Hans Tan probably doesn’t own a drawing board. But even if he does, it’d be a white elephant in his studio.
The self-professed “designer who can’t draw” admits, “I don’t start the process of designing on a piece of paper. Instead, I dive right into the object or material to do different tryouts. The iterative process of trying and trying again is how I discover opportunities.”
It was this spirit of “trying out” that likely landed Hans Tan in design school. As someone who was “never good in the arts as a kid”, that didn’t seem to deter the lad who once majored in business to switch courses. “My mom said when I was younger, I really had no flair for design, but she didn’t say a thing when I enrolled in industrial design at NUS [National University of Singapore]. And for that, I thank her,” said Tan in a pre-taped thank you speech at the President’s Design Award 2018, where he won Designer of the Year.
He counts being honoured with the highest accolade for a designer in Singapore (despite not being able to make it for the ceremony) as one of the proudest moments in his life. The rest includes being a husband, and being a father of two children: A three- and a six-year-old.
And clearly, family means a lot to him as Tan tries to honour them with his métier and accolades. Still, the initial steps on his path to being a full-blown designer was never going to be smooth. “I felt very inadequate as drawing is regarded as a basic skill a designer should possess. On the other hand, although I could not draw well, I could make stuff with my hands which I enjoyed very much.”
Hans Tan learnt that instead of sketching three dimensionally, he’ll simply actualise the 3D rendering — from his creative head to his capable hands right on the item itself. “Every designer can find a medium that they are good in, so that one can use it as a baseline to explore and communicate — it can be writing, drawing, making models, computer modelling, and more.”
As he was compiling his portfolio of oeuvre for the deliberation of the jury panel of the Designer of the Year award, Tan was able to walk down memory lane by looking back at the past 10 years of his works and count his blessings. It is clear that the 38-year-old is a persistent believer in the potential of design as more than just a tool to solve problems — he places importance on the consumption of the ideas behind the design as well. The juries of the President’s Design Award 2018 applauded him for his conceptual rigour and innovative processes, resulting in works that are artistic yet firmly practical.
There’s his thoughtful revitalisation of out-of-fashion traditional Peranakan porcelain pieces using sandblasting to make them even more spellbinding and appealing to buyers — some iterations are decked with funky Yayoi Kusama-esque polka dots. Also, his mass-produced Merlion Shopper bag now comes thoughtfully printed with 14-numbered fold lines that instruct the quintessential Singapore-way of folding plastic bags into a compact triangle packet for storage. For Tan, the concept of his works are largely based on the narrative of his hometown. “I am inspired by being Singaporean, by everyday experiences, behaviours, and things around me. I am inspired by the auntie who makes kueh-kueh, taking the MRT, and the colours I find in the local market.”
Asked what he will be doing for this year’s National Day, he answers “I’ll be watching NDP on TV with my family this year. Every year, my wife sends the whole family’s identity card number to ballot for NDP tickets. We have attended quite a few National Day Parades, but did not get it this year.”
What he will be busy with the rest of this year though, is completing his new series of work called ‘Outside In’ — a collection of 10 lamp shades that will be freely downloadable and makeable by anyone with a home 3D printer. “I’m working with a variety of waste materials and experimenting with ways to turn them around,” the founder of Hans Tan Studio elaborates.
But his good works don’t stop there. For as long as he’s been doing commercial designing, Hans Tan has also been teaching, most recently as the assistant professor for the Division of Industrial Design at his alma mater. And to him, teaching is very much like designing. But instead of designing an object, such as a vase or a bag, he’s designing the brains of his students.
Hans Tan declares, “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 mindset… I strive to create different circumstances, experiences and scenarios for students to be in a situation where their perceptions are challenged — they can slowly change the way they see the world and the immediate surroundings around them, thus potentially impacting the way they design.”
PrestigeOnline ends each personality piece with a P.S. – a postscript that highlights high-passion and how one powers through adversity, as shared by our Prestige society. Here, the 2018 President’s Design Award Designer of the Year, Hans Tan, imparts three pieces of advice for excellence:
1. Weak Made Strong
“Every weakness is a negative space shaped for strength to fill. Problems, negative issues, bad circumstances, are all opportunities for us to grow stronger.”
2. Everyone Is Creative
“Creativity is an inherent human aptitude and it can be improved with training. It is not a special ability reserved for special people. There’s a big difference being artistic and being creative, they are not the same. One can be creative in any field, and by being creative with a medium you are positioned to innovate and make positive changes.”
3. Buy My Works
For inspiration perhaps? Better be quick then, ’cause in the words of Hans Tan: “Prices will increase soon.”