The first thing to say about Jake Dyson is that he is not his father, James Dyson, the British inventor and industrial designer made famous by his innovative vacuum cleaner and other consumer electronic household products. But a close look at the light fixtures—the Motorlight wall and floor uplight and the CSYS desk and floor tasklight—that the junior Dyson has designed with his company, Jake Dyson Products, shows a close kinship to the obsessive process, mechanical acuity, and adaptation of seemingly tangential technologies that his father has employed to create appliances that are superior to their predecessors.
Nonetheless, Jake is a bit dismissive of his lineage. “Dad and I don’t talk that much [about business or design],” he says. He does, however, concede one important lesson that he learned from his father’s example: “I was brought up in a house where he was building a vacuum for 15 years. Seeing him gruelingly, doggedly work, year after year, on one product, to make it work and make it perfect and not give up … it’s something that was instilled in me.” James Dyson famously created 5,127 prototypes of his vacuum cleaner before deciding it was ready for market.
Jake Dyson’s tendency to put engineering first and then work on the aesthetics emerged while he was still in college, working on a degree in product design at Central Saint Martins in London. “For my senior project I did a water power generator that attached to drain pipes, so [that] when it rains or you use your plumbing, you produce energy,” he says. “I built one and it worked pretty well, but I couldn’t get around the issue of solids in the toilet. It was fun nonetheless. My teachers were a bit pissed that I didn’t turn in this slick showpiece.”
After graduating, Dyson got a job as an interior designer, mostly working on cafés and bars. His specialty was not in selecting wall and floor coverings but in designing interactive mechanical furniture. It was during this period that his attention first turned to light fixtures, as he observed noticeable gaps in the market for available luminaire offerings. “I noticed that the big Italian lighting companies spent a lot of effort designing pretty objects out of most forms of lighting except uplighters [uplights],” he says. “For uplighters people stuck lights in tubes and hid them behind plants and couches. Coupled with that, I recognized that people weren’t making mechanical, functional features in fixtures. Just pretty pieces.”
So Dyson decided to make an uplight that is capable of providing a variety of beam angles—the world’s first, according to his website—allowing users to dial in the effect of their choice. The result is the Motorlight. Outfitted with a 100w halogen capsule source, the luminaire can be adjusted to any beam angle between 8 degrees and 60 degrees, from a tight spot to a wide flood. True to its name, a motor drives the mechanism that adjusts the angle of the beam. It also rotates an aluminum wheel at the front of the fixture, highlighting that the mechanics of the piece are its prime aesthetic expression. The motor can be paused, via a switch at the back, to set a particular angle, or left on to create a wavering mood lighting effect.
Subsequent to the release of the floor-positioned Motorlight, Dyson developed a smaller version that can be mounted on a wall. Powered via a 120/240V electric supply and outfitted with a G9 halogen capsule, Motorlight’s wall beam angle can be adjusted from 10 to 120 degrees. The wall-mounted variety does not have an aluminum wheel, but instead reveals the inner workings of the machine. The luminaire can be used by itself or in a series, and it is operated with a remote. [Note: At press time, the wall fixture was no longer being produced.]
Not long after Dyson produced the Motorlights, much of the post-industrial world began to consider legislation that would limit if not outright ban the use of incandescent and halogen lamps. The options for replacement came down to CFLs or LEDs. For Dyson, the choice was a clear one. “I have a massive hatred of CFLs,” he says. “They’re un-environmental, ugly, and the quality of light they produce is very unpleasant.” Luckily, LEDs were becoming much better, more efficient, and capable of producing more pleasant color temperatures.
Following the compulsion of his usual technological curiosity, Dyson and his engineers began to research the relationship between junction heat and LED lifespan, and they discovered that the cooler an LED remains while working, the longer it maintains its color and brightness. This led the Dyson team to study how semiconductors are cooled in computers and satellites. What they concluded was to use heat-pipe technology: Heat pipes are essentially vacuum tubes containing drops of water capable of moving heat away from a source very quickly.
Combining this cooling strategy in a consumer LED-equipped luminaire resulted in the CSYS series of tasklights. The deceptively simple fixture—which comes in variants that can be placed on a desk, clamped to a table, or rested on the floor—consists of a single vertical rail and a single cross rail joined by a wheeled mechanism that allows both easy vertical and horizontal adjustment and 360-degree rotational movement. In computers, fans are added to augment heat pipes, but for CSYS, the engineers found that incorporating fins along the cross rail, to dissipate the heat, provided ventilation sufficient to maintain an operating junction temperature of 65 C. (Most LED fixtures operate at around 140 C.) This drastic reduction in heat gives the CSYS LEDs an astounding 160,000 hours of life, or roughly 37 years of operation at 12 hours per day. Considering the fact that most people only use a tasklight about half as many hours as that per day, the light source could literally last a lifetime.
Dyson and his 10-person design studio continue to develop new luminaires and are on schedule to launch a new prototype in Frankfurt this year. While he won’t reveal much about it until its debut, Dyson does admit that his new product will be more powerful than the CSYS light and run at even cooler junction temperatures. At this rate, it’s imaginable that one day we’ll be passing down Dyson luminaires to our children as family heirlooms, without ever having had to change the lamp.
Note: This article has been updated since it was originally published.