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12 Jul 2024

Cheeky Ideas and Big Wins: A Q&A with Australia's Next Top Designer Winner

Cheeky Ideas and Big Wins: A Q&A with Australia's Next Top Designer Winner

Fresh off her win at the 2024 Australia's Next Top Designer (ANTD) competition, Maryam Moghadam sheds light on the inspiration behind her award-winning Cheeky stool collection, her design process, and the impact of this prestigious recognition.

The ANTD competition, held in collaboration with Workshopped and sponsored by Flexmirror Australia, Kanebridge News, and Axolotl, took place from 13-15 June, showcasing and launching the careers of Australia's rising design stars.

How did you come up with the initial idea for the Cheeky stool collection?

The initial idea emerged from my Industrial Design Honour’s research project, where I was looking at ways in which furniture can facilitate conversation and connection between two strangers. I had come across studies that investigated the positive impact of icebreakers in making strangers feel more comfortable, connected and willing to engage with each other. I wanted to incorporate this idea into public furniture, and was specifically looking at humourous icebreakers. The image of a bum perched on a bum was very amusing to me, so I toyed with plastering two butt cheeks on a standard, adjustable barstool. It didn’t materialise into anything more than sketches and a rendering, until I revisited the idea about a year and a half later.

What materials did you use for your design, and why did you choose them?

The frame of Cheeky is constructed from aluminium, chosen for its recyclability, weight and durability. The frame is coated with enamel paint which I have mixed myself, dictated by the colour of the fabric. The coating allows for repainting when or if required, extending the lifetime of the stool. The cheeks are made from polyurethane foam for comfort, and upholstered in Italian knit fabric with stretch to accommodate its irregular and complex shape.

cheeky in the making

Photo: Maryam shaping the first iteration of Cheeky originally constructed from steel

Are there any other projects or designs you are currently working on that you are excited about?

I often get distracted by new ideas and projects, abandoning unfinished work and feeling very guilty about it as a result. I am taking a step towards being a responsible grown up and revisiting old work while trying my hand at putting the Cheeky collection into production. Last year, I created a record rack that was also part of ANTD and awarded Highly Commended. There was considerable interest, but a few details needed to be rectified in order for the rack to be production ready, which I’ll be working towards for the next few months.

In October, I’m running an exhibition in Sydney with a few friends, taking place in Newsagency Gallery, Petersham. Expect humour, wit, absurdity, class and live music. I will be exhibiting Cheeky stools in new, outrageous colours.

How has winning Australia’s Next Top Designer impacted you personally and professionally?

Personally, winning ANTD has strengthened my confidence and self-belief. Like many creatives, I am often insecure about the work I produce and exhibit, and this is achievement has been a form of validation that I’m making work people are connecting with. Not only is it extremely motivating, but it has provoked me to consider new design concepts embodying the pure intention of Cheeky.

The generous prize money has given me the opportunity to realise experimentations I would otherwise be hesitant to pursue due to financial constraints. I am now able to invest wholeheartedly into refining the Cheeky collection to a prime standard, while also having the financial freedom to explore new colours and styles. My near-term goal is to put the Cheeky collection into production as soon as possible, and this support will help me pursue my goal much quicker than anticipated and with a peace of mind.

Who has been your biggest influence or mentor in your design journey?

My aunty and my husband have been the most important and influential people in my design journey. My aunty, Ioanna, is a talented artist who lived overseas for the most part of my childhood. For Christmas, Easter and birthdays, she would paint pictures and cards which she posted to us. I remember being mesmerised by her work, while feeling a little envious that I couldn’t draw and paint like her. I would challenge myself to recreate her pictures, overestimating my 6-year-old abilities, and finding myself failing miserably. My aunty recognised my inherent inclination towards art and encouraged me to pursue it.

My husband, Rene, is my greatest and harshest critic. Rene is incredibly creative and believes in my work, but will not let me get away with loose ends. He deeply immerses himself in my ideas and provides me with honest (and often brutal) feedback. Sometimes I outright disagree with him, but the discussion is valuable regardless as it re-establishes my self-belief and arms me with the awareness that prepares me for the criticism of the audience.

How do you perceive the evolution of Australian design, and how does it compare to design communities in other countries?

It wasn’t until the design process of my work, "A Heritage Reclaimed" that I realised how much of what we think as Australian design is a visual language inherited from colonialism, or directly imitates design from overseas. In countries like Italy, Denmark and Japan for example, furniture, interiors and architecture reflects the country’s history and culture. We link expressions of simplicity and tranquillity in design to Japanese influences, or boldness and elegance to Italian. I don’t think we can yet describe the essence of Australian design, as I believe we are currently in the process of defining it. An integral piece of Australian design, I believe, is the integration of and collaboration with First Nations people, culture and knowledge. At the same time, Australian design also reflects Australia’s significant cultural diversity, bringing about an eclectic collection of work influenced by multiple backgrounds. It’s incredibly liberating and exciting to be an Australian designer in our current time, as we are leaders free to explore the meaning of Australian design without the worry of being overshadowed by or bound to our predecessors.


Photo: "A Heritage Reclaimed" featuring wood marquetry by Maryam Moghadam and Keedan Rigney

What insights did you gain from showcasing your designs at Design Show Australia, and would you recommend participating in the ANTD competition?

My mission as a designer and maker is to create furniture that offers more than utility, particularly eliciting positive human emotions and behaviour. I had this intention with Cheeky, and the Design Show provided an excellent opportunity to put my theory to the test amongst a diverse audience. I was able to receive valuable feedback as well as network with industry professionals – architects, designers, makers, manufacturers and builders – who provided a perspective tuned more to business, trends and production. The day open to the public offered me a window into the values, tastes and expectations of consumers. The Design Show was brimming with visitors in all three days, and the flow was constant, so I was able to collect a myriad of insights in such a short period of time. It was delightful to witness the inner child awakened amongst the many wonderful people I met at the show.

I would undoubtedly encourage emerging designers to partake in the competition. It’s a great opportunity to network, receive exposure, collect a valuable feedback by both industry professionals and consumers in a short amount of time, build confidence by discussing your work, get educated about the current trends and market, and meet talented designers that may be potential collaborators and friends.

Be sure to check out all the 2024 shortlists here to see the incredible talent from this year's competition! The Australia's Next Top Designer Award will return to Melbourne on 12-14 June 2025. Don't miss the chance to witness the future of Australian design unfold!

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