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  • Daniel Ling

Interview with Daniel Ling - Designer in a Business Suit

Updated: Feb 13, 2023

Interview with Daniel Ling

A group of NUS Industrial Design juniors, Felicia, Efrim and Raymond came over for an interview about me to be included to their alumni yearbook. What an absolute privilege to be interviewed as a design thinking consultant and as an NUS alumni to be shown to a wider audience.

I was looking at the interview script and was thinking.. man! This totally sums up my life story so far and I really want to crystallize this by blogging it up (what a great first post it's going to be). I thank God, my wife, my family and every colleague I have ever met to have mould me to what I am today.


Felicia: Hello!

Daniel: Hey Felicia!

F: Quick first one- what is a "designer in a business suit"? I saw that in your Linkedin profile.

D: Interesting phrase that I coined myself. Having been working in the financial and start-up industry for 8 years, I am in an environment where I have to speak the language of a business person or a banker, yet have the mindset and skillset of a designer. So it is a sort of infusion where I become a "designer in a business suit."

F: You also mentioned that society should have more “designers in a business suit.” Why do you feel this way?

D: Right now we are in an industry where we are shifting from being a specialist designer to a more design thinking kind of designer where they are able to mix and hang around with other people not used to design. Right now designers have to be more adaptable to working in other areas, but applying the design thinking mindset to operations, marketing, strategies etc. It can be relevant to any industry- F&B, Medical, Hospitality, Financial Services etc- every industry needs a "designer in a business suit"

E: Is this something you learned on the spot or was it something you knew before starting this job?

D: I think it is more through personal experience, working in an environment that is really not design related. If you asked me, if I worked for an agency for 5 years I would not have had this kind of revelation. But when working in a financial industry got me out of my comfort zone, and learn to know how to negotiate, communicate, collaborate and influence people who are non-designers. I realise that designers can have the mindset to be adaptable and disruptive- to excel in non-design environment and do well.

F: So how did you land yourself here in OCBC?

D: If I remember correctly it was because Dr Yen posted a job opening in OCBC and I thought that it was interesting so I sent in an application and got shortlisted for an interview. The job description was really ambiguous but very interesting, The interview process was long and tough, and I have to be given a impromptu assignment to redesign a bank's website in 30 mins. What I did was astounding retrospectively, as I did not jump the interviewers into any design solutions at all. Instead I laid out the whole design thinking process and considerations to take before anyone could actually start to design the website- right on the white board and presented it. I started speaking the language of a banker there and then.

And well my boss liked it and I got hired. The rest is history. It was a long time later that I knew I had over 30 fellow applicants for the same position!

Raymond: Did ID (Industrial Design) help you with the interview process?

D: Definitely. In product design we also go through the same design thinking steps.. We have to take the framework into consideration whenever we solve problems.

Efrim: Have you felt more responsibility as a designer in this role than in your previous jobs?

D: Yeah. As a design specialist, you receive your requirements and then you work it out. However as a design consultant, I work very closely with vendors/ designers that execute and also guidance for the business units to understand more about design and that is where we come back to the phrase “designer in a business suit”. My role is about linking the two and be the mediator because usually they miscommunicate and problems surface.

E: From Junior College, how did you decide to study Industrial Design?

D: I was doing Maths and Science in JC so it was an interesting jump. My parents were like telling me “eh how come instead of going Engineering you choose something so niche like this?” Back then the Industrial Design course was pretty new, there was no confirmation that you could get a job. However, I took the leap of faith to come into Industrial Design NUS as somehow it matched my passion of a combination of engineering, design and business.

Just to add on- studying in NUS is a huge learning curve for me. Learning to cope with tools and skillset is one thing, the mindset change from a rationalized & solutions-based mindset to more expressive & ambiguous design mindset is a tough one.

E: What project in NUS ID did you learn a lot from?

D: Human Factors. It impacted me because I realised that actually design is primarily targeted at users and that was the first time we started thinking and looking into human anatomy and emotional design etc. And this is also, in retrospect, the foundation for me. Design for Human Factors stuck with me on my next job choice. I was doing product design for elderly, for Greater than 60 Design Centre. So back then I was already doing a lot of user centred design, user testing and interviews with people.

F: You said in email your favourite design exercise in NUS ID was “Design for Context”. By my time we didn’t have that any more. So what was "Design for Context"?

D: Oh this was the course by Prof Teh. So in his module he asked us to go around Singapore to take photos of a context or a place and then asked us to design products that would be suitable for that space or environment. It was quite fun.

F: A random space? No guideline or anything?

D: So for example you can go to Botanic Gardens and take the image of the space and then you design something for it. Maybe you want to improve the dustbin in Botanic Gardens, so you redesign it such that it suits the environment and context..

F: How about Emerge Creatives? What about that?

D: Projects wise? OK Emerge Creatives was a design start-up which I have created when I was out of job in 2010. For the first time, I was a boss and an entrepreneur. I was selling design to companies. It was really tough. I got rejected all the time and that is the part that I learn and get moulded in the school of hard knocks.

I strongly encourage designers, if they can’t find a job or in between jobs, to start an agency on their own and just do it themselves. That will be a true test of your all-roundedness as a designer. You do marketing, liaising, creating, refining and then presenting, then refine again etc. Back then I was working with a group of young designers who were helping me to execute and I was the one doing sales. Sometimes I’ve asked for payment and people creamed me off saying “Don’t ask me for payment so fast” haha things like that so yeah.

E: Are your working hours still 9-6?

D: Yeah my day job 9-6pm. But my father duties start from 8-12am haha! So technically, I am on 24-hour work.

F: And despite of all this, you actually wrote a book??? - Design Thinking Guide for Successful Professionals

Hail yeah! I am pretty amazed by it myself. I have been spending more than a year working on this project on the side- it is well worth it. I almost cried with tears of joy when the book come to pass and sold worldwide now.

F: So if you were not already in your dream job/ job(s) for you, what would be your dream job?

D: I would like to open a café.

F: What kind?

D: Something relaxed just be there, talk to people who are at the café, hang around. Just own a café, something that is quite chill.

F: Can you cook?

D: No haha I will leave that to the staff to do everything. I’ll just hang around and smile at people haha.

F: Quite a sociable person yeah?

D: That’s my dream job.

E: Are you where you want to be right now?

D: Right now yes. Definitely. I am actually doing the things I like to do and that I am good at. I continue to learn and improve..

E: Will you develop within this area in the future?

D: My future plan is to move more into a coaching/training role also in a project format but more into a role where I can help others to lead design projects.


Last Words

I will be adding more articles on Design Thinking throughout the year. Articles of Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test will be added periodically to give my readers a broader insights to Design Thinking.

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About the Author

Daniel Ling has more than 10 years of Design Thinking experience and has moulded himself to be a “designer in a business suit”- strong in the Design Thinking process and yet relevant to the financial and business industry- across OCBC, DBS, NTUC Income and Lazada. He trained close to 500 professionals in the area of Design Thinking, Innovation and Strategy. He authored the Complete Design Thinking Guide for Successful Professionals and the book is sold worldwide via Amazon, iTunes, Ingram, Lulu and Kinokuniya.

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