Rachel Poonsiriwong is a DesignSingapore Council Scholar who is currently pursuing Interaction Design in San Francisco. In this article, she shares insights from her chats with her mentor Professor Barry Katz (who was IDEO’s first fellow and author of “Make it New: A History of Silicon Valley Design”), and reframes them in the context of Singapore.
In creating something new, we often follow in the footsteps of giants. Take for example Paylah!, a mobile payment platform by DBS Bank that, in my opinion, emulates and cleverly contextualises the features of Venmo, its North American counterpart that streamlines peer-to-peer monetary transactions. Similarly, when cultivating a design innovation ecosystem, it is natural for us to look towards Silicon Valley as our gold standard. This sentiment to “be more like Silicon Valley” seems to be commonly held, even as our 30-year-old tech scene matures and gains international credence. Unfortunately — and perhaps fortunately — we will never be like the Valley, as we are one of a kind.
As my professor Barry Katz puts it, Silicon Valley is “the product of a unique confluence of circumstances that cannot be replicated in time or in space”. This highlights the various interdependencies that exist between Silicon Valley institutions that – as the result of history and chance encounters – can never be recreated in Singapore under controlled environments. In the Bay Area, there is a strong relationship between venture capitalists, legal institutions, and trade publications to support burgeoning product growth, and universities that meet the companies’ demand for manpower. These dynamics have been established since the 1970s. For example, Carl Clement’s work as the first industrial designer at Hewlett-Packard in 1951 brought attention to the functional value of design. Another instance was the Homebrew Computer Club, which brought Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs together in 1975 and inspired them to design the original Apple computers.
Similarly, my view is that Singapore too should tap into its own unique advantages to chart an ecosystem of our very own — one that is uniquely Singapore, that no other city can parallel.