What is ‘good’ design? Many have attempted to answer this question, but not Mark Tan. “It’s dangerous to be the judge of what constitutes good design. Good design is subjective, so you can’t judge or quantify its virtue. It doesn’t really seve a purpose to divide design into good and bad, as all design is, in some way, useful or meaningful to someone.”
Dieter Rams’ 10 principles for design set out to define exactly what makes design good or bad, inspiring generations of designers after him. Like Rams, Tan believes that good design makes a product useful, is thorough down to the last detail, long-lasting, and honest. ‘But design isn’t just about how something looks,’ says Tan. ‘Our personal relationship to the objects we surround ourselves with – whether or not they make us feel safe and secure – creates a framework for our lives.’
Largely uninterested in the world of things, Mark Tan’s is a self-professed minimalist, drawn to simple yet complex forms and the way in which raw, unadorned materials can be unearthed or expanded to their limits. To him, that is the essence of good design. ‘We’re all minimalists in some way. The world we live in demands a spartan approach to consumption. I have always lived my life based on the theory that little but good makes me happy. I feel free. I am not attached to objects. Things make me feel claustrophobic,’ he says.
The few pieces he does surround himself with have meaning and tactility in common.
‘Due to my heritage, I’m drawn to both the Scandinavian and oriental aesthetics. I’m pretty nerdy with the things that I find. When I was younger, I started collecting art and have objects that have followed me around the world: my collection of Japanese ginger jars and Korean ceramics with unspoiled surfaces that imitate nature; a series of old sketches that shows the evolution of the artist who made them. I’m fascinated by the intuitive, the tactile, and surround myself with fabrics which I find comforting.”
Tan grew up surrounded by fine furniture, including Swan and Egg chairs by Arne Jacobsen. His mother worked in a furniture shop and brought these classics home. It wasn’t until Tan grew up that he discovered his deep appreciation for design.
‘Good design is often the objects we don’t even notice; the things we use every day. There’s an innate functionality in design. I lean towards furniture design that draws parallels to my own practice – good craftsmanship, solid values, and a respect for tradition. I think whether it’s ‘this piece’ or ‘that piece’ is insignificant. You can experience the feeling of good design in all sorts of objects. It’s about discovery – doing things differently.’