Long before being the co-founder and creative director of Kinetic Singapore (which arguably has one of the coolest websites on the net) Pann Lim went to two primary schools, one secondary school, two pre-universities, two Junior Colleges and two Polytechnics – all because he was a hopeless student who failed his ‘A levels’ by not turning up for exams.
Eventually, he took a course in Visual Communications, and today he’s one of Singapore’s most celebrated designers.
Lim will soon join AdFest 2017’s panel of Jury Presidents, overseeing the Design Lotus and Print Craft Lotus categories. Barbara Messer recently talked with him about design, his music, his family and more.
You struggled in school, but eventually found your passion for design. When did you first realize you wanted to be a designer?
In the past, getting a degree in Singapore was the way to secure a better future. I was following my brother’s footsteps and tried to study my way into university.
In all honesty, other than being mischievous and a daydreamer, most of the subjects offered in the mainstream education did not interest me.
So while I was serving in the army, a good friend of mine who was in Temasek Polytechnic pursuing Visual Communications said I should try that course because she felt that I might like it.
“I love the process of failing, learning and improving the projects at every stage.”
In all honesty, I would like to say that I knew I wanted to be a Creative Director since I was young, just to romanticize the story.
But the truth was I had nowhere to go except to give design and advertising a try. It was sheer fate and the lack of options that led me there. But once I was there, I fell in love and never turned back.
You’ve won hundreds of awards, including the Singapore President’s Design Award for Designer of the Year – twice. But what’s your biggest achievement?
For me, awards are of course good to have but they are not a ‘must have’. There are many things at work more valuable than that. For example, seeing everyone in my office working together, both account service and creatives sharing ideas and opinions: this family teamwork and bonding is priceless.
It also makes me happiest when the younger folks in my office put in their best commitment for our clients to make every project better. And then the results are translated into them winning awards for those projects. That is the best achievement for me: to see young people succeed.
You used to be lead guitarist of veteran indie rock band Concave Scream. Is music still a creative outlet for you?
Playing music was a serious hobby for me in the past. I have stopped playing gigs for coming up to eight years now. You are right about playing music as a form of outlet. Any form of creation is an outlet for me.
I believe that being a multi-disciplined creative like myself, expressions could be manifested in anything: photography, space design, furniture design, exhibitions, graphic design, communications, songwriting, etc.
When I was in my teenage years, I used to be a lot of more angsty and I played guitar in a death metal band called Silent Sorrow. We released a demo on cassette tape in 1991. Some nice dude put up the tracks on YouTube and a friend forwarded it to me:
As for my second band, Concave Scream, it was started in 1994. We released five full-length albums and album No.4, Concave Scream Horizons, can be found on Spotify.
Can you tell me more about The Design Society where you are a founding member?
The Design Society is a non-profit organization and was co-founded with a group of close friends from the design industry in Singapore. The original members stepped down four years ago so that the next generation of creatives could helm and shape the new Singapore design industry.
Our mission for starting TDS has always been about archiving, educating and sharing creativity from Singapore and beyond. TDS publish journals bi-annually, run conferences, sessions and workshops, which are open to the public and professionals.
Holycrap.sg is a family art collective. Why did you name it “Holycrap”?
Holycrap.sg is founded by my wife Claire, my 13-year-old son Renn, my 10-year-old daughter Aira and me.
Many people have asked us why we call ourselves this and the truth behind the story was because I have always wanted to design our family logo. Once I started putting our names together, the initials of our name formed the word CRAP (Claire, Renn, Aira, Pann) and once I saw it, I could not un-see it.
I then shelved the logo design since 2007. In 2011, I thought that instead of running away from the word, we should use it courageously. Holycrap is defined in Urban Dictionary as “something shocking”, which is the effect we want our projects to have.
And why did you set it up?
Setting it up also came about as a result of a sense of guilt on my part. For years I have been meeting students and young creatives whom I don’t even know, sharing and imparting creative knowledge with them. Spending so much of my time with them and yet I have not been sharing my insights and thoughts with my own kids.
“The truth was I had nowhere to go except to give design and advertising a try. It was sheer fate and the lack of options that led me there.”
So one night, before falling asleep, I just told my wife, let’s start an arts group with Renn and Aira, to educate our kids through creativity. To date, our kids have had six exhibitions since 2011 and have collaborated with Lomography, Supermama and Muji.
You’re flying to London after judging the ADFEST Lotus Awards for a book launch. Have you written a book?
As Holycrap, we also publish our family zine called Rubbish Famzine. It’s a bi-annual zine that documents things that interest us as a family. The kids are very much involved in the zine process, be it with photography, drawing or writing down stories and anecdotes etc.
One of the main objectives of the zine is really to collect and archive precious memories, using it as a platform to educate our kids and at the same time to push the limits of creativity.
Since 2013, we have published five issues of our Rubbish Famzine and we are currently in the madness of designing and putting together our 6th issue. We are very grateful that we have this great opportunity to launch Rubbish Famzine Issue No.6 in London and I am really looking forward to it.
Now that you’ve become a rock star and an author, what would you like to achieve next?
The truth is I am neither a rock star nor am I an ‘author’ of any sort. Besides, my wife Claire does most of the writing. I just love doing what I do. And I love the process of failing, learning and improving the projects at every stage. I will always remain a student at any stage of my life.
Pan Lim will attend ADFEST 2017 from 22nd to 25th March in Pattaya, Thailand as Jury President, Design Lotus & Print Craft Lotus. For more information visit www.ADFEST.com