Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Business Times: Blueprint to boost interior design sector

November 19, 2009
Blueprint to boost interior design sector
Trade group lays out plans to raise standards in the industry

(SINGAPORE) Interior design is not just about running after contractors or drawing layouts - and an association believes it is time to hammer out higher standards for the industry here.

'I probably didn't draw a living room for 20 years,' says Nicholas Merrow-Smith, client manager at Davenport Campbell (Singapore) who became president of the Interior Design Confederation Singapore (IDCS) in April.

And he wants to show that interior designers can do more. IDCS hopes to raise the level of innovation in the industry and has several suggestions on how this can be done.

Among its initiatives are an accreditation scheme for interior designers, a professional development programme and more collaborations with foreign design firms or other design disciplines.

The proposals have won the support of some practitioners in the wider design industry. Singapore Institute of Architects president Ashvinkumar Kantilal is one who thinks that IDCS is heading in the right direction. 

'The (interior design) industry needs to self-regulate and widen the members' knowledge base,' he says, suggesting skills upgrading programmes in the form of courses and seminars.

Financially, the interior design industry is in fine shape, with plenty of work. But according to Mr Merrow-Smith, it lacks creativity and diversity, and this is especially clear when it is seen against its foreign counterparts. 

He cites an example - interior design firms here tend to focus on traditional real estate, while those overseas can be multi-disciplinary, even taking on projects such as theatre design.

And interior designers abroad are going into research, he adds. For example, there are studies on how the design of office space can get employees to buy into their companies' values.

'What we're trying to do is to show people that the design portfolio is much wider,' says Mr Merrow-Smith. And if design firms raise their standards, there is also a chance for them to secure better work, he adds. 

IDCS is kicking off its efforts with a conference this month, called Design Value: Beyond the Tangible, to highlight how design can be a strategic tool. 

It will be attended by players from global firms such as Gensler and Hassell, who will share their experience of how workplace and leisure space designs can influence people's performance and behaviour.

In the longer term, IDCS will try to facilitate partnerships between interior design outfits and other design industries such as architecture.

DP Architects director Tai Lee Siang trusts that greater collaboration among the various design sectors will help strengthen the Singapore brand of design.

IDCS also hopes to set up a professional development programme by the middle of next year. With the course, interior designers can undergo continual training and conduct industry-related research.

The next - and tougher - step would be to establish an accreditation programme for interior design firms. There is no such assessment system in place now. 'Some firms do very good work, but it's certainly not across the board,' Mr Merrow-Smith says.

Some interior design firms see benefits from accreditation. The group managing director of Nota Group, Ong Sheng Keat, reckons: 'In Singapore, a large proportion of the market is dominated by business-minded contractors or decorators who see the profession as another form of trade mainly due to the lack of enforced certification' .

Altered Interior director Thierryson Chua also supports accreditation for firms in the industry, but believes a scheme could be more effective if the government was involved. If IDCS oversees the scheme, it will have to be 'super active' in organising events and attracting members, he says.

IDCS could not disclose its membership size because an auditing session is under way. But Nota Group's Mr Ong says IDCS has been seen as exclusive and inclusive - 'exclusive in the sense that it only admits genuine practising interior design professionals as members, yet inclusive because it will attempt to convert the non-professionals' .

IDCS is aware of the hurdles to implementing its plans and it is getting help from the government. For instance, it has secured funding capped at $435,000 over three years.

The association also spoke to representatives from about 50 interior design firms and related companies. According to Mr Merrow-Smith, they are supportive of its initiatives.

'We don't expect the whole industry to step up,' he says. But 'we'd like to see a core body of people who are serious about pushing the envelope, innovating, and doing things differently' .

Team Marshe
Martin Koh/ Sherry Tang
93833992/ 98444400

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