Extremism by Tom Dixon

Extremism by Tom Dixon


“Given the current state of consumption, new stuff must have a superior reason for existing. Not only that, but the way we make and sell it must be redefined”.

Extremism has recently taken on the most unpleasant associations.

Tom Dixon likes to reclaim the word from its modern-day associations with violence and religion not the form of Extreme behaviour being addressed here. For him, Extremism is a celebration of the intense and the purposeful, a reflection on the things that leave the most impact.

Extremism has recently taken on the most unpleasant associations.

Tom Dixon likes to reclaim the word from its modern-day associations with violence and religion not the form of Extreme behaviour being addressed here. For him, Extremism is a celebration of the intense and the purposeful, a reflection on the things that leave the most impact.

In design terms, Extremism is about being at the very tip of the scale, where it really counts.

On the one hand, it could be about making things that are purely functional, more efficient and affordable and less complicated than ever before.

On the other, it could be about making stuff that is longer – lasting or rougher than what already exists. Extremism is about taking things as far as they will go.

Otherwise, as Tom says, “ What’s the point ? “



the exercise

In technology, Extremism should be an everyday experience.

Materials and manufacturing processes should be pushed to their very limits, where their potential is tested and exploited. There is no room for half- measures; this is a playground for the new and the even newer.


Acid etching operates from digital file technology making



For designers, this disconnection between the real workings of an object and its shape is a constant challenge.

However, it presents opportunities too as new generations of digital tools become available to all designers and micro-manufacturers, rather than being limited to giant industrialists, as used to be the case until very recently.

The filigree outer shell of the Space Lamp



The Extremes of craft production today are very different to what they once were.

A combination of technology and craft has created a hybrid form of making that in conventional circles may not be recognized as craft at all. Using hand-operated industrial machines to produce one-off designs could be considered Extreme craft. So could the combination of sophisticated technological processes with an element of the handmade.





Such products, and the processes that are used to achieve them, are refreshingly new. They are reflections of a radicalisation of what we consider ‘handmade’. Such evolutions can be vital to preserving certain skills and the communities that need them to survive.

It’s a good example of where Extremist thinking is urgently called for.

Extreme craft production can be about pushing traditional processes further than they’ve been stretched before. Most crafts are Extreme already: they require superior and obsessive practise to make perfection.

Take traditional handmade upholstery as an example. It is the most satisfactory, yet still the most complex, way to make a chair. It could appear inefficient or uneconomical in a modern context. But addressed in a conversation about sustainability and longevity, it may be that the Extreme dedication to techniques honed over hundreds of years may now by the most up-to-date method once again.



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Reducing products to their basic elements is often more difficult process than it would appear. The objective of Extreme simplicity should be efficiency and economy.

A product with fewer parts or stripped back design can be extremely accessible and use less energy and materials. In this instance, “less is definitely more.”


As an example, selling from the factory floor, and inventing production systems that are localised and negate the complex labyrinth of transportation and storage. Paring back, reducing complexity, and making the whole design process extremely simple from beginning to end is something every designer and manufacturer should be concerned with.

Simplifying these systems can result in a better service for the buyer and a better experience for the designer.







Many colours can elicit an extreme response from the consumer, and judging the correct hue for an object is often a surprisingly monumental task for manufacturers.


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There are some colours, however, that transcend the usual discussion about what colour suits a particular shape or fashion moment. Fluorescents are one such family.

Their appeal is their man-made quality; the unnatural hue that, by design, means they stand out against everything around them. ln the everyday world, fluorescents is used as a warning, to indicate danger and to encourage people to stop in their tracks.






Fluorescents are used for sale signs, building sites, police cars and to accompany rave music. When used out of context, fluorescents are a valuable means of attracting attention and adding shock value to products and places. This is no colour for the shrinking violet.

Metallics on the other hand, are not considered a colour at all, but they are often widely used in contemporary design to add sheen and perceived value.


The reflectiveness, extra depth and sophistication of metallics mean that their application can instantly enrich a product, just like an alchemist turning a base metal into gold.



Extreme weight is equal to extreme durability. Objects that are generous in their use of materials can offer more longevity. They will also age more gracefully and are certainly less disposable.


One current direction in manufacturing is to strip products down to their bare minimum and reduce the use of raw materials. However, the qualities of mass shouldn’t be ignored.

While “lightmess” is a pleasing and useful quality in all types of structures, from aircraft to suspension bridges, it is also associated with impermanence.

“Heavy” objects exude permanence and authority. Stone, marble iron and glass are all materials that are far more impressive en masse than in tiny, small portions. Products made from heavyweight materials offer the opportunity to see an object age, gain individual patina, and acquire authority and history.





Extreme weight is an exercise in longevity.





Objects that have it are less prone to breakage or wear. Moreover, the perceived value conferred by d substantial slab of material should mean that, with luck, the object will never be discarded.


It would be nice to think that all things manufactured were of Extreme functionality.

The truth is that things are so often made to satisfy other consideration; economy, tradition and fashion begin some of the more frequently preferred.


There is, then, a real appeal for objects with Extreme Usefulness, where the form is developed to embrace the function and as a result takes on a superior sense of purpose. These can provide new solutions to problems and should attempt do so with maximum efficiency.




Such products will stand out from the crowd by the intelligence of their design – their form and their appearance communicates what they do in the most simple and coherent manner.

New products should attempt validity by possessing a genuinely new reason for existence.






Identifying and providing solutions to current and emerging problems is where designers can rediscover a sense of purpose.

A superior functionality, a more relevant product, a more useful item – it is worth a try ?


There are a few areas of product design that are in a state of constant flux: where boundaries are continually pushed, technology never stops evolving, government Legislation is always on the move and brand new possibilities are forever being discovered. One such area is lighting design.


Staying at the forefront of lighting design is almost an Extreme sport. It is especially challenging and exciting, and requires an almost constant eye on new technological developments, the recent switch from incandescent lighting to low-energy bulbs being a case in point.



Because of strong incentives from governments to reduce power consumption, a commercial drive and a shift in the industrialisation of new sciences, new lighting sources are now becoming even more viable.

Luminosity is an Extreme playground for designers, the results of which are easily accessible to consumers who can use the new lighting sources to create novel results.



A seemingly infinite spectrum of lighting effects is now achievable, with unending possibilities to affect mood and atmosphere.



Thanks to recent innovations it is now possible to accurately recreate daylight, to produce lighting products as thin as a sheet of paper; to illuminate using a tenth of the power previously consumed, to use bulbs that are dozens of times smaller than their ancestors and to create spectrums of light with a degree of control and flexibility never dreamt of before.

Never comfortable just doing something well, his design philosophy has always been about doing things bigger, better and faster than anyone else. In Extremism he posits that objects, and indeed design in general, needs to justify its existence by differentiating itself from anything that has gone before, whether technologically, economically or aesthetically. With a monochrome embossed front cover and fluorescent orange end-papers the design of the volume certainly adheres to Dixon’s philosophy, and with a plethora of boundary-pushing design inside, it’s easy to concur that the man has a point.

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