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Friday, June 14, 2019, 11:23
Putting smart to intelligent use
By Chitralekha Basu
Friday, June 14, 2019, 11:23 By Chitralekha Basu

Editor’s Note: Since 2001 Hong Kong Design Centre is vested with the role of nurturing Hong Kong’s potential as a center of design excellence in Asia. As it readies to host Knowledge of Design Week —where renowned design professionals share intelligence and practical skills toward creating enhanced life experiences — China Daily Hong Kong catches up with Eric Yim who has been steering the show since 2016. 

Eric Yim, chairman, Hong Kong Design Centre. (ROY LIU / CHINA DAILY)

What is the significance of Knowledge of Design Week (KODW) in Hong Kong’s calendar of events combining creativity and business? How is it different from Business of Design Week (BODW) held in December?

 We try to have a more interactive platform for our audience in KODW. While experts in different fields share their views from the podium, like they do in BODW, at KODW we have more workshops, roundtable discussions, masterclasses etc. The KODW audience is a much smaller group. They can interact closely with the speakers. We invite designers and architects from around the world to talk on different themes. The broad themes under discussion at KODW 2019 next week are: “Liveable Smart City”, “Future Retail” and “Lifestyle and Digital Health”. 

The overarching theme of KODW 2019 is “Designing Digital Futures”. Given some of the older technologies, like the Octopus card, still serve us  well, how necessary is it for Hong Kong to catch up with the digital revolution? 

The Octopus card was introduced in Hong Kong in 1997 and is widely used even now. However, I think we who live in Hong Kong need to reassess whether the current electronic payment methods are enough for us, and if not what the next step for us is. I think we need to embrace new technology. We cannot be too comfortable with what we have achieved, rather learn from our neighbors in Shenzhen and Singapore. And we shouldn’t stop at acquiring new technology but have to  keep thinking about ways of using it to enhance our everyday life experiences.

Since representatives of the local government have a strong presence at KODW, are there instances of the government implementing any suggestions made by the expert design professionals in previous editions of KODW?

The idea behind inviting government representatives is to send out the message that design is not solely for design professionals. If more people in the public sector get an understanding of what design can achieve they may be able to apply such knowledge while making policy decisions. To that end we had prepared a white paper to the government so that they could consider including suggestions that came up during a KODW forum while formulating government policies.

In her 2017 policy address, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam included some of our suggestions. It was emphasized that design thinking was not only for design professionals but also useful for people in industry and business, as well as the government in shaping their policies to address public issues. The 2017 policy address described design thinking as a problem solving tool. It also mentioned that design thinking should be introduced to students at a young age.     

The government released a “Hong Kong Smart City Blueprint” in 2017 and in subsequent budgets has promised generous funds to support building smart city infrastructure. Are there areas in which Hong Kong Design Centre (HKDC) is contributing to these projects?

Recently the local government announced a plan to refurbish public toilets. This is where HKDC can come in by offering out-of-the-box design processes, defining the root problems and working out ways in which toilets can be more than just a facility where people go to relieve themselves. Toilets could be made to support Wi-Fi facility, for example, or serve as a source of important information, have better accessibility. We see this as a pilot project to test different smart city elements. So those who submit tenders for this project probably need to go through a design thinking process and demonstrate how our lifestyles can be enhanced with better design through stakeholders’ engagement and new technology. 

One of the KODW 2019 themes has to do with the changing face of retail and the use of data analysis to create custom-made shopping experience. Is it possible to enjoy the benefits of advanced technology without giving away too much about ourselves and guard against potential risks?      

I think as long as the customer has a choice in terms of allowing different service providers to use the data they collect, and as long as one has the choice to opt out when one no longer wants to share information…

But increasingly it’s getting more difficult to stay out of that circle of connectivity…

Yes, most people do not seem to mind sharing their work, their news and their daily cup of coffee on social media. We live in a world where sharing is key. Whether you like it or not when all your peers are on Facebook or Instagram, it might seem a little odd to not be on it…

Not just that, access to a number of domains has to be routed through Facebook. As soon as you sign up they have access to all your personal data. 

Yes, we have entered a world where sometimes we are told, you have nothing to hide...

That sounds like a very Orwellian world…

Right, I may not have anything to hide, but I do not necessarily want to tell the whole wide world where I had lunch and with whom. But that’s the direction we seem to be heading toward. We are adjusting to a certain mindset which then becomes the norm. You can opt out of the circle of sharing but given the times we live in, it may not be seen as normal. 

The key is in finding a balance. I think when we reach a point where everything has been shared, most of us will have a rethink. I think new technology can help us share information without intrusions into our privacy.

Digital health is a recurring theme at KODW…  

The idea here is to enlarge the focus from healthcare to health in general. This would include making provisions in policies related to urban planning, for instance. 

As you know, the average age of Hong Kong citizens is rising. All of us know the figures but there is no organized thought toward helping elderly people cope better with the difficulties of old age, and whether we could look to the provincial governments of say Guangdong who could help coordinate our efforts. These are the themes that we discuss at KODW. 

Is it possible to design a totally-inclusive digital health program for Hong Kong residents?  

Theoretically yes, but it would be difficult to set a date. And inclusive design is not just providing for those suffering from ill health. For instance, if I am a wheelchair-bound person, it might be difficult for me to even open a door. Policymakers need to address such issues one at a time, on a priority basis because of the limited nature of resources.

The ideas that come up at KODW sessions are not usually concerned with healthcare, housing or education in isolation. We try to look at the inter-connectedness of all of these fields, especially now that we live in a digital world. We need a new way of looking at things, informed by empathy. 

So a discussion on digital health program is not about bringing down the costs of medicine, rather about ways in which we can lead a life that’s pleasantly integrated in society.

Interviewed by Chitralekha Basu

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