Seaton McKeon won the inaugural AFDA in 2015 with his submission, The Sun, The Moon and Me. This led to the launch of his debut collection with Stylecraft in 2017, Paperclip.
Stylecraft: What did winning mean to you and where were you at with your career at that stage?
Seaton: The first thing that comes to mind is "wow" its been 7 years! I was 27 and to be honest still quite fresh out of Uni and working on a really broad range of projects from baby bottles, workplace systems, banking interiors to trains. I was definitely still in the "learning the tools" of design mode.
I think the piece 'The Sun The Moon and Me' actually spoke to the sense of displacement I felt in adjusting to the city life after study and the horizon of work life within the urban environment that I foresaw at the time. From a career perspective I think I was in a contemplative space about how I was contributing to and existing within the built environment. I remember the announcement in the Adelaide showroom the day after presenting, I think that was such an awesome experience. I don’t think anyone actually knew who was going to win and the announcement was really genuinely exciting and surreal.
From a resources perspective at the time I didn't really have much to put behind my own ideas and projects so the opportunity to engage with Stylecraft, Jon Goulder and the JamFactory was phenomenal. I had literally been filing parts on the kitchen table for the prototype piece that won and after winning I had third parties offering their tools and time to help me work through the new Paperclip prototypes.
Stylecraft: How did the Paperclip range form?
Seaton: It started with a presentation of ideas to Jon Goulder and Tony Russell in Melbourne. I flew down and remember finishing the presentation in the cafe down the road - I think that was when the name came to be Paperclip. I tend to work well under pressure and it's always tricky when presenting concepts to imbue them with the right name - like the title for a song... Sometimes I just defer to concept A, concept B, concept C. But I think there were about 4-5 ideas that all had a different kind of personality to them and Paperclip seemed to capture what the design was trying to achieve.
In the first instance, they were all just stacking dining proportioned chairs. During the meeting with Tony, it was suggested that it be developed into a full suite of seating products. I think it was a really constructive and helpful piece of observation and good industry insight as to what would be useful in the project. I know that both the stools and loungers sell regularly so it has made a significant difference to have elaborated on the single chair design. After the initial presentation, I went over to Adelaide with Jon and did some factory tours or potential suppliers/manufacturers for the end product. Looking back it was pretty surreal, the flights, the accommodation was all sorted as a result of winning AFDA.
To be honest I spent so long sketching ways of turning the chair into stools and armchairs. Practically the 3 days in Adelaide were dedicated to nutting out how to expand on the visual language and develop a few products that felt like a harmonious family but also had reasonably varied archetypes. I think it even flowed into lighting/privacy screening and shelving initially at the sketch stage. But it was such a great experience to be able to focus and have the time on it.
Stylecraft: How has collaborating with James Laffan and evolving to work under Neatt Design impacted your design journey?
Seaton: I created the Neatt company and brand as a means of both literally and metaphorically tidying up the way that my design work was being presented - and maybe more so for my own sake. I think the enthusiasm for learning and collaboration prior to Neatt kept me looking at new design ideas under my own practice studio.mckeon. I had dabbled in eco music festival cups, branding and packaging for a honey company, automotive components, high-end exercise equipment, medical device manufacturing, a screen printing device and even a robot for kids with leukemia. In previous years I had been working full-time at Blue sky design group on all sorts of projects from experience design / medical products/wayfinding / transportation - anything really. This is when I met James, we were working on a large signage project for Transport for New South Wales. He was on the transport side as a client and we worked together on and off for close to 4 years. To be honest I don't think I was wanting to run another business solo and had been in touch with James about some prototypes and then pitched the idea of the company and brand to him. I was really excited when he said he was keen. I knew that the kind of business I was looking to create wasn't a one-man band and that from the outset James was a great collaborator and "sanity checker" - I definitely ascribe to the saying that two heads are better than one!! At that early point, I already had the Paperclip collection complete, and some early prototypes of the Dolio coffee tables and some broad ideas on the Alcum range and I suppose a bunch of other ideas that either didn't make the cut or are "still in development". For me Neatt is a massive and welcomed shift from squeezing myself between (at times) a very vague client - and the task of morphing reality into a product design that satisfies their brief/desires. I still enjoy a select few collaborations with people/companies and projects who feel like they are really aligned or have a lot of experience to offer. Foremost I think Neatt, almost like a mantra, has allowed me to keep what I'm working on neat and tidy and is the stable for ideas and products to grow from. I think Neatt also provides room for a whole raft of small wins alongside the design journey of new products which serve as continued support and encouragement.
Stylecraft: What is new for Neatt and what are you most looking forward to in 2022?
Seaton: Recently we had a review of the collection and a bit of a presentation to the Stylecraft team on the new products and where we are up to. I think after launching right on the Covid outbreak the business was really kicking off in unknown territory and without much of a clear road forward. I think 2022 will probably see a broader opening up and for Neatt as a 2-year-old business a whole lot more activity. In February 2022 we have sold close to double what we sold for the whole previous financial year and so without a doubt, the most exciting thing is for our little company to meet the "post covid" world. From a product perspective, we have started with a raft of sheet metal collections. Metal fabrications are probably a real strength for both James and I after working with the material and process for so many years, but we are really looking forward to expanding the collection with pieces of timber and softer cushion or upholstered elements. I know that most of this is in the background, but hopefully by the end of the year can bring some of these new products to market and share them with the A+D community. As a designer I’m always excited about new products and as a collaborator I'm looking forward to some potential collaborations and new faces.