Change By Design – Tim Brown’s Talk In Singapore


On Wednesday evening, Tim Brown, CEO of the world renowned design firm IDEO gave a sold-out talk at the Esplanade Theatre in Singapore. Organised by the Design Society of Singapore and partners, the event was largely a public event attended by a mix of people from the education, design, technologists and just about anyone was there.


Tim’s talk was basically the one you can watch on TED, where he urges designers to think big and showed how Brunel’s vision of trains in Britain was the result of design an entire system based on the goal of a user experience of “floating across the country side”. Also the theme that we are shifting to just plain design to design thinking. 

Tim’s slides and visuals were very good and worthy of presentation zen. I enjoyed how he used colours, fonts and transitions to make the succinct point impressionable.

However, there were very interesting local variations made during this talk and that is probably what the $20 is worth. To begin with, he showed a nice drawing that welcomed him to Singapore. The drawing was made by a friend of mine from Malaysia and her portfolio is simply awesome. Take time to check out her drawing below which was emailed to him.


He also raised the point that good design begins with asking the right questions. This to me is similar to the scientific exploratory process. Then the shift in creating something is what begins the experimentation phase of both design and scientific thinking. The topic of asking the right questions was exactly what I spoke about to a bunch of high schoolers via video lecture about two years ago. I based quite a bit of this on “The Art of Powerful Questions” written by Eric Vogt, Juanita Brown and David Isaacs. The PDF of this book can be downloaded from the World Cafe.


Finally, he ended off with several questions which he believes we in asia could tackle with collaborative design thinking. He sees Singapore as the huge crossroads and melting pot for people, culture and business+science+art. These issues included;
  • Aging and health
  • Creative education
  • Innovation in Asia 
  • Service Innovation

In terms of business, design thinking is a useful tool as Singapore-based companies need to understand their target markets well. As the local market is small, most business are forced to expand rapidly in other asian countries, and while we may be asians, the social, economic and lifestyle practices are so different.

In the end, I think Singapore turned to design thinking out of necessity as problems we face now are complex and with the influx of diverse cultures in recent years. Both these factors, drive home the need to have tools that allow us to build systems within our society and nation.


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