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Survey shows Singapore lags Japan and Hong Kong as design hub

22 December 2005

Survey shows Singapore lags Japan and Hong Kong as design hub

A recent survey has shown that while local design professionals and experts rate Singapore’s design hub status as fair, most cite Japan and Hong Kong as better locations for engaging in design work.

This finding from a survey conducted by Spire Research and Consulting seems to reflect the superior “brand image” of these two countries over Singapore in the creative industries. The survey involved over 40 Singapore-based respondents who are either suppliers or customers in, or experts covering, the fields of communications, environment, fashion and industrial design. 

The respondents ranked Singapore just above China, South Korea and Thailand for design work as a whole. South Korea is said to be catching up with Japan in terms of design output quality, while Thailand and China are associated with price competitiveness.

The general sentiment of respondents is that South Korea, Thailand and China have the potential to catch up with or even surpass Singapore as design hubs.

Ratings for competitiveness of Singapore design work

Most respondents felt that Singapore design work has met the basic requirements. Some also believed Singapore possessed a pool of design talent with potential for greater development.

However, none of the respondents was optimistic about Singapore becoming a design hub in the short-term:

More than 50 per cent of the respondents rated the quality of Singapore design work as reasonable and efficient

Approximately 20 per cent also pointed out that Singapore had a ready pool of IT talent, which is advantageous for the design industry

Over 90 per cent of respondents believed that Singapore designers still lack creativity and international exposure

A frequently cited observation was that the work of Singapore designers reflected a “lack of identity”

High labor costs and the lack of a nurturing environment for creativity were also cited as inhibiting factors

More than 50 per cent of respondents felt the market for design in Singapore was too small and consumers generally had a preference for foreign design work

Respondents rated Singapore design work on various attributes as follows:

When asked to cite the most competitive countries in the Asia Pacific for design work outside of Singapore, Japan emerged as the clear winner, cited by 72 per cent of respondents, followed at a distance by Hong Kong (31 per cent) and China (28 per cent). South Korea (10 per cent) and Thailand (7 per cent) were a distant 4th and 5th place

While some respondents had experience of procuring or providing design work outside Singapore, most respondents might have been guided by impressions of the “design brand image” of these countries, based on published opinion and the views of industry colleagues

In terms of pure quality of work, Japan received the highest mean score

Expert views on Singapore design work

The experts interviewed for this survey included faculty at leading universities and senior executives of design associations. These experts registered the following opinions:

70 per cent believed that the volume of design work commissioned in Singapore was increasing

High costs, poor creativity and a weak sense of “identity” were the top reasons cited for commissioning design work overseas

Some experts felt that Singaporeans were generally reluctant to consider
design as a profession, thus limiting Singapore’s potential as a design hub

What more can be done to position Singapore as a design hub?

Nearly 60 per cent believed that the Singapore design sector was young and more organic development was needed before Singapore could aspire to be a design hub

The local designers surveyed wanted more support from local consumers for “designed in Singapore” products

When asked what else the Singapore government and the design industry could do, respondents were mostly non-committal. Many felt that organic development should be allowed to take place, while some commented that:

the government should provide financial support to designers wherever possible, for example through project-specific grants and access to funding for start-ups

government and industry should support scholarships and exchange programs aimed at nurturing young designers

local designers felt that the government should encourage more spending on local labels by awarding major projects to local firms, thus assisting them in gaining brand name recognition

The community of customers and suppliers of design work in Singapore feel that the local design industry is doing a decent job. However in terms of its ambitionsto become an international design hub, Singapore needs to start by being an Asia Pacific hub, and here it is in danger of being sandwiched by Japan and Hong Kong on the one hand and countries like Korea, Thailand and China on the other.

Japan and Hong Kong are consistently associated with the best quality of design work, perhaps due to the associations these countries have with the creative industries as a result of their strong entertainment, fashion and merchandizing sectors. Japan’s top ranking suggests that high labor costs need not inhibit the flourishing of the design industry
Korea, Thailand and China are cited as up-and-coming design locations that can leverage lower labor costs as well as indigenous cultural traditions that are seen to benefit design creativity

On the whole, the survey respondents are less than sanguine about Singapore’s prospects for becoming a design hub in the short-term. Long-term prospects might be more positive if all stake-holders help build the right framework to foster organic development. The dominant message articulated by survey respondents seems to have been that creativity cannot be engineered and must be given time and space to flourish. Only in this way can a unique local “identity”, a key concern of respondents, coalesce and shine through in local design work.

Annex 1 – Singapore’s design hub ambitions
With the recently concluded inaugural Singapore International Design Festival (SDIF), the Design Singapore Council (DSC) announced its intent of positioning Singapore as an international design hub and the design capital of Asia.

The creative cluster (arts and culture, design and media) has been among the fastest growing sectors in developed economies like the UK and the US, in line with global trends. Creative industries not only contribute towards the economy directly, but exert a positive indirect impact on the rest of the economy.

The Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts (MICA) has taken the lead in enhancing the infrastructure to support the creative industries in Singapore. It established the DSC in August 2003 to roll out a national design initiative, aimed at promoting Singapore as an international design center, doubling the design industry’s contribution to Singapore’s GDP by 2012 and improving design capabilities in the country. Through events like the Singapore Design Awards and the Global Creative Summit, it is hoped that the creative potential of Singapore can be showcased to the world.

Annex 2 – Singapore’s strengths as a design hub
Singapore has successfully positioned itself as a hub for activities such as logistics, foreign exchange trading and the oil refining/petrochemicals cluster. As a design hub, what does Singapore have to offer?

traditional strength of being a melting pot of Asian cultures. Hence, a mixture of design ideas, cultures and practices from around the region can be found among the resident population, fostering the creativity that can flow from cultural synthesis and synergy
strategic geographic position as being within a 7 hours flight-time radius of virtually all major Asian cities

English-speaking population - an enabling factor in terms of ease of foreign business entry and ease of communication among staff of different nationalities

cosmopolitan society, which provides good opportunities for market testing

pro-intellectual property rights (IPR) environment and internationally recognized intellectual property regime, ensuring that firms dealing with design and creativity can operate in a secure environment

a ready pool of IT and managerial talent
a stable and pro-business political environment, which actively encourages investments, both foreign and domestic

a government that is actively stimulating the development of the creative industries, through development infrastructure such as the Esplanade and attracting world-class artistic and entertainment projects such as the Crazy Horse cabaret

About Spire Research and Consulting
Spire Research and Consulting is Asia’s leading strategic market intelligence consultancy. Spire’s competitive advantage lies in its ability to deliver to its clients actionable intelligence on the external business environment in support of their strategic decision-making in marketing and business development. Spire is one of the few companies in its industry to be headquartered in Asia. Spire’s clients include over 20 Fortune 500 organizations as well as Government agencies in nine countries. For more information, visit us at www.spireresearch.com.

For media enquiries, please contact:
Deborah Lee
Spire Research and Consulting

Phone: (65) 63276131
E-mail: deborah@spireresearch.com

Ronald Wong
Fleishman Hillard

Phone: (65) 64246386
Email: wongr@fleishman.com

William Chia
Fleishman Hillard

Phone: (65) 64246387
Email: chiaw@fleishman.com

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