Tom Dixon design maverick

Celebrated UK designer Tom Dixon was born in Africa - in Sfax, Tunisia, to be exact. So we proudly claim him as one of our own.

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Design Indaba asked Sumien Brink, award-winning editor of VISI magazine to pose a few questions to our estranged African, about his impending visit to our shores.

The VISI team attended your talk show at 100% DESIGN in London last September and we were very amused by your statement that the world didn't really need another designer chair. What, in your opinion, do we need right now?

We need to find ways of slowing down rampant consumerism. We need to design things that have lasting value... and try and save the world.

We were even more amused by your new designs for sex toys. Were they in fact manufactured and was the market as big as you thought?

That was certainly an interesting project - it's always more exciting to work in fields that have yet to be touched by design. It's the best-selling item for the company that I designed it for (Myla - an upmarket lingerie firm). It seems to hit the spot - if you know what I mean!

What are the latest techno materials - and what do you expect will be developed next?

Nanotechnology and genetic engineering should start producing revolutionary new materials in the next 10 years or so... but for the time being composites are still the place where real innovation is happening.

Was your biodegradable tableware ever manufactured and is it commercially viable?

Sure... we have been using it everyday in the studio for the past year and it's still not degraded. We have it ready to go... do you want some? (Yes please, Tom... Let's have it auctioned at our Charity Banquet? - Ed)

Where is design going after this decorated and patterned era? Back to minimalism?

I don't think so - my theory is 'reductionism' - where it's still possible to have form and expressive shape, without having to resort to excessive decoration - but beware, pattern has not gone away yet.

In South Africa we so often see wonderful designs from young designers that never reach the stores. Is there a solution?

The solution is usually to create proper partnerships with industry. My experience in other parts of Africa has also been that despite talent in design and skill in craft, the infrastructure for logistics, the experience in business, the problems of transport and packaging, the micro-finance, the understanding of pricing to market etc is often missing and the designers need to be designing those parts of the value chain, as well as designing products.

Where is retail going? Will more people shop on the Internet and not go into stores?

Retail needs to innovate faster and faster to keep ahead - I think that people will always love the experience of real live shopping though. Have we reached saturation point with so many stores stocking the same merchandise? People seem to be insatiable, it would appear to be human nature to be greedy.

And what about China? Do copies of designer items and the capacity for cheap mass production in the east really threaten design in the west?

For sure... but it won't take very long for Eastern design to catch up and surpass the West - they won't be copying for long! The art schools in the UK are stuffed full of Korean, Chinese and Malaysian designers.

On a personal note - what is your favourite room in your house, and your favourite colour?

I avoid having too many favourites. I tend to like the room that is sunlit, the most, which is the sitting room in the morning and the dining room in the afternoon. From a functionality point of view, it is probably the kitchen.

As for my favourite colour? Forget it... it just wouldn't be fair to yellow if I chose turquoise, and what about emerald green or pink?!

Tom, who continues his role as creative director at Habitat and Artek in Finland as well as his own Tom Dixon Studio in London, will speak at the ninth Design Indaba. Welcome home, Tom!

Watch the Talk with Tom Dixon

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