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The UK design company Australians love is ‘no longer a teenager’

Tom Dixon reflects on 20 years at the helm of his eponymous brand and why he has the best job for poking his nose in other people’s business

By Robyn Willis
Thu, Mar 9, 2023 7:30amGrey Clock 4 min

It might have been the jet lag talking, or perhaps it’s just evidence of his legendary laconic style but Tom Dixon’s view on the role of the designer is unorthodox, to say the least.

“Design is a great profession for the easily bored and the curious,” Tom Dixon commented. 

Sitting down last week ahead of an event at Sydney’s Quay Quarter Tower created to celebrate 20 years of his company, Tom Dixon was reflecting on what could best be described as a meandering career. 

Untrained, self taught and continually interested in the new possibilities of untried materials and their applications, Dixon’s career has been one of following his interests wherever they might take him, whether that is music, management – or design.

Indeed, while he was enjoying finally being able to see the foyer and market hall he designed for Quay Quarter Tower after three years of COVID stopped him from visiting Australia, he remained unconvinced the birthday celebrations were necessary.

“I don’t really think about these things and it was slightly imposed on me,” he said. “I like looking forward if at all possible. 

“Maybe that’s why I didn’t really want to do it – 20 sounds quite old – like I’m no longer a teenager.” 

He certainly continues to bring a youthful attitude to his work. The one-time bass guitarist for early 80s band, Funkapolitan who dropped out of the Chelsea School of Art, Dixon almost fell into design after becoming fascinated by the possibilities of welding.

This progressed into furniture design, with his S chair for Cappellini in 1989 (now in the New York Museum of Modern Art), followed by his appointment as creative director of Habitat, the epitome of homeware style in the 1990s, where he sharpened his understanding of the commercial realities of design and promoted emerging designers.

By the time the new century arrived, Dixon was ready to branch out on his own, founding his business, Tom Dixon in 2002. The Design Research Studio – the architectural and interior branch of his business – began the following year. 

More than 20 years on and he is credited with some of the most ubiquitous designs, including his BEAT range of lighting, as well as some of the coolest interior spaces in Europe, including Shoreditch House in London and Le Drugstore in Paris. In recent years, he has experimented with sustainable materials such as cork, mushroom-based products and latex, although he remains frustrated that the cost of manufacturing makes them less appealing to a commercial market.

Dixon’s BEAT range of lights have become synonymous with quiet sophistication and embody his ethos of ‘expressive minimalism’.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, he prefers not to be categorised.

“The big battle always is stopping yourself from being categorised or pigeon holed because effectively, everything is designed,” he said. “What has been nice here is, doing a corporate lobby doesn’t seem like a nice job, really but getting to see it now, that is the kind of design challenge we haven’t really had before. 

“It’s nice to approach it with a naive perspective.”

Clearly, that sense of exploration is key to what still drives him. Dixon’s range of homewares for residential and commercial use extends from lounge chairs and coffee tables to carafes, candles and cables. Such is his reach, the Tom Dixon brand sells in 90 countries.

So, what is it that has resonated with buyers from Beijing to Bondi?

“I don’t know if it does resonate across other cultures,” Dixon said. “Maybe I’m exotic. I sell in Dakar and I sell in Casablanca. Maybe I’m exotic because I’m not part of that culture.”

However, when products do well across the varied markets, Dixon said they tend to have something in common.

“When the objects we make are successful, they tend to be legible in different ways. I call it ‘expressive minimalism’,” he said. 

“Minimalism can mean you work all the visibility of the functions out of an object just to make a cube or something you can’t really define as a toaster or a car. If you are able to express the functions, you’ll be able to put it in a lot of different contexts I think. 

“And the most successful is where some people will say ‘oh that’s very Art Deco’ and others will say ‘that’s very Space Age’ and somebody else will say ‘that’s quite futuristic’.  

“Those objects tend to be the successful ones.”

His lighting ranges, which mostly recently has included the ‘Melt’ range seen in Sydney’s Bennelong Restaurant and the perforated ‘Etch Puff’, continues his fascination with lighting. Dixon continues to be inspired, it seems, by this evolving sphere of design.

Tom Dixon’s Melt range were installed as lamps in Bennelong Restaurant. Image: Sydney Opera House

“It’s a category that is fascinating because it’s still in the middle of this huge revolution in technology – and you cannot say that about tables and chairs right now.

“You have to remember that 10 years ago, LEDs were an expensive and ugly light that nobody wanted. 

“Lighting is still in the process of evolving. You can see it everywhere – the deconstructing of spaces with light. There is much more opportunity to be theatrical, much more opportunity to light things underneath or do washes or linear lighting.”

With so many options, the role of the lighting designer is even more important, he said. 

“I was talking to Es Devlin,” Dixon said. “She’s the UK’s leading lighting designer for installations and rock shows. I asked her ‘what’s your tip for lighting’ and she said ‘turn it all off, have one candle’.”

It’s the notion of reducing complex problems into a simple, beautiful expression that comes through in Dixon’s work. Although, he has another take on the role of design.

“It’s a great profession for poking your nose into other people’s business.”

Tom Dixon’s collection is available in Australia through Living Edge.



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The Strongest Protection for Your Online Accounts? This Little Key

Passwords aren’t enough to fend off hackers; these dongles are the best defense

Mon, Mar 27, 2023 4 min

Strong passwords are very important, but they’re not enough to protect you from cybercriminals.

Passwords can be leaked or guessed. The key to online security is protecting your account with a strong secondary measure, typically a single-use code. This is referred to as “two-factor authentication,” or 2FA, as the nerds know it.

I’ve written about all the different types of 2FA, such as getting those codes sent via text message or generated in an authenticator app. Having any kind of second factor is better than none at all, but physical security keys—little dongles that you plug into a USB port or tap on your phone during account logins—offer the highest level of protection.

Security keys have been around for over a decade, but now they’re in the spotlight: Apple recently introduced support for them as an optional, added protection for Apple ID accounts. Last month, Twitter removed text-message-based authentication as an option for nonpaying users, recommending instead an authenticator app or security key.

Some people are hesitant to use security keys because carrying around a physical object seems burdensome and they come with a $30-and-up added cost. Plus, what happens if they get lost?

I’ve used security keys since 2016 and think they are actually easier to manage than codes—especially with accounts that don’t require frequent logins. They’re not only convenient, but they can’t be copied or faked by hackers, so they’re safer, too.

Here’s how to weigh the benefits and common concerns of adding one or two of these to your keychain.

Which security key should I use?

Many internet services support the use of security keys, and you can use the same security key to unlock accounts on many different services. I recommend two from industry leader Yubico:

  • YubiKey 5C NFC ($US55) if you have a USB-C laptop or tablet
  • YubiKey 5 NFC ($US50) for devices with older USB ports

Other options include Google’s Titan security keys ($30 and up). In addition to working with laptops and tablets with USB ports, these keys are compatible with smartphones that have NFC wireless. Most smartphones these days have that, since it’s the technology behind wireless payments such as Apple Pay.

Adam Marrè, chief information security officer at cybersecurity firm Arctic Wolf, recommends that your chosen key is certified by the FIDO Alliance, which governs the standards of these devices.

How do security keys work?

To add a key, look in the security settings of your major accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc.). During setup, it will prompt you to insert the key into your laptop or tablet’s port or hold the key close to your phone for wireless contact.

Apple requires you to add two security keys to your Apple ID account, in case you lose one.

Typically, when you log in, you just go to the app or website where you’ve set up a key, enter your username and password as usual, then once again insert the key into the device or hold it close. (Some keys have a metal tab you have to press to activate.) At that point, the service should let you right in.

Why are they so secure?

Getting those two-factor login codes via text message is convenient, but if you are someone criminals are targeting, you could be the victim of SIM swapping. That’s where thieves convince carriers to port your number to a new phone in their possession, and they use it along with your stolen password to hack your accounts.

Even if they don’t go to all that trouble, criminals might try to trick you to hand them your codes, by calling you or spoofing a website you typically visit. At that point they can use the code for about 60 seconds to try to break in, said Ryan Noon, chief executive at security firm Material Security.

Security keys protect you in two ways: First, there’s no code to steal, and second, they use a security protocol to verify the website’s domain during login, so they won’t work on fake sites.

You can also add an authenticator app such as Authy to your most important accounts, to use only as a backup. But once you add these secure methods, you should consider removing the text-message code option.

In the rare case that someone snoops your passcode then steals your iPhone, beware: The perpetrator could still make Apple ID account changes using only the passcode, and even remove security keys from your account.

What happens if you lose your key?

The most important rule of security keys is to buy an extra one (or two).

“Think of your security key as you would a house or car key,” said Derek Hanson, Yubico’s vice president of solutions architecture. “It’s always recommended that you have a spare.”

If you lose a security key, remove it from your accounts immediately. You should have already registered your spare or an authenticator app as a backup to use in the meantime.

Where can you use a security key?

Start with your most valuable accounts: Google, Apple, Microsoft, your password manager, your social–media accounts and your government accounts.

When it comes to financial institutions, many banks don’t offer security-key protection as an option, though most leading crypto exchanges do.

What comes after security keys?

Security professionals and tech companies widely agree that passkeys are the future. They’re a new type of software option that combines the high security of a physical key with the convenience of biometrics such as your face or fingerprints. Passkeys are supported across the Android, iOS, Mac and Windows platforms, and some of your favourite sites already let you use them.

You can create a passkey on Facebook in security settings by following the app’s instructions under the security-key option. Dropbox has a similar passkey setup. Once you’re done, you’ll use your face or fingerprint as a second factor, instead of a code or key.

Eventually, physical security keys could be what we keep safe in strong boxes, as backups for our biometric-enabled passkeys. Even then, you’re probably going to want to have spares.

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