The upcoming Kuala Lumpur Design Festival 2023 strives to build a community with design intelligence

The event also aims to widen the understanding of the importance of design and how it plays a huge role in our people and nation as well as in our well-being.

Founders of KLDF Shafiqe Badril and Muhamad Razif Nasruddin (Photo: Low Yen Yeing/The Edge Malaysia)

Malaysia has a lot to offer when it comes to design,” say Muhamad Razif Nasruddin and Shafiqe Badril, founders of the Kuala Lumpur Design Festival (KLDF). The industry is diverse, encompassing products and services such as architecture, household furniture, electronics, computers, automotive, graphic design, jewellery and fashion.

As someone who has been part of the industry since college, Razif sees the great potential that can be leveraged here. “I’ve worked in enough places to know that we have all the right tools, the necessary skill set and the people to actually put our country on the global map.”

Shafiqe, president and group CEO of YI Holdings Group, who has been managing multiple businesses across tourism, logistics, property management, financial development, business efficiency and design, shares the sentiment. “I have been involved in many industries and I believe this is going to be the next best thing.”

Razif and Shafiqe got acquainted through a video meeting last year. Razif was talking to a representative from the Malaysian-Finnish Business Council about his client — the Malaysia Timber Industry Board, which was looking for product design opportunities. Shafiqe, who had just assumed the position of CEO of the council, joined in the chat to ask Razif what he was planning to do.

“I proposed the idea of hosting a small festival with micro-funding,” Razif says.

As it turned out, the two decided to meet. “I told him, Why don’t we go to Finland and explore some possibilities? There was a design trade fair at the time,” Shafiqe says.

Razif got the green light in late September and was told the fund had to be spent before the year ended. “We requested that the event be pushed to December,” he says. The partners jumped into action and held back-to-back appointments with possible partners during their stay in Singapore for the Grand Prix in October.

Shafiqe reached out to some founders of private education institutions in the country as well as embassies. “I feel a lot of what Malaysia has to offer in design and architecture is worthwhile and deserves to be seen on an international level. That’s why we decided to bring the embassies together — because they have something to show in their respective countries and we also want to showcase our country’s identity.”

The advantage of collaborating with international partners is bringing professionals from around the world together to share their expertise. “A lot of people know what design is, but not many identify it as part of our lifestyle. It stops at taking up projects to revamp their homes. We have yet to fully understand how it impacts our lives on a day-to-day basis.”

These partnerships will also open the door for local talents to demonstrate their work outside the country. Shafiqe says, “When we started this, we wanted the industry to have opportunities for the foreseeable future. I’ve been speaking to people in the start-up ecosystem, and one of the issues they brought up was market access. They want to venture abroad to create jobs and more business opportunities.


Exhibition by Pow Ideas showcasing samples of products made using locally sourced materials (Photo: KLDF)

“A lot of Malaysians are very talented, but they’re a bit on the shy side. So, we believe the KLDF will give them the platform to go abroad and showcase their talents and works.”

The inaugural KLDF was held last December. Despite the short preparation period, the event was a success. Razif says, “Everybody loved it. It was like a breath of fresh air. The pandemic was obviously bad for businesses; a lot of firms closed down. This was probably the next thing people were looking forward to.”

As for the industry partners and clients,  “They got more than what they thought they would get.”

While the first edition was held last December, KLDF 2023 will take place from Oct 6 to 15. The event has been brought forward to avoid the year-end monsoon. “Last year, we organised some sessions outdoors and, when it rained, we could see the water level in the river start to rise,” Razif says.

“Strategically, Singapore is having their design week in September and Bintaro Design Week, Indonesia, will be held in November. It was a no-brainer for us to hold ours in October because we don’t want to compete with them.”

Their main drive for founding the festival was to include the general public in design conversations. “I’ve been doing a lot of design work since 2007. I started a research blog called ThinkLab. We have been organising conferences, workshops and programmes. Over the years, we realised designers were only talking to each other. Festivals are meant to celebrate design in the public sphere. That’s where we’re coming from,” says Razif.

The KLDF also aims to widen the understanding of the importance of design and how it plays a huge role in our people and nation as well as in our well-being. Razif says: “We used to borrow a lot of Western ideology because of the speed of development after WWII. Nowadays, many architects are looking inward, not just to portray what Malaysia is but also be more thoughtful about the environment and everything they do.

“This is a very good thing because it’s no longer a copy-paste; no more ‘I’ve seen this somewhere in Switzerland or Italy’. I think the creatives have a strong sense of pride as Malaysians and as people with an identity.”

Shafiqe concurs: “Malaysia is rich in diversity. Unfortunately, there have been times when we relied on and incorporated outside values into our lives. But what happens if we can use our talents and uniqueness to build our own identity as a country? That can definitely put us on the global map.”


Architectural exhibition by PAMNXT was held at High Street Studios, KL (Photo: KLDF)

The duo is hoping this awareness will eventually improve the nation’s quality of life. Using the current public transport system as an example, it is easy to point out the lack of good urban planning, Razif says.“The planning was bad; the connectivity was bad. In terms of infrastructure, they are great. They are world-class. I think that’s something we need to realise: a good or bad design affects the efficiency of the entire country.

“When the train system is well-designed, you get to spend more time with your family. When you have a good product experience, you have more time for yourself. How would it affect people’s lives? You will be much more wholesome.” 

The 10-day festival will be held in multiple locations across Kuala Lumpur’s Creative Cultural District including Dataran Merdeka, Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad, River of Life, The Godown Arts Centre, Muzium Telekom and REXKL. Dataran Merdeka will be transformed into a schematic public park where visitors can explore designs in many aspects such as household products, architecture, interior, technology, communication, lifestyle and services.

Themed Sustainable Intelligence, KLDF 2023 will present a variety of activities, including conferences, trade fairs, exhibitions, workshops, forums, concerts and films across those venues. As the partners have ample time to prepare this year, they assure “more quality programmes and thoughtful partnerships” in the line-up.

Razif, who recently returned from the Seoul Design Festival, is thrilled to bring an important figure from the country to Malaysia. “I met the president of the Seoul Design Foundation and we managed to get one of the top Korean graphic designers to come for a conference. I’m very excited about that.” Other industry leaders from sustainability, design, innovation and social science who will participate in the event include Taylor’s University adjunct professor Prof Dr Shuhana Shamsuddin and Mercy Malaysia deputy executive director Hafiz Amirrol.

Visitors can also look forward to exhibitions by the Industrial Design Association Malaysia, NFT Malaysia, the Graphic Design Association, Asia Pacific University and more. Installations by Mior Aizuddin, Jun Ong, Fariz Hanapiah, Walter T and Eekang Ooi are available for viewing at KL Sentral, MRT Pasar Seni, LRT Masjid Jamek and MRT Merdeka. All of these activities are free of charge except for conferences, which will take place in REXKL.

Razif and Shafiqe’s ultimate vision is to make KLDF an annual event. But what do they hope to achieve from KLDF 2023? “To create impact and build a community. Across the design industry itself, people tend to look at differences rather than similarities. It’s time we break that cycle by looking at commonality, talking about design and celebrating the beauty we see in each other.”

To find out more about the festival, visit

This article first appeared on Jul 31, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.


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