DID Gradshow 2023: Innovations that enlighten and inspire

At this year’s Division of Industrial Design (DID) Graduation Showcase 2023 – an annual event featuring the thesis projects completed by the graduating NUS DID students – 46 young designers demonstrated their skills, rigour, creativity, and sense of empathy through a diverse range of creative works, including inventions that help to foster relationships and community spirit, as well as enhance health and safety. Themed Design-in-Flux, the showcase was held from 9 to 11 June 2023 at SDE 4 of the NUS College of Design and Engineering.

Their design journeys involved fundamentally reframing problems as creative opportunities. It entailed asking a lot of questions – and conducting extensive research – to understand the systems and environments in which users operate, and eventually, bring about fresh products, services and experiences.

Here, we highlight four exciting projects by NUS’ promising designers.

Commemorate – An immersive game to learn about our cultural heritage

Created by Claira Chiw, Commemorate is a project that explores Gen Z’s perceived ambivalence and uncertainty with ancestor worship, a practice that dates back to the late 19th century and reflects the centrality of the family in Chinese society.

Based on interviews conducted with her peers and older practitioners of this tradition, Claira discovered that Gen Z’s lack of knowledge and appreciation stemmed from a lack of adequate exposure and engagement. Learning about traditional cultural practices, in other words, tended to be quite boring. This propelled her to explore different mediums and methods that might better appeal to youths. She eventually decided to provide participants with a physical platform to appreciate the richness and diversity of cultural practices in Singapore.

“Further research and prototyping led me to develop an immersive card game for people to learn about Chinese traditional practices in a fun and informal setting,” she said. “I integrated the abstracted symbolisms, gestures, items and verbal expressions of the actual ritual into the game mechanics to create an enlightening experience for people of all ages.”

Claira hopes that more Gen Zs can experience this game to learn about the practices of our elders, and appreciate the different cultural traditions in Singapore. “It could be through means of making this card game available in exhibitions, or even to produce it for students and families,” said the young Singaporean who intends to pursue a career in experiential design.

Operation Paws – Alleviating perioperative anxiety for paediatric patients

Having to go under the knife is an uncertain and daunting experience for everyone, especially so for a young child. Drawing from her personal experience, Valeska Tan embarked on a mission to discover ways to help paediatric patients better cope with anxiety prior to surgery.

“I began to explore the topic of perioperative anxiety due to my experience with a surgery as a child. The fear I felt then is a memory that has stayed with me since, and I realised that more could be done to help alleviate the anxiety paediatric patients face around their operation,” said Valeska.

An initial survey of patients and healthcare workers allowed Valeska to understand that the pre-operation period was the best touchpoint for Child Life therapists to intervene and help to allay any fears the parents or child may have about the operation.

Valeska developed a holistic medical play programme called Operation Paws that Child Life therapists can use to better prepare paediatric patients aged four to nine for surgical procedures, by teaching them what happens during surgery using interactive gameplay.

The game uses a hybrid digital and physical set-up to engage the child in role-play as a doctor performing surgery on a patient. Paediatric patients will first select and name their animal patient avatars, forming a more personalised connection. Throughout the storyline, they will explain to their animal patients what to expect for the operation, and in the process, understand why they must undergo certain procedures in the hospital. Apart from 3D printed medical tools, augmented reality is also used to enhance the playable experience where the patient can simulate a simplified medical procedure.

To design the game, Valeska ensured that the narrative was medically accurate through consultations with therapists, paediatricians and anaesthetists. She also referenced current videos and children story books about surgery to understand how to compose a child-friendly, engaging story.

Valeska then conducted user testing with paediatric patients in hospital settings and at home to assess the usability and efficacy of the programme, which garnered much enthusiasm from patients and parents. Therapists noted that anxious paediatric patients who played the game displayed less anxiety during the surgery.

Valeska is open to further refining and improving the game, and she is also considering pursuing research in design, especially in the healthcare sector.

DIP (Drowning Intervention and Prevention) – An anti-drowning device  

Drowning is a quick and silent killer. It is the third leading cause of accidental death in children, according to the World Health Organisation. Despite the presence of lifeguards, it can be challenging to identify signs of drowning, particularly during peak periods at the pool, with only seconds to spare.

Edwind Tan experienced a near-drowning incident during a swimming class conducted by his primary school. This incident inspired him to develop an effective way to assist lifeguards and parents in keeping children safe while enjoying a dip in the pool. He also shared that being exposed to the day-to-day sights and sounds from living near a swimming pool motivated him to devise a way to help boost water safety for the children who swim there every day.

Edwind designed a child-specific wearable device called Drowning Intervention and Prevention (DIP), as a potential solution to ensure quick and timely drowning detection and intervention. The DIP band can detect early signs of drowning by accessing the child’s vitals, such as heart rate and blood oxygen levels, and secondary indicators of drowning, such as hand trashing.

The DIP band is programmed to detect nine different trigger conditions, for example, drastic changes in heart rate and lack of movement, to generate an alert on the mobile app or matching wearable for the parent to intervene in the event of a drowning incident.

Edwind interviewed officials from Sport Singapore to develop and iterate the product. Through conversations with swim coaches, lifeguards, and pool management staff, he learnt that distractions, lack of awareness, and complacency were the three main factors in drowning incidents. “I hope that through the development of the DIP band, I will be able to empower lifeguards and parents to enhance water safety among all child swimmers,” he added. 

There are plans to expand the use DIP to other sports, and even for fall detection. “I hope that through my project, I can help keep Singaporeans active and for everyone to enjoy sports safely,” said Edwind.

CoolerConnect – A cool way to strengthen neighbourly relations  

How do we encourage communication among neighbours? A two-way water cooler called CoolerConnect designed by Jonathan Lau reimagines how everyday objects can be made ‘friendlier’ to encourage social interaction amongst people in a residential estate or building.

“As a young student, I was struck by Edward Hopper’s portrayal of urban isolation and loneliness in his oil paintings,” he said. “Singapore society can appear quite cold in its pragmatism and efficiency. I wanted to address this in my project.”

His project is part of a broader movement that recognises the ‘strength of weak ties’, and how regular, low-stakes interactions can help to build a stronger sense of community.

“During my exchange programme in France where I studied spatial design, I became acutely aware of the concepts of ‘convivialité’ and ‘sociabilité’ of spaces. While visiting different districts in Paris and cities, I saw first-hand how the French were very intentional in creating liveable and sociable spaces within their cities for everyone. Where I lived, neighbours would acknowledge one another with a simple ‘bonjour’ and a smile.”

Armed with this vision, Jonathan knew that he wanted to design interventions that could catalyse spontaneous interactions in daily life. After conducting several rounds of experimentation in different locations in the neighbourhood, he decided on the watercooler because it showed the most promise.

Jonathan hopes to continue his work in social innovation, and he is undeterred by the complexities of re-designing an existing product from scratch. “Having no experience in wiring electronics and water pipes, I relied heavily on Google and YouTube to quickly pick up basic electronics and plumbing on my own”, he said.

Jonathan is actively seeking like-minded collaborators to accompany him on the journey of further refining the design and constructing prototypes of higher fidelity. He aims to place CoolerConnect in even more locations to realise his vision. Ultimately, he plans to apply similar principles to create a series of objects that could bring about a friendlier Singapore. “For instance, what if the simple act of collecting your mail can also become a moment of spontaneous friendly interaction with your neighbours?”