Innovator strives to stay light years ahead of rest

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 September, 2011, 12:00am


Design is a family affair for Jake Dyson. He uses the bagless vacuum cleaners invented by his father, James, who in turn has his son's lights fitted in the dining room of his stately Gloucestershire mansion. Passing through Hong Kong, the younger Dyson is wearing a white T-shirt crafted by his brother-in-law, who runs a Notting Hill shop above the boutique run by Jake's sister, Emily, a fashion designer.

So it is not surprising to hear Jake Dyson acknowledge that he has to work extra hard to make a name for himself as an industrial designer. Recognition, he hopes, will come with a ground-breaking LED desk light he has designed to revolutionise the way we illuminate our work days. His aluminium Csys task lamp boasts a smooth, sexy motion, radically reduces the amount of energy used - and never breaks.

'The whole purpose of this product is to make LEDs sustainable for life,' Dyson, 39, says. 'I've spent two years making a product that's extremely reliable - I don't want to be designing something that's going to be obsolete.'

The Csys is named after the Cartesian co-ordinate system used to plot the position of an object in three dimensions - a reference to the lamp's ability to strike and hold any pose around its base. Resembling a small but sleek construction crane, the lamp stays in position without a clumsy Anglepoise arm. A dimmer with a memory means the light remembers your favourite setting even after being unplugged.

If positioned low on a table the Csys can cast a beam that narrows to a point, and if stretched to its full 60cms height it provides illumination wide enough to cover an architect's bench. And thanks to its pioneering adaptation of heat-pipe technology it dissipates heat in a much more subtle fashion than most LEDs. As a result, Dyson claims, the light can operate at full power for 160,000 hours or more - at 12 hours a day, that is 37 years without blowing a bulb.

'I love lights as objects - the only thing that frustrates me is that a lot of expensive Italian designer lights were expensive because of their looks only,' Dyson says. 'No one was working to improve the product and quality of the light.'

'It's really clever,' says Felix Wong, a founder of the design-oriented retail outlet Gurus, which has a store in Happy Valley and a pop-up shop in Central's Landmark shopping mall until the end of October. 'It's beautiful to look at and quite functional as well.'

Gurus is taking orders for the product, which will officially be unveiled at the Design Junction event (September 22-25) at the London Design Festival. Its price will be determined by demand, although a tag of GBP550 (HK$6,900) is expected.

Light has been a calling since Dyson recovered from M?ni?re's disease, an inner-ear affliction that causes loss of balance, vertigo and progressive hearing loss. After one attack he was rendered helpless and prostrate on a London kerb.

'You can't walk because everything is spinning. It was very unpleasant. It disrupted my work, my social life, everything.'

Dyson, who suffered from Meniere's from the age of 25 to 32, finally had ground-breaking surgery that rid him of the disease. Having been deafened permanently in one ear at a Groove Armada concert, where he was too close to a speaker, he now operates with a hearing aid in the other. In conversation, however, he does not miss a beat.

Since his operation six years ago, Dyson has been designing lights. Having originally worked as an interior designer, he says: 'I illuminated a lot of spaces, and I realised lighting makes a space very inviting and very exciting.' But he felt little had been done to improve the function, lifespan and operability of lights.

Sir James Dyson revolutionised the vacuum cleaner market when he introduced his Dual Cyclone in Britain in 1993. Forbes magazine sets his wealth at US$2.7 billion, which makes him the 420th richest person in the world.

As a teenager, Jake helped with his father's projects at their home in Bath during summer holidays. After graduating in industrial design at the Central St Martins College of Art and Design, he worked as an interior designer and on projects such as sensor-based cabinets that opened for staff at jewellery store Jess James when they waved their arm.

'It was rather like gadgetry furniture,' Dyson says. 'It was good financially but I didn't find it rewarding mentally. It wasn't stimulating.'

He returned instead to work for his father on what he calls an 'X Project' - a secret invention that has yet to come to market. Those two years honed his skills in inventing, engineering and testing.

'I felt I had enough to go and do my own products after that,' he says. 'I wanted to stand on my own two feet.'

His first solo product was the Motorlight Floor, launched in 2006, a free-standing floor lamp and uplight that can cast a beam as narrow as an eight-degree spotlight or as wide as a 60-degree mood light. You can have a moving beam of light or set the motorised aperture to one position.

The Motorlight Floor, which has sold about 600 units, led to the Motorlight Wall in 2009. Although it can be remotely operated and synched with up to 30 lights, it has not been a market-winner, having sold only about 200, because it has to be built into the wall and uses mains-voltage halogen technology, which will be phased out in the West.

Which explains Dyson's shift to LEDs. After stripping other lights down, Dyson found that most simply used a hunk of metal to handle excess heat. He installed a cooling system - similar to that used to prevent overheating in laptop computers - with a tube filled with copper dust that rapidly vaporises and cools. The system makes for a much longer-lasting product because excess heat shortens the life of an LED light.

What is next for Dyson? He casts his eyes wide, a habit of his when he wants to stress a point. 'I want to make more LED products that last a lifetime,' he says. 'I'm onto something.'