"Stay authentically local and the world will come.” Through contemporary design that is proudly Singaporean, Hans Tan has put Singapore on the world map.
From juxtaposing heritage and modernity to contrasting local perspectives and global outlook, Hans’ works have shone the spotlight on Singapore’s culture on the international design stage. He explains, “I see design as a medium to communicate a new perspective, be it about everyday life, or the Singapore narrative. The idea that I can use design to tell a story about our identity really appeals to me.”
His works have been shown in exhibitions around the world, including the Venice Biennale, the Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial, Smithsonian Design Museum New York, and MAXXI Museo, Rome. Some of his works are also held in private collections, as well as public permanent collections at the National Collection of Singapore, M+ Museum for Visual Culture in Hong Kong, the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York, and the Princessehof National Museum of Ceramics, in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands.
Spotted by Designnet magazine Korea as one of 36 Young Asian Designers in 2009, Hans went on to add more coveted awards to his name, including Martell Rising Personalities Award 2009, “Les Découvertes” (Best Innovative Product) at Maison et Objet Paris 2012, and culminating in Designer of the Year at the President's Design Award 2017/18, Singapore’s highest honour in the design industry.
Despite receiving offers to stay on in the Netherlands after completing his masters there, Hans chose to return to Singapore. He reveals that his source of inspiration is home. “The concepts of my works are largely based on the local narrative. I am inspired by being Singaporean, by everyday experiences, behaviours, and things about me,” he explains, “Therefore it’s clear that when I started my practice, I had to be based in a place where I could feed (on inspiration), and where the audience identifies with my works.”
Besides running his eponymous studio, Hans is determined to transform the Singapore design scene through education. As assistant professor at the Division of Industrial Design, he believes teaching is akin to designing. “Instead of designing an object, I am designing the mind of a person through learning”, he says, “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.”
His belief that design not only helps us “do”, but also helps us “understand” resonates deeply with his students, whose works, inspired by his innovative pedagogy, have earned international acclaim. Three time winner of the Annual Excellent Teaching Award at NUS, Hans has also been placed on the Honour Roll.
His advice for young and aspiring designers is simple, “Creativity is an inherent human ability, everyone has it, and it can be trained. Practise creativity by not being afraid to fail. Learn to fail, and fail to learn.”