CHIuXiD 2017: Students’ Work On Sungei Road Flea Market Secure Second Place in Global Design Challenge

Land is scarce in Singapore. While modernisation has benefited a large swathe of the population, some parts of it are either forgotten or put aside. Take the Sungei Road Flea Market (see where) for example. With a history that’s just a decade shy of a century, the venerable market will finally be dismantled in July 2017. Its permanent closure threatens the livelihoods of vendors, many of them members of the pioneer generation who had helped build up the country from its swampy origins to its present first-world sprawl. When interviewed, some vendors were optimistic about future plans. Too many expressed resignation over the prospect of being forced to retire.

Options offered by the authorities may help, but a team of ambitious interaction design students from NUS Department of Communications and New Media (CNM) decided to take up the challenge of going further to ensure a sustainable future for the vendors.

Through exposure to theory and practice, CNM students learn to work with communuties to develop solutions that would not only be tremendously impactful, but also driven by social conscience.


When asked what inspired the team to even start the project, all agreed that it was a shared passion to reduce the amount of waste generated by Singaporeans. The team quickly realised, however, that they were not alone. Many like-minded Singaporeans were already doing their part in conserving the environment by reusing, recycling and repairing pre-loved goods. The team’s research eventually led them to the hub of used products that was the Sungei Road Flea Market. The market’s darker nickname- Thieves Market– is a misnomer, because vendors typically trade in goods that they obtain from different sources like unwanted/donated goods or the beloved karang guni (rag-and-bone) men who patrol residential estates.

The vendors contribute to the larger sustainability ecosystem by re-circulating goods back into the marketplace rather than into the junkyard and incinerators. The impending closure of the flea market inspired the team to create Sungei Treasures, a hybrid digital-physical solution that would help Sungei Road vendors to continue their business beyond the loss of the flea market.

Although toys are the solution’s main commodity, the team hopes to include other goods and products too. Initial tests have been positive, and aptly demonstrates CNM’s emphasis on drawing from the students’ different backgrounds and disciplines to co-create solutions.

Learn more about the team’s efforts to help stricken vendors overcome the challenges of losing their livelihoods.


The project’s potential did not go unnoticed by the international panel at The 3rd ACM In Coop International Conference in HCI and UX. After a grilling round of presentation and evaluation, the team secured a place in the top three global design projects. The achievement is all the greater because the CNM team represents the first Singaporean university to win accolades at the conference.

Join Assistant Prof Jude Yew and the team in their Indonesian adventure by visiting the gallery!

The team comprises Tin Wei Yang, Sharmaine Sie, Edward Chu and Joseph Cheng, and is part of the interactive design coursework overseen by Assistant Professor Jude Yew.