Tom Dixon at Inform, Vancouver

Tom Dixon at Inform Vancouver

A couple of weeks ago I went down to Inform Interiors in Gastown with a couple of design industry buddies to see a presentation by Tom Dixon.  I am a long-time fan of his work, specifically his lighting and it was pretty darn cool to see him in person and to hear his story right from the source.

If you aren’t familiar with Tom Dixon; get out more.

I kid. He’s a British designer and the founder of his namesake company which specializes in the design and manufacturing of lighting, furniture and, more recently, household accessories & accents. From his website:

With a commitment to innovation and a mission to revive the British furniture industry, the brand is inspired by our nation’s unique heritage.

Firstly, Inform knows how to throw a party! Their space is amazing to begin with but often when I visit looking for furniture or lighting, it’s very quiet and serene. This was an altogether different vibe. We arrived to a full house of bustling designers and design junkies all enjoying the food and beverage and picking up copies of Tom Dixon’s new book; Dixonary (available in Vancouver at Inform Interiors).

Dixonary by Tom Dixon

Dixonary by Tom Dixon

 

Tom Dixon

The crowd gathers …

 

Tom Dixon

Tom Dixon leaning on his Fan Chair during the presentation

 

Dixon’s presentation walked us through his story from a young man with rock star dreams, through how he built the company that he’s known for today. Along the way he revealed quite a bit about his work and his approach to design. He always designs from the inside out; focusing on how something is built first and then developing the outward appearance of it. A lot of this approach is built on his welding background and has grown to include other manufacturing techniques, both historic and state of the art.

His Beat lighting line, for example, is manufactured in North India by craftsman specializing in crafting traditional water and cooking vessels using a unique metal spinning technique. This line has become incredibly popular based on their unique shapes and contrasting finishes but the back story is what really adds to their value as an object. Which leads me to another interesting topic that Dixon touched on; knock-offs.

Tom Dixon Beat Light

Tom Dixon’s Beat Lights in Fat Brass (image c/o tomdixon.net)

 

He showed hundreds of eBay screen caps with Beat light replicas for sale at a fraction of the cost of the original. While showing these, he joked that he wasn’t sure whether to be flattered or angered at this phenomenon. I couldn’t resist following up on this at the end of his presentation; asking him how he had finally decided he felt about all these copies. His response was that people are always going to copy your successful work but that ‘as designers it’s our job to focus on designing the next great thing.’ He followed that up by saying with a smile ‘ … that, and it really is pretty flattering!’.

Tom Dixon Pipe Light

Tom Dixon’s Pipe Light … my personal favorite!

 

Tom Dixon Mirror Ball Tripod Stand

Tom Dixon Mirror Balls on tripod stand

 

In answering that question, and across his presentation, it became clear this is a man who has come up against all the major road blocks of the design industry.  Great idea; can’t afford to make it. Sell your design; lose control of the marketing. Manufacture it overseas; lose control. Get the design/manufacturing/sales equation right; everyone copies you. It can be very easy to imagine that the designers we look up to were born in to some divine path to success and live in a world where clients come with unlimited budgets, all the time in the world and blind trust. In reality, they just worked hard (banged their heads against the wall a few times like the rest of us) and found ways to push forward.

 

And after that inspiring moment, I had another cocktail.

 

You can see the full Tom Dixon collection of lighting, furniture and home objects at tomdixon.net 

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