A few weeks ago archello visited global design event ICFF 2015. In New York we were lucky enough to sit down with leading designer Tom Dixon and design director Koray Malhan from Koleksiyon. We asked them about current changes in the profession and inspiration and their design process.

Tom Dixon, founder Tom Dixon

Archello: I’m interested in your choices in materiality and use of technology, what’s behind the product. I find it very interesting how you’re so precise and yet organic at the same time. How do you manage this?

Tom Dixon: That’s the biggest compliment I have had all year! My interest has always been making things, and I don’t make as much distinction between hand-made and heavily engineered as most other people do. I think it’s converging a lot right now anyway. From the influence’s perspective whether it is nature, sculpture or engineering, they’re all valid in my eyes, and I try to put them together, to make some kind of cohesive whole.

A: To me when I look at your work from the outside I think it has a personal approach, it has emotion in it, it has a craft sort of vernacular about it, but on the other hand it looks like perhaps technology is assisting you. Do you design by hand or computer?

TD: The thing that is changing now is the manufacturing industry rather than materials. The proximity of the designer to the more extraordinary high-tech engineering or heavy industry tools have now become miniaturized or digitized. It is changing irreversibly, the way that people are able to make stuff. Up till even 5 years ago the drift of American and British manufacturing to low labour economies seemed unstoppable. I can see the beginnings of a new industrial revolution, which is deconstructed all over the world and accessible to designers in a way that hasn’t been possible for hundreds of years.

What interests me in the idea of craft or industrial activity is that when I observe the people that work in my studio on computers, they spend three, eight, five years becoming experts in computers. That’s a craft in itself. I don’t actually see the distinction between an engineer that has learned how to craft an amazing innovative tool for plastics, which also takes ten years of hard craft, and somebody who is really good at wood work.

A: Would you like to share some thoughts with us from your new collection or any new big projects you’re working on?

TD: The hit of Milan was the MELT lamp, which is the fruit of five years of experimenting. For a long time I’ve been trying to crush these glass balls. They were so beautiful as kind of unique objects that I tried to sell them as more expensive objects. Unfortunately, in the crushing process the metallization gets damaged and because you can’t control the crushing, you can’t really put the light in the correct position. So I abandoned that project.

Last year I tripped over an interesting mold in a plastic factory, which was a white wobbly globe and I thought we’d have a go working with this one. Turns out it belongs to the girls from Front, the Swedish innovative girl brand, and they made it for a park in Stockholm as a one off art project. I just phoned them up and said ‘Allow me to use your molds and I’m gonna make something completely different with it.’ The trick after that was really working on the metallization, to get it to the point where it is semi metalized, like a two-way mirror. In the end we chose a very thin layer – maybe a couple of microns of copper – only metalized two thirds of the way down, so actually the bottom of it is clear, although it doesn’t appear that way. You can just about see when you look at it sideways. The other thing that’s astonishing is that everyone thinks that they’re hand-blown glass in different shapes, but it’s only the angle you’re looking that makes it look different from its neighbour.

Where I’ve been trying for four years to make this kind of unique object, I’ve managed to make an industrially produced object, which I didn’t even have to pay for the mold, by collaborating with some of my friends and produced what I wanted in a much simpler way then I would have been able do on my own. So the big lesson here is banging your head against a brick wall for a long time trying to find a solution, while often the solution is sitting in your back pocket without you even realizing. Sometimes it’s not even design going on, it’s between engineering, luck, and good fortune. But you know, you make your own luck.

Koray Malhan, creative director Koleksiyon

A: I would like to find out what’s your inspiration, talk about materiality, talk about technology, the interface now between the disciplines, art and design culture. Where do you draw your inspiration from?

KM: To start with, my family comes from sociology studies. My mother is a sociologist, my brother, sister. I also studied sociology as well as industrial design and architecture for two years in London. So the way I look at the whole office thing is not furniture, but more the understanding of human relationship with work across thousands of years. How it has changed and evolved.

In history there are two real revolutions that count. One involves society moving from a gathering society into an agrarian society, where families start to settle, and the second one being the industrial revolution. Now we call it the information society, knowledge society, technology society, but the real thing is the way we left our muscle power to the machines during the industrial revolution, now we leave our memory power to the machines. We have set up a digital system, which remembers better than our brain. It has a higher capacity then the human brain and has a higher speed to process information. Now the idea of ‘know how’ is irrelevant. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t know, we should know, but the whole system already knows. The human power now is needed in creativity.

A: So where does your creative power come from?

KM: My inspiration comes from all other expressions of humanity, from theatre, from music, dance. There’s still so much to understand from what’s the language of the 21st century, how people write and read, how people watch, how people perceive what’s this century’s music as opposed to 19ths century music. When we will understand the structural differences in these linguistic patterns, then the way we design can take a more contemporary shift. The inspiration I think is life. I don’t say people, because this is a limited answer. But life is a more broad universe. Anything can be inspiration, from the cosmos, to the waves, the sun. It’s an endless inspiration but just to really understand the way of the universe, the rules of it, to be a part of it, to help it, to be more friendly with it. Not to overcome nature, but to be a humble part of it. Which we are, but we might sometimes not be aware of.

A: Everything now is recorded, posted, everything’s accessible all the time, everywhere. Do you think that in your own work, in the products that you produce, how do you stay ahead?

KM: The way I look at it, I love this change, because I think this makes things much more democratic. When I go back to the analogy of the music. Before it was recorded, it was for the privileged, it was played for the kings and the church, always the top privileged parts of the society, and they listened and experienced original Beethoven playing in their house in Wien. Nowadays by the time it’s recorded, it’s for everyone, and it’s a much more wider spread. Everyone can experience, can hear it, it’s much more democratic.

I go back and I listen to Beethoven or the sonatas, I listened to his sonatas for the past five years from 14 different pianists, and still if I listen I often discover parts I’ve never heard this part before. How can you listen to music for hundreds of times and still you’re surprised in the hundredth time as if you listening to it for the first time. How can you write music like this in 1802? It’s impossible, there are so many layers, it’s so complex, seems so easy, but it is also so universal. It speaks to everyone doesn’t matter if it’s German music, if it’s Swiss or Indian. Geographically or universally it connects to a cosmic language.

A: What’s your favorite product of everything you’ve designed?

KM: A recent one called Oblivion. It’s named after Astor Piazzolla’s tango, the best tango ever written if you ask me. The product is like a giant bomb in the work place. A huge thing that opens a large space which is not dedicated to a particular thing. It’s 6 meters in the diameter, it’s 4 and a half meters in height and works like a giant pod. It comes in different heights, different widths.

I tried to change this relationship between owning your place or using places. People generally are used to have “my desk, my pedestal, my chair.” If you have less of things that belong to me, and more that belong to us, in a communal way, I think this it is better.  I’ll try to make an example with a city. Imagine a city only with houses which people privately own and 90% is like this, and imagine a city where more than 80% is communal, the parks, the rivers, the lakes, streets, the more communal experience a city has, the richer the city is.

For more information about ICFF please visit our event page here.