Keep Cup has evolved into stainless steel, glass and other materials which are in many ways more durable, longer lasting with better thermal properties, but the basic rotation of the top and how it works is somewhat about the same as expected, Wang said. “The desire to do things that last and have an impact is present in the work.”
In the beginning, prizes were attached to awards that helped launch careers like Visnja Brdar. She used it to fly to New York, introduce herself to Australian design superstar Marc Newson and produce a monograph on her work. “He wanted a pamphlet, she produced a book,” Wong explains. The limited-edition monograph, which will be on display, is almost as rare as Newson’s coveted Lockheed Lounge and combines Brdar’s passion for classic modernist simplicity with the handmade book form she learned at the University of Swinburne.
Now, however, careers and collaborations can be launched more easily from Victoria. “Furniture designer Nick Rennie was ahead of the curve in recognizing that to build an international career he could base himself in Australia while selling his designs to the world,” says Wong. Rennie’s Mushroom lamp was a finalist in the 2004 awards and was chosen by French manufacturer Ligne Roset. Melbourne Museum’s groundbreaking children’s gallery, which fosters children’s innate fascination and curiosity, love of play and discovery in an ongoing relationship with learning at the museum, has encouraged other institutions like the museum of natural history in the United Kingdom to learn from it and to consult its designers.
International manufacturers are also looking for Victorian designers. Irish company Heart Sine hired Cobalt to design its defibrillator. “The designers have been true to their desire to do things that make sense,” says Wong.
Meanwhile, other companies have emulated Keep Cup’s formula of selling simple products to the world using good local design. What marks a leap in evolution is that the products are created by the designers themselves, such as the Oi bicycle bell by Knog and the Orbitkey by Charles Ng. “They no longer needed to have a customer, they could be the customer, and they could get enough financial resources behind them through Kickstarter campaigns to get it right,” Wong says. “The Oi bell smashed its $20,000 goal and raised $1 million.” Perhaps equally surprising is that Oi’s reinvention necessitated the first patent on a bicycle bell since the 1800s.
A key factor in the success of Victorian design is the ability to do things, says Wong. “Australians pride themselves on not only intellectually understanding what might need to happen, but also setting the tone and knowing how the product will be made,” says Wong. “That’s exactly why Mike Simcoe is the head of General Motors, because he could talk to the engineers. He wasn’t treated like an aesthetic designer. He understood modeling and tooling.
Wong attributes this to a good upbringing. The creators got their hands dirty. They learned by doing. Recognizing the importance of education, Wong selected five emerging designers from Melbourne’s design institutions: Alex Goad of Monash University showcases his award-winning artificial coral reef; RMIT’s Ryan Tilley designed the Geckotraxx wheelchair accessory that slides over the wheel and flares out allowing people with disabilities to more easily venture onto the beach and snow. Kennyjie Marcellino of Swinburne, won the emerging designer category at the Alessi Design Awards, judged by superstar designer Philippe Starck, for his Rotolo shopping bag design; Re.Bean by Kristen Wang of the University of Melbourne is a 100% biodegradable chair made from used coffee beans, while Morgan Doty’s CMYK chair is made from shredded paper. These designers feature in a special augmented reality section designed by Indae Hwang of Monash University. The technology underscores the importance of 3D drawing for design, which also allows visitors (and clients) to take the artwork home and view it virtually in their own environment.
The design of the graphic framing of the exhibition is inspired by the circular patterns of the facade of the RMIT Design Hub by architect Sean Godsell. In the notoriously wasteful realm of retail and hospitality design where interiors are regularly thrown away, Chris Connell’s designs always welcome customers. “Chris Connell recently redid Il Bacaro [restaurant in the CBD] and said ‘I didn’t need to do anything but take the suit to the dry cleaners, you know, freshen it up’. It’s a nice quote. What motivates him is work that lasts and has impact. This is certainly the case with il Bacaro and Dinosaur Designs which are institutions. Dinosaur Designs in Chapel Street is still glorious 25 years later.
This glory is evident throughout the exhibition in objects that demonstrate the durability, impact and advanced technology that propelled Victorian design to the world and, in the case of Michael Simcoe, beyond.
From reef to space
Over 300 events feature at Melbourne Design Week this year, with highlights including:
Melbourne Design Fair Contemporary Collectible Design
The contemporary design is now coveted and collectable. The inaugural fair features galleries catering to the burgeoning collectors market alongside a section curated by NGV’s Contemporary Design Department showcasing salable works by emerging and established designers who reflect this state of contemporary collectible design in Australia.
Teatro Della Terra Alienata (Theatre of the Alienated Land)
Teatro reimagines the fate of the Great Barrier Reef through a fictional takeover of the Reef by the Xenofeminist International Corporation to join the Archipelago of Alienated from Capitalism (ATAC) Territories. It is a geopolitical alliance of the world’s most vulnerable and critical regions for planetary survival. Teatro consolidates five years of collaboration between artists, talkers, scientists, activists, indigenous elders, miners, designers and thinkers. The NGV acquired the pavilion for its permanent collection.
What is Blak Design?
Koorie Heritage Trust CEO Tom Mosby hosts a discussion with First Nations designers, creatives and industry experts about the history, nuances, concepts and realities of Blak Design today. It promises to interrogate how Indigenous design is defined, received and made visible in contemporary Australian design and questions what is meaningful Indigenous design and why does it matter?
Design Beyond Earth
Xavier De Kestelier, head of design at Hassell, talks about his collaborations with NASA and the European Space Agency and their vision of new forms of human habitation in space. De Kestelier reflects on how designing architecture for space can lead to improved living conditions on Earth. Can space habitats also solve problems on Earth such as sustainable housing solutions, combat population growth and manage limited natural resources?
Victorian Premier’s Design Awards Showcase – Celebrating 25 Years of Design Excellence, RMIT Design Hub, March 17-27, Melbourne Design Week, various locations. designweek.melbourne
A cultural guide to go out and love your city. Sign up for our Culture Fix newsletter here.