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From student winners to new directors, dynamism at Nexus Designs

The 2023 Nexus Designs Janne Faulkner Prize for Design Excellence at RMIT has been announced and it follows some exciting leadership changes at the practice.

From student winners to new directors, dynamism at Nexus Designs

(L-R): Sonia Simpfendorfer, Sally Evans and Michael Malignaggi.

Nexus (n.) from Latin nectere, to bind a connection point; a connection or bond; a point at which two things are interlinked (Oxford dictionary).

True to its name, Nexus – that is, Nexus Designs, the multidisciplinary Australian studio – has had a lot going on lately. There have been some exciting new moves in terms of the practice’s leadership, but let’s start with the 2023 Nexus Designs Janne Faulkner Prize for Design Excellence at RMIT, an annual prize established in 2019 and named in honour of Nexus Designs founder, Janne Faulkner.

Vivian Chunrui Li and Michael Malignaggi, photograph by @bellacoolphoto.

This year’s winner has just been announced as Vivian Chunrui Li, a graduate of RMIT’s Diploma of Interior Design program. She received the award, which includes a monetary prize and an opportunity to develop her industry skills and portfolio at Nexus Designs’ studio, at a ceremony at Space & Time in North Melbourne on 23rd November.

Portfolios submitted for the competition by students were judged by a panel made up of Sally Evans, (director at Nexus Designs, Sidney Ford (interior designer at Nexus Designs), Dr Phoebe Whitman (RMIT program manager of the Bachelor of Interior Design (Honours) program) and Nancy Everingham (RMIT manager of academic quality and compliance). Each student presented to the panel before fielding questions from the judges.

(L-R): Some of the student who submitted entries: Wenting Ma, Tirada Sriwattana, Emily Wedrien, Vivian Chunrui Li (winner), and directors Sonia Simpfendorfer and Michael Malignaggi, photograph by @bellacoolphoto.

Vivian’s winning design was commended by the judges for the way that she created spaces with intent, function, integrity and restraint. The projects in question focused on residential interior design and included a Nordic-inspired design for a Victorian terraced house in Clifton Hill as well as a contemporary transformation of a former warehouse in Carlton.

“We were impressed with the consistency and calibre of work Vivian submitted,” says Sonia Simpfendorfer, director at Nexus Designs. “Her understanding of the unseen elements of design solutions aligns with our studio’s philosophy and demonstrates a clear understanding of the role of a good interior designer.”

Related: Madeline Lester Excellence Award at the DIA

Director Sally Evans continues: “Vivian’s portfolio was presented in a simple and clear way. Through her attention to detail, she has demonstrated clarity of thought and an ability to make firm decisions. Her rationales were well thought through, demonstrating that her designs are the result of research to understand the client’s living needs.”

Having exhibited the winning work at the student-run Graduate Exhibition for the RMIT College of Vocational Education, Creative Industries, Vivian will now prepare for her time being mentored by the team at Nexus Designs – where there have in fact been some developments recently as the team’s leadership moves in a dynamic new direction.

Nexus Designs was founded as a multidisciplinary studio over 50 years ago, growing into a practice with expertise across interior design, graphic design and product consultancy. The integrated service model continues but under a changed structure of leadership. The practice recently announced a triumvirate of new directors: Sonia Simpfendorfer leads the interior design division and Sally Evans heads up the graphic design and product development teams, while managing director Michael Malignaggi oversees business development and promotional initiatives.

The changes also come after the news in October that Harley Anstee was inducted into the DIA Hall of Fame. Harley has been at Nexus Designs for over 50 years, making a significant impact on interior design in Australia.

Harley Anstee FDIA.

“As we embark on this exciting new chapter, sharing our expert knowledge of Australian interior design, colour and lifestyle with a wider audience will be critical,” says Malignaggi. “As part of this we’re looking forward to continuing to support the development and progression of our current staff, as well as identifying strategic opportunities to expand the team.”

Simpfendorfer, whose professional experience is combined with a passion for history, art and architecture, says that “Nexus Designs has always been a haven for progressive thinking.” She adds: “Clients value our cumulative expert knowledge and our respect for creativity as a vital skill. It has been so rewarding to apply these studio assets to ambitious projects over the past few years, including the elegant and light-filled Cardinal residence (Melbourne), and Light Well, a modern refurbishment of a 1960s penthouse apartment in South Yarra.”

The studio’s work in the areas of graphic design and product consultancy are targets for growth, from wayfinding design to colour analysis and forecasting. As a whole, though, the defining drive towards a distinctly ‘Australian’ design identity continues as a thread that connects right back to the beginnings of Nexus Designs and sets it up for a future across various sectors.

“We have so much opportunity to influence a broader long-term success rate for clients by considering layers of deeper strategic agendas in our approach, regardless of the sector, medium or project typology it is applied to,” says Evans. “We want to inspire our clients to see how creative thinking can enable change.”

Internally, meanwhile, the new directors also emphasise a commitment to employee development and of course a care for the future of the profession that students such as Vivian Chunrui Li will be able to enjoy. According to Nexus Designs, the culture is founded in empathy and mutual respect – foundations that should ensure a bright and exciting future.

Nexus Designs

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