Frederick Phua

In Conversation With: Frederick Phua

May 1, 2021

Global Footwear Awards Category winner Frederick Phua discussed City Glider, GFA 2020 winning design.

Making its debut on the international design stage, Global Footwear Awards (GFA) has begun its global search to identify the most innovative design in footwear. City Glider was awarded the best in performance category for student level.

City Glider empowers us to explore more and cover longer distances through walking. Taking people off crowded trains, buses and lowering vehicle usage. Reducing congestion, accidents and carbon emissions. A step toward an efficient, sustainable mobility future.

It augments the walking experience by extending our stride and walking threshold. Lightweight, human powered, and requiring almost no effort, the pneumatic mechanical system within the footwear harnesses force expended from the heel strike and releases it in the mid-stance position to propel the user forward by up to 11.6%.


Frederick’s Background

Growing up in multicultural, multilingual Singapore and living in countries like Japan and the United Kingdom, Frederick always had respect for others and developed a deep appreciation for, and highly value the importance of a multicultural design sense. 

He believes that design is not just about solving a problem, but also about creating drive and emotion. This reflects very clearly in his works where he strikes a balance between needs and desires. 

Frederick graduated from the Nagoya University of Arts, with a BA(1st) in industrial design.  Upon graduation, he joined Yamaha Motor, Japan, a tier 1 automotive company. He quickly rose from being an industrial designer to a design lead. Some of his designs include production and advanced concepts such as the Yamaha X-Max, MT- 15, Janus 125,  Glorious, E0I, Gear 125 et cetera. All of which have attracted international attention. 

In 2018, he was awarded a full scholarship by Yamaha to do a postgraduate programme at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London. Where he attained his MA/MSc (Distinction) in Innovation Design Engineering. 

Apart from vehicle design, Frederick has also worked on many projects in other fields such as healthcare, social design, furniture, and footwear. Garnering him with the James  Dyson Award, IF Talent Award, Global Footwear Award, and featured on Nikkei news,  the Evening Standard London and Yahoo Sports UK to name a few. 

He is currently back in Singapore, aiming to create a stir in the mobility sector with a  start-up company, ION Mobility.


GFA talks with Frederick about his winning project.

What is your design mantra you live by? 

I am always fascinated with mobility, with “Innovating Freedom” at the core of all of my work. 


How/when did you discover that you wanted to work in design? 

My hands are always moving. Using scraps of materials I can get my hands on to build things. I was convinced I would go into engineering until my grand aunt introduced me to Industrial Design. That changed the course of my life. 


Where do you start when tackling innovative design solutions? 

Questions. It is all about asking questions. 


What was most important for you when working on this project and what were the biggest challenges you faced? 

What’s your creative process and what creative software do you use? 

My creative process is rather simple. I like to think “within the box”. It is where innovation truly lies. I would always start with the value or meaning I want to create. Do a lot of research to know the constraints surrounding the topic. Knowing what I do not want to do and finally creating more problems.  These 4 boundaries help form a box in which I think.  My creative software is my hands, a pen, and paper. 


How do you deal with feedback? 

In all honesty, I do not do very well with negative feedback. But I always take a step back and try to understand where the other person is coming from. Over time, I have built an immunity toward it. I  can now identify the constructive and non-constructive ones. 


How do you handle pressure in design? 

Focus. Know your end point and just keep working towards it. 


What would you tell your younger self seeing you winning the awards? 

One’s only regret can only be, “not trying”. 


What advice would you give to future aspiring footwear designers? 

No story is too wild to be told. 


Where do you get motivation and inspiration from for your work? 

Motivation comes from breaking the rules and inspiration comes from the littlest, unglorified things in life.