“All my life I’ve been fascinated with objects and how they work,” says University of New South Wales design graduate Joshua Flowers. “But I didn’t realise I wanted to be a designer until fairly recently.” Flowers says he was working in the music and film industry when his then-girlfriend pointed out his obsession with the design of everyday objects. “It suddenly clicked,” says Flowers. “Before that, industrial design wasn’t even a field I was aware of.”

Flowers is one of four finalists in the 2016 Mercedes-Benz Design Award by Broadsheet. This year, the brief called for entries that enhance the outdoor-dining experience. The winner will work with renowned outdoor furniture designer Tait to develop their design from the prototype stage through to production, and the finished product will be added to the Tait range and offered for sale nationwide.

Flowers was shortlisted for his design, the Kindling Cooker: a portable barbeque inspired by Japanese tabletop cookers.

Gordon and Susan Tait –founders and company directors of Tait and co-judges of this year’s awards – say they appreciate the Kindling Cooker’s Japanese design cues and portability.

“This design really strikes a chord for us,” says Gordon. “Where our designs have more of a permanent application, we admire how dynamic and social this is. It’s to be enjoyed at home or on the road – just imagine taking this on a Great Ocean Road trip come summer. Hats off to Joshua for truly embracing a sense of the outdoors.”

We spoke to Flowers about how his fascination for design evolved from a hobby into a career.

Broadsheet: What does good design mean to you?

Joshua Flowers: Good design has two aspects. There are the objective elements: whether or not all the problems have been thoroughly resolved and the forms considered. Basically, how much work has the designer put into that object? Usually the more work, the objectively better the design is.

Then there is the subjective side, which is what I get up in the morning for. This side is really about creating something amazing; an object that not only does its job, but does it elegantly. I think the tone of a design, the core of its personality, is where the magic happens and is what separates good and bad design for me.

BS: What role does design play in your career today?

JF: Design is what I do for fun, but it also happens to be my job. As a recently graduated industrial designer from UNSW, I now work for a great studio in Copenhagen, in Denmark. Design is what I’m lucky enough to do every day.

BS: Where do you work and what does your workspace look like?

JF: When I’m deep in the design engineering process I work full-time in the office or my studio. But when I’m thinking up ideas, it can happen anywhere: shopping, in the shower, about to go to sleep, even lying down in a park.

A few times people have approached me when I’m lying down and asked if I shouldn’t be working hard for a deadline and I say, ‘I am’. Some people like to sketch ideas out, but I find a lot of the work happens in my head, mostly before I put anything to paper.

BS: Explain your design for the Kindling Cooker.

JF: The Kindling Cooker is my take on a traditional Japanese tabletop barbeque in the design language of Tait. It’s small enough that you can put it in the dishwasher, and big enough to cook a meal for your friends and family. It’s a simple barbeque, with an internal tray that holds the coal briquettes, and a wooden lid that functions as a serving tray. The handle and legs are insulated from heat too, so it can easily be moved around during the cooking process. It’s not rocket science, but I’d love to own something like this.

BS: Which materials does the design use?

JF: I designed the Kindling Cooker using stainless-steel sheets, welded powder-coated piping and Tasmanian oak. Steel and timber are incredibly versatile, timeless and satisfying in their appearance and tactility.

BS: What was the inspiration behind the idea?

JF: I was inspired by Tait’s outdoor approach to try and find a way of cooking that didn’t just feel like a standard barbeque. Barbeques are bulky and ugly, mainly because they’re designed to stand outside for long periods of time. But if it’s small enough, you can store it indoors and it can be as beautiful as a piece of furniture.

It also makes barbequing more accessible – its size means it can be easily taken on a picnic.

BS: Which designers and makers do you most admire?

JF: I love Adam Goodrum’s Volley Lounger for Tait. It’s one of my all-time favourite chair designs. I think his work is playful, spirited and elegant and I love his use of colours. I’m a fan.

BS: What would you say are the defining qualities of Australian design?

JF: I don’t think there is a common visual language in Australian design per se, but I find Australian designers really pragmatic, hard-working and respected overseas. There’s something about the design education here, combined with an unpretentious cultural ethic that makes Australian designers some of the best in the world. I’m proud to be an Australian designer.

BS: What would it mean to you to win the award?

JF: It would mean a lot. Working with Tait would be a dream come true. I’m a big fan of their design sensibilities and their mission in general. You can really feel the values of the company in the products they make. I would love to be a part of that.

Meet our other finalists Nancy Ji, Marcus Piper and Adele Winteridge. The winner of the Mercedes-Benz Design Award presented by Broadsheet will be announced at a ceremony in Melbourne on Thursday December 1.

Update: The Lily Tray Table is now available to purchase from Tait showrooms and online

This article presented in partnership with the Mercedes-Benz Design Award by Broadsheet.