10 Questions with Dan Dicker: Designer, Business Owner and Aspiring Fighter Pilot
Meet Dan Dicker, a former Dyson designer and inventor who in 2003 went on a journey to design and bring meaningful products to the market, made from recycled or ‘waste’ materials. All who have had the pleasure of speaking with Dan know that to him, there is no such thing as waste material. They present both a challenge and an opportunity - not just to talk about a more sustainable future, but to participate in its creation. We wanted to know more, so here’s what happened when we caught up with him to discuss his journey designing for a circular economy.
1. Tell us a little more about your brand and why you felt it was important to design products with the circular economy at the heart
Our entire team passionately believe the future simply has to be circular. It’s not ‘if’ but all about ‘when’ so it’s essential we start to not just try and pioneer this approach but shout about it far and wide. We all now have to enter an era of solutions and from 25 years in the design industry the circular model is a proven solution we can adopt now. Over the next 10 years - which is the lifespan of an rCUP - it will have saved over 1.4 billion single use cups from ever being made, used and poorly disposed of.
2. How did you first get into Product Design?
At school, I loved the whole principle of turning an idea in your head into a living, working thing. Still do.
3. Is it something you always wanted to do? What about when you were 5 what did you want to be when you grew up?
A fighter pilot, still do! Although in later life I realise there is a bit more to a profession than the pure satisfaction of flying between the clouds. It’s in our nature to want to contribute and make things better so I wouldn’t swap we do now for anything. Perhaps just a quick fly though!
4. You mentioned the rCUP earlier, which is perhaps your most well know product, but do you have a favourite product?
The first product ashortwalk ever designed, a tide clock (a wall clock that tells you the state of the tide) which we still make and sell today. That is a small humble product but arguably the most considered and game changing thing we’ve ever done. Sometimes products aren’t just about ‘supply and demand’. The tide clock was a catalyst for starting a new life for my wife and I.
5. Material seems to be a very important part of your designs, what materials have you experimented with and how do you go about finding the right ones?
Most new material developments come from trying to solve problems, whether it’s a practical one with a product needing a new material with the right qualities or a problematic waste that can get a new lease of life with the right product. We’ve designed and made products from fridge doors, left over malt waste from the brewing process, plant pots, yoghurt pots, car batteries and bumpers, it’s endless. Just about everything is recyclable and can be given a new lease of life. There is no such thing as waste.
6. Would you say this is what excites you most about what you do?
It is still the thrill of seeing what was once an idea in your head being used and enjoyed, coupled to that is the bonus of knowing that the way each product has been designed, developed and made will help make a difference.
7. Are there other designers or brands that inspire you?
Dyson, given I used to work there and gained a lot of experience around the value of creativity and backing yourself to deliver new ground-breaking ideas. I couldn’t work in a ‘copycat’ environment that is just driven by 5% growth targets.
8. Where do you think the opportunities will be in the design world in the next 5-10 years?
Opportunities are there for anyone who is prepared to always look, listen and then act. The design world is waking up to a need for products to be made from waste, which is great but the bar has already moved on. Anything a designer creates must now have longevity and end of life built into it. At the moment, there isn’t enough pressure either from legislation of consumer trends to make this shift but in 5 -10 years there will be those that did and those that didn’t. I would most definitely not want to be running a business that is firmly in the latter.
9. Advice for other designers?
You have a huge responsibility to drive change, people can only react to and recycle what you give them. Big meaningful change will only come from within, those that seek to drive that change will be at the forefront, those that feel more comfortable waiting for ‘evidence’ of change first will be left behind. It’s exciting times, we now have a whole new dynamic and remit as an industry to innovate in new areas that change the way people view products, the world and the impact they have on it.
10. What can we expect from (ashortwalk) in the upcoming year?
Energy, passion, probably slight frustration and lots of new products looking to make a difference.
Dan Dicker will be speaking on the Design and Source stage at the following times:
04-Feb-2020 (14:45 -15:15)
How to Develop Breakthrough Products
06-Feb-2020 (11:30 -12:00)
Using Today's Waste for Tomorrow's Products