Celebrating good design

13 Jun 2020

Straits Times, 13 Jun 2020, Commentary: Celebrating good design

Ever dreamt of your own vegetable plot by the kitchen window where that spot of sunshine would do wonders for leafy greens?

With the modular hydroponic system called One Kind Block, designed for food independence by 17-year-old Dylan Soh, you may soon have your greens - and eat them.

His One Kind Block is one of six projects picked for seed funding from more than 120 entries for the Design for Good initiative announced on April 13 by the Design Business Chamber Singapore (DBCS).

The open call was for creative problem-solvers to reimagine ideas on how to improve lives during and after the coronavirus pandemic.

Other designs include a corrugated cardboard box that doubles as a mini-desk and an art class for seniors.

DBCS panellists shortlisted the six most promising submissions last month and will be formally announcing their picks today on the DBCS website.

One design submitted is the Simi (Social Interaction Made Intuitive) app by business incubation project manager Chieng Yu Siang, 30, and her team, who wanted to devise a way for the elderly to keep in touch via the app's "emotion tracker".

"The elderly find it hard to express their feelings of loneliness and isolation," says Ms Chieng.

"So we designed a simple interface that prompts seniors to indicate through emojis whether they are happy or sad. If they are sad, they can indicate whether they are moderately or very sad," she says, adding that the senior's family members or caregivers are alerted when the data points to areas of concern.

Dealing with isolation was also on the minds of Mr Galven Lee and Ms Suanne Chan, designers of the platform, A Good Chat For Migrant Workers. They conceived it as a chatbot to help migrant workers seek assistance and access information about the Covid-19 situation.

Mr Andrew Pang, DBCS president, is heartened by the number and quality of submissions. He says he had a hard time selecting the six projects to be awarded the total seed funding amount of $36,000. Each project will receive $6,000.

"The open call for the three design challenges was issued on April 13 and the closing date was April 26. The turnaround time was only about two weeks," says Mr Pang.

The project owners are also invited to apply for the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth's Our Singapore Fund for a grant maximum of $20,000, or 80 per cent of the qualifying project costs, bringing their potential funds to $26,000.

The projects are at different stages of development and prototyping.

The creators of one project, This Is Your Life Now, are in talks with a potential funder. The digital portal is targeted at guiding Singaporeans aged 20 to 35 through data-driven analyses to help them make sense of and navigate a fast-changing world.

They declined to give further details as the deal is still in discussion.

Mr Randy Hunt, one of the 15 Design for Good panellists as well as head of design at ride-hailing firm Grab, says the top projects stemmed from the designers' understanding of the context, needs and expectations of the people affected by Covid-19. He adds: "Design is an enhancer, a clarifier and an enabler."

One Kind Block by Dylan Soh

One Kind House, run by Dylan Soh's grandmother in Telok Kurau, is the inspiration for his hydroponic kit One Kind Block (OKB).

Madam Ng Swee Hiah, 77, or "Mummy Soh", is one of Singapore's top Airbnb Experiences hosts and she has opened the family terrace house to paying and non-paying guests for the last few years.

With food supply disruptions in mind, Dylan, 17, and his team, which includes his father Calvin Soh and student YuYou Ling, 29, came up with a portable hydroponic kit that sports a "Lego meets Ikea" design. This was further developed into a more functional system and prototype with the help of a group of students from the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

The OKB is engineered to be modular and to fit anywhere within an apartment, including balconies, window grilles, common walkways, ledges and walls.

Dylan, an International Baccalaureate student in Finland who flew back to Singapore in March, says: "Densely populated cities will benefit from the One Kind Block."

He aims to set up a website for his kit where people can choose how many OKBs they need to suit their apartment, post about it and share their experiences. "As urban apartments are not designed for farming, One Kind Block adapts to the apartments instead," he says.

Simi App - Social Interaction Made Intuitive by Chieng Yu Siang

"I just want to hear my children's voices," said one of the seniors whom Ms Chieng Yu Siang interviewed over the telephone for research into the design of an app for the elderly, which features an embedded "emotion tracker".

Called Simi - Social Interaction Made Intuitive - the app was designed in just two weeks during the circuit breaker period, with her four team members working separately and from home via teleconferencing.

Ms Chieng, 30, who has an engineering degree and works full-time as a business incubation project manager, says: "Seniors find it very difficult to say, 'I'm feeling lonely" or 'I need company'."

The emotion tracker is a pop-up menu that seniors can use to tell caregivers and loved ones how they are feeling on a daily basis.

For elders who indicate "very sad", the app will alert the senior's family members or care network that something is not right.

"We emphasise 'back to basics' as the essence of our app - minimal functions and content - and that a family needs to build relationships with seniors," says Ms Chieng.

Convertible Desk Box by Sumay Cheah

An artist and co-founder of OtherHalf Studio, Sumay Cheah wanted to help children from underprivileged homes who were confined to small spaces to do homework during the coronavirus pandemic.

The 33-year-old came up with a portable and lightweight slanted desk made from recycled corrugated cardboard, "a simple solution to get your homework done anywhere at home".

"The slant for the desk is to cater for better ergonomics for a child's posture," says Cheah, who, together with co-founder Ho Lay Hoon, 33, specialises in immersive art experiences such as the duo's installation at the Asian Civilisations Museum during Light To Night Festival last year.

"It took me about three days to come up with the proposal," says Cheah, who adds that being an installation artist compels her to constantly think about the spatial aspects of design. "My work teaches me to be more of a problem-solver."

Artribe by Tay Hui Jae

Since April last year, Ms Tay Hui Jae has been leading a "tribe" of seniors brandishing watercolour brushes and paint.

The founder of Artify Studio in Textile Centre in Jalan Sultan, which teaches art to young children and adults, hit on the idea of creating an informal "art tribe" about a year ago, when she was engaged with a few seniors from Peace-Connect Cluster Operator in Beach Road, a service provider for the elderly.

But when the circuit breaker started on April 7 in response to the coronavirus pandemic, she had to stop her weekly sessions. She then consolidated her experiences into a platform called "Artribe" - a virtual art class for the elderly which can be sustained well into the future. Participants communicate through group video calls on WhatsApp.

"Artribe aims to empower and enrich senior citizens' lives through art," says Ms Tay, 31, who has a bachelor's degree in visual communications from Raffles Design Institute. "Our dream is to create an Artribe in every neighbourhood. Each Artribe will be led by seniors inspired by our programmes."

A Good Chat For Migrant Workers by Galven Lee and Suanne Chan

Migrant workers feel alienated in Singapore because they are unable to access information about the Covid-19 pandemic instantly.

Knowing this can cause uncertainty and distress, designers Galven Lee and Suanne Chan collaborated with HealthServe, a charity which helps migrant workers, to create a chatbot platform called A Good Chat For Migrant Workers.

It provides a one-stop portal for Covid-19 information for Singapore's migrant population of mainly Bangladeshi, Indian and Chinese workers.

The chatbot functions as a phone number the worker adds to his contact list on WhatsApp.

"Whether by providing answers to questions or connecting them to people who can help them, we hope to provide a 'first port of call' for help," says Mr Lee, 31, an innovation manager at Bridge Alliance, a coalition of telecommunications firms.

Ms Chan, 31, a service designer, does research to deepen the team's understanding of life in Singapore for migrant workers. "This will help us understand the information or assistance gaps that can be better addressed with well-designed communication experiences," she says.