Decorex 2022: Q&A with Best New Talent Winner Siviwe Jali

WORDS Cheri Morris PHOTOS Justin Patrick

Durban-based industrial and product designer Siviwe Jali, a finalist of Nando’s Hot Young Designer (HYD) Talent Search 2020, recently won Best New Talent at Decorex Cape Town 2022. We caught up with him to find out more about the projects he’s proud of, his artistic process and what makes him the most creative.

Siviwe’s work formed part of an exhibition of past and current designs by the various finalists and winners of HYD as curated by Clout/SA’s director, Tracy Lynch. His works included Nokhanya Lights, Ntsimbi server and Cupisa bench. The lights are a collaboration with Ashanti Design, the server was brought to life with the assistance of TanDesignSA and the bench is made by Pedersen + Lennard.

siviwe jali

He’s also the founder of the Durban-based industrial and product design consultancy uMugqa Studio. With a clear line (uMugqa means line in isiZulu) drawn between identifying a problem and solving it, uMugqa Studio aims to elevate functional, social-conscious design.

Who is Siviwe Jali?

I am an Industrial designer from Durban. An extroverted introvert, design nerd and coffee connoisseur. I grew up in Durban for most of my life, where I spent most of my childhood at the beach and running around with my friends getting up to mischief. My hobbies include reading, listening to music and podcasts, watching movies, and designing and making things. I can’t sit still – always tinkering and doing something.

Where did you design journey begin?

I was always interested in arts and crafts as a kid, but the spark really started in primary school when my older sister started studying graphic design. I saw that I could create a path for myself in this type of field. When the time came to choose a career in matric, I wanted to do psychology. I was short of a few points for that, but could still apply for design school. The funny thing is that objects like furniture affect one’s psychology, behaviour and health.

What inspires your designs?

A lot of places – from personal experience, observation and a lot of curiosity about mashing up my interests. People are also a huge source of inspiration, as is my culture.

Tell us about your favourite projects.

The Kwena Square Bench and Bin project I recently did was really good. The Nokhanya Light with Ashanti is another special project because I worked on that design for years, and partnering with them really took the design to the next level. And, of course, the Ntsimbi Server because of how quickly it came together. I had never designed anything like it before.

Tell us about your creative process.

Lots of research; I am very strict about doing the best research for a project. Sometimes I look into data and research for days before I start to design. I use quick sketches when I start to conceptualise, then move into more detailed drawings. Then I go on to CAD and do quick renders and if things still don’t make sense or I need to feel the object, I will create a prototype. None of this is set in stone, sometimes I jump around and patch things together.

What’s your dream design job?

A social impact project that benefits an underserved community and also results in some form of profit. That very narrow trade-off where capitalism is being used for good!

What have you been doing since being a finalist in the Hot Young Designer 2020 competition?

I have been working on my practice, uMugqa, and developing a range of products.

Do you have some exciting upcoming projects or collaborations that you would like to share?

Everything I am working on is still in development and so I have to keep it hush-hush.

Any advice be for a budding furniture designer?

Learn how to see details: observe how people use objects and get deeply curious about how things are made. This will lay the foundation. After that, remember to have child-like wonder and play a lot. Also, try to come up with an opinion and point of view for life that bleeds into your work. Interesting people create interesting work.

Love Siviwe’s work? Follow him on Instagram for more.

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