What's In My Portfolio: Hans Tan

Interview by Marc Almagro
Photography and video by Chino Sardea
30 Aug 2018

Mr. Hans Tan is Designer of the Year at the President's Design Award 2018

I am a designer and an educator. I see design as a medium to deliver ideas. It's a medium that many people can relate to as it engages everyday things and experiences. I use the utility of an object as a pretext to embed narratives and concepts that lead to a visual discourse about design and its industry. I am particularly interested in the subjects of heritage, consumption, and waste.

Researching and investigating these themes drive self-initiated projects, while I maintain a keen focus in developing new materials and processes.

 A fundamental notion that drives my work is looking for weaknesses as opportunities that can be transformed into strength. I prefer working with very common or low denominators as a starting point, and use the transformative capability of design to turn the things around – the ugly made beautiful, the cheap made expensive, the overlooked gets honoured, the foolish becomes the wise.

I was trained in classical industrial design at NUS, and did my Masters in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, design is seen not only as an economic driver, but also more significantly as a cultural catalyst – this inspired me very much to pursue an approach to design that enriches our understanding. 

When I started my practice more than 10 years ago, it was difficult to position my work. They are self-initiated and focused on concepts; designers thought I was an artist. On the other hand, as I employed utility as a medium – when the objects I designed had a function – artists regarded my works as design. The divide between design and art should not be a clear line, especially in the context of Singapore where design is considered as an economic driver, and art as a cultural catalyst. Design and art are not mutually exclusive, in good design there is good art, and in good art there is good design. 

Teaching is very much like designing. Instead of designing an object, I am designing the mind of a person through learning. To teach is to design an experience where learning is enabled. It’s about designing a catalyst that engages students and provides the opportunity for a change in mind-set.