Donn Koh: Unlocking the human potential in industrial design

He “stumbled” into Industrial Design, said Mr Donn Koh, Senior Lecturer from the Division of Industrial Design (DID) at the NUS School of Design and Environment.

Mr Koh recalled that Industrial Design was not immediately an area of work that came across his mind, until his university days at NUS.

“It was fortunate because all the tell-tale signs about my interest and strengths that make design the right field for me were there since early childhood,” shared Mr Koh, who graduated top in his cohort and obtained First Class Honours in Bachelor of Arts in Industrial Design.

It has all turned out well for him. Mr Koh was among 17 others from various industries who was awarded the SkillsFuture Fellowship – the highest skills award for individuals - this year. Recipients received a monetary award of S$10,000, as a recognition and support to Singaporeans who have displayed skills mastery in their respective fields and commitment to mentorship and the skills development of others.

“It is very encouraging because I'm passionate about human potential - and this award reflects Singapore's stance towards developing learners and helping them to grow others.”

Passionate about human potential

An educator with DID for 10 years, Mr Koh is also the co-founder of STUCK Design, an award-winning creative agency in Singapore. It is currently the largest industrial design agency in Singapore, and its mantra is to “make things people love.” Mr Koh’s projects have won many awards - the BraunPrize, Good Design Award, IDEA Gold, and iF Design and multiple Red Dot Best of the Best awards. Among these are notable works such as the Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse, Air+ Smart Mask, and the HTC Evo 4G.

Mr Koh is passionate about design and in teaching others to design, mentoring many designers who are now working in Accenture, IBM, Boston Consulting Group, Zendesk, LinkedIn, Grab, Carousell, DBS, Google and STUCK Design. He believes that there is so much human potential untapped in each person, and finds it meaningful to help individuals to overcome crippling self-beliefs and misconceptions, especially about creativity.

“Lifelong learning unlocks each person to be fully who they can be. It is also a privilege - there's so much new things to discover and learning is not just a survival essential - but a great way to live. If we are uneasy or find little interest in it, know that many good things in life need us to initially persist, and then cultivate a delight for it,” said Mr Koh, who was involved in formulating Singapore's Skills Framework for Design, where his firm STUCK Design had worked with SkillsFuture Singapore, Design Singapore Council, and Willis Towers Watson in coming up with the framework.

Design: taking the negative and making something new and good

Design is not just about creative aesthetics but creating solutions people need, can afford, and love – sometimes that means helping with innovation during a pandemic. This is why Mr Koh and STUCK designers (many of whom are NUS alumni) had designed some innovations – X-Hood and UV Cover - in response to COVID-19, making their intellectual property available free of charge for all to use during the pandemic.

“We did these because we shouldn't sit back when everyone is chipping in to help with the pandemic - especially when our skillsets are very suitable for quick problem-solving and prototyping. Four of these projects are currently being translated into actual products.”

Back in DID, Mr Koh is also now running a project in DID this semester to inspire students to use design to inject delight and more humanness into the restrictions and cautionary measures that COVID-19 has placed on us – taking the negative and making something new and good out of it.