Interview : Mercedes-Benz Design Awards


Meet the Finalists: James Walsh

Manipulating traditional processes is the key to creating objects that break the mould, says designer James Walsh.

According to James Walsh, a designer living in Sydney, just because a manufacturing process has stood the test of time doesn’t mean it’s immune to manipulation. It’s this theory that led to his design Blocks – which has been chosen as a finalist entry in the 2018 Mercedes-Benz Design Award.

For the competition, Walsh designed a range of vases, bowls and water pitchers that challenge the traditional process of slip casting. Blocks is a family of objects all stemming from the same dynamic mould. Made from either ceramics or glass, each is interrelated but able to stand alone both practically and aesthetically. Patterns can be switched around, shifted, twisted and stacked in different configurations.

There’s a noticeable Roman influence to the architecture of Blocks; the pieces have stately columns and exquisitely rendered curves, lending a timelessness to the design. They’re the kinds of objects you might imagine being unearthed fully intact by archaeologists in centuries to come, especially given the quality and durability of the material used. Walsh says his design may be the first object entered into the competition that is not specifically furniture. “I’m not sure if that gives me an edge or throws me under the bus,” he says.

Walsh studied fine arts before moving to a diploma in product design and eventfully getting into industrial design at RMIT. Last year he moved from Melbourne to Sydney to take up a job at leading design house Vert, where he works on products such as glassware, electronics and wearables.

The award finalists were determined by the mentors – Richard Munao (managing director, Cult); Adele Winteridge (founding director, Foolscap Studio); André Dutkowski (senior product manager, Mercedes-Benz); Katya Wachtel (editorial director, Broadsheet); and Tom Fereday (the 2017 Mercedes-Benz Design Award winner) – who judged the entries blind. Each entry was identified with a number, not a name, and judged on how adequately it answered the brief.

“I can imagine using these beautiful objects in my house and love the solid, almost brutalist nature of its aesthetic,” says Adele Winteridge of Walsh’s entry. “The presentation and the narrative of the product have been well thought out and executed beautifully.”

We spoke to Walsh about the experience of reaching the finalist stage of the 2018 Mercedes-Benz Design Award.