Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and the National University of Singapore (NUS), two very different institutions. SUTD is a highly focused small school just starting its operations in collaboration with the U.S. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. NUS is a large comprehensive university with its roots in the early 20th Century. Both institutions have missions aspiring to society transformation, which one might dismiss as typical highbrow statements—except that Singapore itself is the epitome of society transformation. So one is forced to take such statements seriously.

I had not been in Singapore for a number of years and I was astounded by the many positive transformations this tiny country has achieved. I spent most of my time at SUTD and much of my discussions in both institutions revolved around design education, research, and...

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