In 2009, John Grant moved from Melbourne to Berlin to spend an exchange year studying industrial design. It was formative. He enrolled in a German course at a volkshochschule, a local government college. “The other students were Eastern European, so it forced us to improvise with the language,” he recalls.
He was greatly influenced by the college’s designers and professors, who taught him sharing ideas is more important than authorship if it results in better design. “I think it’s great as a designer to be comfortable sharing and collaborating with other designers – or anyone who will listen – to use different perspectives to take your work further.”
Today Grant works for a design consultancy in Richmond. “I work on projects ranging from consumer products to scientific equipment,” he says. “My desk tends to be covered in sketchbooks and prototypes.”
Grant was shortlisted in the 2017 Mercedes-Benz Design Award for his design entry for bamboo and stainless steel flatware. He says inspiration came from classic Japanese kitchen knives. “There’s beauty in their simplicity and functional design. And their craftsmanship is visible – there’s no more ornamentation than required.”
The award’s judges include industrial designer Adam Goodrum; interior architect George Livissianis; André Dutkowski from Mercedes-Benz; Broadsheet founder Nick Shelton; and Richard Munao, who will prototype, manufacture and sell the winning design at Cult Design.
Munao says the judges admired the simplicity of Grant’s design. “John kept the design what it needed to be, rather than over-complicating it,” he says. The panel also approved of John’s choice of material. Bamboo has a tactile softness yet is durable enough to be put in the dishwasher.
Grant has a studio at his home in Clifton Hill, Melbourne, where he lives with his wife and their three-year-old Lego-loving son. “I try not to overly influence the way he plays because I'm really interested in what he might come up with,” says Grant. “But at the moment I tend to build something which he subsequently enjoys smashing up.”
We spoke to Grant about his fascination with simple design and what it would mean to win the Mercedes-Benz Design Award.
Broadsheet: What does good design mean to you?
John Grant: A good design should be timeless with a little bit of personality. I love designs that have given consideration to every little detail, even if only the removalists will ever see it. Ultimately, designs need to function as they were intended, as well as with consideration for all the unintended way people might use it.
BS: What were your earliest experiences with design?
JG: I discovered design by chance when I was about 12, after seeing a documentary on car design. Watching the designers sketch out ideas and then transform them into full-scale clay prototypes just seemed like lots of fun. I’ve always enjoyed both technical problem-solving and creative exploration, which fits design well.
BS: Explain your design for the kitchen cutlery.
JG: I started the process by exploring ways to elegantly transition from the round-handle forms to the functional cutlery ends. I came up with a sharp, carved cut, which I feel hints to handmade tools.
It’s a process to slightly tweak all the curves to find an aesthetic sweet spot where everything is working together. On top of this, each piece of cutlery needs to work together, like typography, complementing each other.
BS: What materials have you used?
JG: The cutlery is made from stainless steel joined to a bamboo handle. Bamboo has a very clean surface texture and as is quite a sustainable material.
BS: Describe your design philosophy.
JG: I would say I like to find beauty in the details. For me design needs to be commercial, so I am conscious of existing culture and familiarity around products. I really enjoy the challenge of creating beauty in a modest and simple design.
BS: Which designers do you most admire?
JG: I really enjoy seeing what emerging designers are creating. There is a constant stream of amazing ideas out there that offer a great way to challenge my own thinking and what other approaches to design might be.
BS: What would it mean to you to win the Mercedes-Benz Design Award?
JG: As a finalist it has already been an excellent experience to receive the recognition, as well as having the opportunity to meet with the mentors and other finalists, get feedback on my designs and just absorb their knowledge of the industry.
To win would be a great opportunity to work with Cult and the mentors to bring this product to life. I’m very interested in taking the design into the prototyping stage to resolve some key design elements such as the balance and feel in the hand. One of the most satisfying things as a designer is having people use and enjoy your designs, so it would be an amazing opportunity to have my designs sold at Cult.
Meet our other finalists Dan Layden, Rene Linssen and Tom Fereday. The winner of the Mercedes-Benz Design Award presented by Broadsheet will be announced at Mercedes me in Melbourne on 13th December 2017.