Tom Dixon, OBE, is arguably the UK’s most successful product designer, having turned his hand to everything from restaurants and hotels to teapots, lights, chairs, and candles for major manufacturers such as Cappellini and Vitra. A bass guitarist turned nightclub operator turned performance welder, when he started making rough-hewn “cut and shut” things he also realised he might do it professionally, regardless of having no formal training in design. He has been the creative director of Habitat, revived Artek, and has a number of his designs in the permanent collections of the V&A and MOMA.
Before you worked in design, you were a bass player in a band called Funkapolitan, which had a couple of years of success. You’ve said that realising you didn’t need a qualification to be in a band changed your mindset; you understood that you didn’t need a design qualification to design either. And you don’t. How has that notion shaped your work?
It’s a bit of a post-rationalisation, but if you inspect how the music business works – you learn your own instruments, make your own tunes, book your own gigs, make your own flyers, even press your own records sometimes – you’re creating your own mini business before it gets into the hands of corporations. It’s all the University of Life, but if you look back on the self-belief [it generated], you could think you could design without needing a design degree. Why? Because I’d done it once before with my mates in music. Look to other cultures – Japan, Thailand – and people are much less likely to do something they didn’t actually study to do at school. So I think I might not have done design if I hadn’t done music first.