A group of Singapore designers arrived in China recently looking to distinguish themselves, not as individual design firms, but as a unified front.
In a week-long show at the Shanghai 2010 World Expo, a consortium of designers from the tiny country sought to attract Chinese companies both on the merit of their ideas and on their unique Singapore identity.
Singapore exists because of good design, said Tai Lee Siang, chairman of DesignS, a group that links design firms from a range of disciplines. In addition to cultural ties between the two countries, Singapore also has experience with many of the problems China faces, he explained.
Singapore has limited space, limited resources and has long had to focus on sustainability.
Singapore is a small country; we have to have this kind of forward-thinking industry, said Sam Tan, parliamentary secretary at Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry and Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts.
The country's growth has taken off in the past year, reaching 18 percent gross domestic product growth in the first six months of the year, said Tan. That growth has been driven, in part, by a recovering manufacturing sector, and many firms are finding opportunity in China's growing consumer market.
Groups like DesignS, he said, are serving as economic ambassadors as they seek to prove that Singapore can provide essential expertise to Chinese companies as they grow.
DesignS has brought together a group of designers that specialize in market segments from fashion and architecture to product design and branding. The network, said Lawrence Chong, co-chairman of DesignS, offers a more comprehensive look at design than any one firm could.
This sort of network can benefit Chinese companies, in particular, that are in need of a full suite of design activities.
Our aim is to become the point of contact for people who are interested in our members, Tai said. A development company, for instance, could look to DesignS to help provide an interior designer, or a link to a furniture company.
Many companies are looking to expand globally for the first time and are looking for innovative ways to distinguish themselves. China is quickly becoming an attractive retail market for multinational companies, and Singapore is well-placed to serve companies going in both directions, said Tai.
Today is the start of a new conversation, he said. Things are really going both ways.