At an age where many of us are consumed by schoolyard gossip and fitting in, a teenage Zachary Hanna found a neglected catalogue on the floor of a train that sparked a lifelong passion.

The pages of this publication were where Hanna first encountered the name of legendary late architect Dame Zaha Mohammad Hadid, and it opened up a new realm for the curious student: the world of design. Hanna based his schooling subjects around his newfound interest, before studying engineering.

“I have been lucky to have people in my life who have shown me how to plan and build – including my father, great technology teachers at school and tutors at university,” he says. “I’ve combined my education with my interest in architecture and fashion, and arrived at product design.”

As a product designer, Hanna’s work centres on solving problems with functional – and beautiful – solutions. In April 2019, Hanna will travel to Milan to exhibit an adaptable lighting system he has designed named “Trapeze”, as part of renowned furniture fair: Salone del Mobile.

Now, Hanna’s innovative design The Stack – a lamp, side table and bookcase – has seen him named among the finalists for the Mercedes-Benz Design Award. Responding to the brief, Hanna’s entry is designed to “enhance the lounge space”.

The 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.

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Adele Winteridge considered Hanna’s entry a “compact and beautiful product” and a “well thought-out” piece of design. “It combines several functions, which means that this product would also be brilliant for tight apartment-living spaces and in higher density living situations,” she says.

“Zachary addresses the sustainability issue with his choice of material and lamp selection. A clever and thoughtful product designed with empathy for the user – I definitely need this in my lounge.”

We spoke to Hanna about his unique design and his decision to employ sustainable materials.

Broadsheet: What does good design mean to you?
Zachary Hanna: A good design is one that has been refined to become simple and efficient in both construction and function – no more complex than it needs to be. Aesthetically, a good design can take on many forms, as long as elements within the design itself are refined, and work together to create a pleasurable experience.

BS: Describe your design philosophy.
ZH: I create work that either explores process, encourages interaction, combines differing ideas, or is simply a well-refined form. Sometimes it’s possible to create work that fulfils a number of these ideals, but sometimes it only make sense to pursue one of those ideals.

BS: Could you tell us a little about your design history?
ZH: I studied at the University of Technology, Sydney, and while I was there I worked as an assistant to Berto Pandolfo, the course director of product design. I was able to travel a lot through this course and each of these experiences really opened my eyes to design all around the world. Since then, I have worked for an office and marine-seating company, Adam Goodrum Studio, and now at Bang Design, where I have been for three years.

BS: How would you explain your design for the Stack Lamp?
ZH: Stack Lamp is the combination of two pieces of furniture often found together in the living room: a table lamp placed on a side table. It’s a useful combination – providing a surface to place books, magazines, laptops, or food and drink. And, the light above illuminates any activity occurring beneath. I am happy the Stack can improve the ambience of a living room.

BS: Where did the idea for the Stack Lamp stem from?
ZH: Stack came from an image I had in my head of an old, dusty lamp sitting on a tablecloth-clad side table, and I thought it would be interesting to take an ostensibly ugly combination and elevate it to the level of fine furniture.

BS: What materials have you used?
ZH: With sustainability in mind, I chose an entirely timber construction. Timber is a renewable resource, and there are numerous certification schemes ensuring timber is harvested sustainability. So far I have used ash and walnut – timeless and quality timbers. The light is provided by LEDs, which consume less power and have a greater lifespan.

BS: What would it mean to you to win the Mercedes-Benz Design Award?
ZH: I think the Mercedes-Benz Design Award has consistently unearthed great designs and designers, and I would love to be a part of this group and to benefit from the mentorship of so many interesting Australian creatives.

Meet our other finalists Tom Hewitt and James Walsh.The winner of the Mercedes-Benz Design Award presented by Broadsheet will be announced at The Cult Design Showroom in Sydney on Thursday 28 February.