good design – in space, in community and in policy – can do for our society. 

I am very familiar with caregiving for the elderly in my family and this place really strikes a chord for me in so many ways. We’re featuring Enabling Village in our specially curated P*DA tours so I hope many of Her World’s readers will join us.

[Enabling Village by WOHA] is a beautiful representation of what good design – in space, in community and in policy – can do for our society.

Dawn Lim, executive director, DesignSingapore Council

Who are the design icons that have had the most impact on you, and why?

Definitely my late mother. I grew up watching her always accessorising, adding colour and looking presentable every time she stepped out of the house. She was never lavish or excessive; there was a touch of simplicity and class to her look. She was always ready to experiment and ahead of her time. She’s the influence on why I always accessorise now as an adult and love colours.

What do you appreciate the most, design-wise, in your own home?

My home is a blend of Scandinavian and mid-century modern. I really enjoy returning to the serenity of my home at the end of a long work day, or relaxing in my living room on a weekend. I’ve kept the colours very neutral and calming – lots of wood, greys and whites – with a myriad of green plants that I try to keep alive! I’ve also collected interesting prints and works of art locally and from my travels abroad. It brings me back to my globe-trotting adventures! 

What are your hopes for the local design scene?

Our historic journey has shaped the uniqueness of the Singapore design brand – one that is modern, Asian, multicultural, open, informal yet pragmatic. And because we’re plugged into global hubs and flows, there is a confluence of arts, culture, enterprise and technology within one city-state that speaks of our diverse talents. This has led to a burgeoning in the design scene in recent years. 

Local creatives are stepping out of traditional design disciplines to experiment with technology – especially relevant since the future of cities and economies are being shaped by emerging developments in blockchain and Web 3.0 technologies. This development necessitates a shift in the skillsets and mindset change within the design sector. And I am heartened that Singapore and Singapore-based designers (who recently participated in the London Tech Week) like Lanzavecchia + Wai and Steve Lawler, who created NFT artworks, have paved the way for their contemporaries to follow suit. This willingness to explore and experiment is also my heart’s desire for all our designers – to be bold and showcase innovative and forward-thinking Singapore designs to the world.

Our historic journey has shaped the uniqueness of the Singapore design brand – one that is modern, Asian, multicultural, open, informal yet pragmatic.

Dawn Lim, executive director, DesignSingapore Council

What are some future initiatives we can expect from the Dsg?

Since our inception in 2003, Dsg has supported many designers, design enterprises and also helped to advance the adoption of design thinking across business, education and government in Singapore. 

As we work hard to position Singapore design beyond our shores, it is important for us to have one eye on what will make an impact on the future, while simultaneously focused on how our history and heritage has influenced our beliefs and perspectives. The speed of technological and digital developments continues to change the way that humans interact with each other and the world. Web 3.0 applications, while still nascent, have the potential for growth as companies look at transforming it into a reality for their consumers.

We also want to establish design thought leadership in Asia and beyond through the Singapore Design Week, our flagship premier international design festival, from this year onwards. 

Next year in 2023, Dsg would mark the 20th anniversary of its formation. This is an important milestone for us to take stock of what we have done and how we can continue to push the envelope in terms of Singapore design. We want to fly Singapore’s flag high as a leader of the future of design.