Rising Star: Siviwe Jali

COMPILED BY Phendu Kuta PHOTOS Supplied; Justin Patrick

There is substance and sensibility to the truly modern South African designs that this Durbanite creates.

It was a big 2022 for KZN-based multidisciplinary designer and director of uMugqa Studio, Siviwe Jali. In June, he was a recipient of the Best New Talent award at Decorex Cape Town, and just prior to that, he was named the frontrunner in a competition to design a bench for the Kwena Square mall development in Little Falls, Roodepoort. In 2020, he had been selected as a finalist in the Nando’s Hot Young Designer Talent Search, and that immediately put him on the industry’s “one to watch” list. Now, through his design consultancy uMugqa, which means “line”, he showcases clear-cut methods of design-focused problem-solving. His unique point of view and attention to detail make his approach to design captivating.

Portrait of Siviwe Jali

* Depending on the day, I could be doing anything from writing emails to clients and checking in on my suppliers to sketching ideas, rushing to meetings, sourcing new materials and even reading up on marketing.

* My design philosophy can be summed up simply as “function, form and emotion”. Everything that comes from the studio should incorporate these three things. Products should always be highly functional and useful. They should be pleasing to the eye, and should trigger some sort of emotional response, making the object easier to connect with.

* Regardless of what it is you’re designing, the way that item functions and how it solves a problem for the intended users should always be the starting point.

* The top trends in design that we’ll be seeing in the next few years include: sustainability – I’m expecting more focus on being considerate in production, creating things that will last, and making sure we design for a circular economy; material exploration – this includes using the best materials for products and projects, as well as finding better-quality existing materials and new materials, and creating applications for them; vernacular design – across the globe, design is becoming something that reflects local inspiration while competing on an international scale, and from Accra to Seoul, designers are using their rich history to create new visual languages.

* I am especially fond of Japanese design. The Japanese have found a way to maintain their traditions and centuries worth of culture while at the same time being future-facing. This has created a unique approach that applies to everything from architecture to service delivery.

* It’s difficult to pick a favourite among my own designs because everything I design means something to me. Having a favourite is like saying that you have a favourite child. But, for the sole reason that I spent close to four years developing the Nok’khanya lights before I was introduced to Ashanti Design via Tracy Lynch and Clout/SA, I’m singling them out. Together, we took the prototype and elevated it to a product that was commercial-ready.

* Naoto Fukasawa and Cheick Diallo are two designers who inspire me. Fukasawa inspired me when I read his book in design school, and learnt about his user-centred approach known as “without thought”. Using products should be so seamless that you don’t even have to think about it. Diallo was the first African designer I ever saw incorporate modern production methods into African aesthetics – the first real example, for me, of Afro- modernism expressed through furniture design.

* The study area in my home is great. It has a floor- to-ceiling window, so I get to sit, working at my desk, and experience the natural light flooding in. From time to time, I stare out of the window and let my mind drift.

* If money were no object, there is an extensive list of art and design I would buy. It includes a Noguchi table, MaXhosa rug, Eames lounger, Rams vinyl player, Diallo lounger, Felipe Pantone mural, Fukasawa wall-mounted CD player, and a Gerard Sekoto painting.

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