• Ellen Shapiro

Little Red Dot Makes Big Impact

“The Red Dot” or “Little Red Dot” is a nickname sometimes used in reference to Singapore, based on how the small nation-state—about two-thirds the size of New York City—has been depicted on maps of Asia. First used disparagingly by a former president of neighboring (and much larger) Indonesia, the term was quickly adopted by Singaporean politicians and citizens to refer to their country with pride.

Despite its small size, Singapore has not one but two design museums. Last year I was fortunate to visit The National Design Centre, a three-story, full-city-block complex with galleries, prototyping labs, meeting rooms, and a shop/cafe.

This year, I recently spent an enlightening afternoon at the proudly named Red Dot Design Museum, a compact, glass-walled architectural gem set on the Marina Bay waterfront promenade.

On display were the more than 300 design concepts that won Red Dot Awards in 2017.

According to the museum’s media liason Elvin Seah: “Corporations, design studios, research institutions, and designers from 58 countries entered their latest innovations in our competition—a record 4,724 entries. An international jury of 20 experts convened and assessed each one in a process lasting several days. Concepts with the highest design merit were awarded the sought-after Red Dot, presented at our awarding ceremony. Since its inception in 2005, the competition has been an outlet for designers to showcase their latest concepts and products without customer constraints,” he added. “This is now the largest and most prestigious international award competition for design concepts at a professional level, with 34 categories spanning the spectrum from public space and lifestyle to security needs.”

The top “Red Dot: Luminary” award went to “Halo City” by Beijing Onemile Technology. This folding electric scooter aims to change the way urban citizens can explore cities by allowing them to easily travel between bus and subway stations. “Here we experience a next-level-solution,“ juror Lutz Fügener noted. “This product communicates the highest usability in all details—from folding to riding. Almost all problems of usability, simplicity, aesthetics, and attractiveness have been solved.”

Concepts that also captured my imagination included:

Kin Wallet by Kin Studio LLP, Singapore. Captioned as ‘the only wallet that sorts the notes from the coins, so users won’t hold up the queue while fumbling for change.’

Fan + a Stick by Kim Jinseok and team, South Korea. A power bank that can be recharged via solar power simply by fanning It out.

Priz Extension Cord by Erdem Selek, USA. Instead of being an eyesore, this extension cord was created to look like jewelry that can be displayed on the wall.

Mirai Rice Cooker by Ronald Tan, Singapore. It not only cooks rice, but turns the leftovers into crispy toasted snacks.

Sha-Fu Food Culture by Jang Eunah, South Korea. An app that enables the exchange of food culture around the world by connecting Airbnb hosts and guests via a virtual kitchen.

Element Capsule by Ko Hyenseon and Shin Daji, South Korea. An engaging interactive experience for teaching children the basics of chemistry.

Spacewalker Lamp by Constantin Wortmann, Belgium. This friendly visitor from outer space provides light indoors and outdoors offers changing lighting scenarios via colored filters.

Nordic Time by Erdem Selek, USA. A buckle-free watch that allows users to create their own color combinations.

I was especially touched by the creativity Asian designers are applying to assist people with disabilities. In image above, at top left: Arm-Use Basin by Zhang ZhongYang, China. A basin design more convenient for amputees. Below the yellow basin is General by the School of Design, Dalian Minzu University, China; design lead Zhang Xuseng. A flexible artificial limb that addresses the challenges faced by prothesis wearers. At right, two images of Bamboodia by Huang YuMan and Wang Yu-Chi, Taiwan. A low-cost prothesis for teens suffering from below-knee amputation caused by land mines.

“To ensure an unbiased environment,” Mr. Seah noted, “entries were presented without identification of the designer. Jurors, who are recognized in their abilities to provide cultural context tempered with personal experience to provide fair, balanced judgment, must have no association with the companies or concepts submitted; to avoid conflicts of interest, every juror pledges to a ‘Code of Honour.’ The levels of award are ‘Red Dot’ for high design quality and ‘Red Dot: Best of the Best’ for the best in each category. Manufacturers and designers use our logo, which was updated in 2000 by German designer Peter Schmidt, to identify their award-winning products and position themselves as worldwide design leaders.”

All the winning projects are featured online and in yearbooks that are available at the museum shop—along with a tantalizing array of design objects.

After admiring the architecture of the museum itself (designed by Cox Architects, Australia, in collaboration with Architects 61, Singapore), viewing the exhibit,and picking up a gift or two at the shop, the Red Dot Design Museum is a great venue from which to explore the waterfront, take in the view, and visit other nearby attractions including the shops and restaurants in Moshe Safdie’s Marina Bay Sands Hotel—joining the locals in shopping and eating, Singapore’s national pastimes.

The current exhibition will close on September 25. The call for entries for concepts/products created in 2018 will open on January 2, 2019.

Mr. Seah emphasized that the government of Singapore is actively promoting design-related initiatives through its Design Council Singapore, and is working towards fulfilling its multifaceted Design 2025 Master Plan, which focuses on “fostering appreciation of design, expanding the role of design, and strengthening the competitiveness of design firms, bringing design into the community, and continuing to develop the Singapore design brand.”

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