How Jake Dyson's Little Design Firm Developed A Light That Lasts 50 Years

Crazier still? They’re using the same LEDs as everyone else in the market.

“I had a head designer of Philips swearing at me at Frankfurt. … I think it’s very easy to become complacent when you’re considered to be a global dominating company. It’s very easy to do work in the method you’ve always worked, to be satisfied.” That’s Jake Dyson—yes, the son of that Dyson—talking to me about his new LED lamp, the CSYS LED task light. In a world of expensive disposable electronics, his studio has created a gadget that could last a lifetime. His lamp uses the exact same LED bulbs as any other product on the market, but through clever design alone, milks up to 50 years of beautiful, unwavering light from them. You will never see the CSYS grow dim or turn pink, unless you buy it young and live a very long time.

And so maybe that upset someone at Philips, just a bit. But how did CSYS, a relatively tiny design studio, succeed where the industry giants have failed?

“We’ve done a lot of research,” Dyson says euphemistically. “One was looking at LED desk lamps, and seeing what was bad about them. Alongside that, we were ripping apart very high-end LED downlight fittings from big companies like Phillips, etc., and doing thermo and electrical tests to find out what was inefficient or bad about them.” Over 18 months of development, they actually built a small climate chamber in their studio, measuring the temperatures of key components on the LEDs, along with light output and power. And they learned a lot about their competition.

“The thing they were all doing badly was not cooling the LEDs, and not putting any scientific design into improving those,” he says. “They just need to roll out a new product every year. It’s more about putting out the latest LEDs and packaging it, and selling it, rather than looking at how something might last forever. “They’ve all gotten in this trap of designing for fashion rather than designing for function.”

LEDs were developed back in the 1960s, but it’s only recently that we’ve come to see them everywhere. They’re energy sipping bulbs on computer chips, and because of their new ubiquity, few houses actually get dark at night anymore—instead glowing in a blue-green haze of electronics that refuse to go black. Even still, LEDs have never lived up to their potential. Not so long ago, I was taking a tour of one of the world’s most famous meccas of gastronomy. The owner lamented to me that his striking, LED-infused entryway was growing dull after its pricey installation.

He wasn’t alone. Those who’ve purchased LED lamps will find that the numbers on the box can lie. Such figures are based on technical estimates by the LED manufacturers themselves, not the companies sticking the LEDs into lamps and other fittings. LEDs are so tiny and power efficient that they can fit in almost any design you could imagine, but these same designs end up roasting the lights in their own heat. So lights that promise to last decades on the box—an environmental coup in terms of waste and energy savings—will degrade quickly, grow dim within a few years (or even months), and their color temperature shifts. The promised engineering capacity of LEDs hasn’t played out in the marketplace.

Whereas most of the market has leveraged lousy design to turn LEDs into a disposable product, Dyson wanted to elevate the LED to a post-disposable electronic treasure, an heirloom light that could be passed from one generation to another. And it was theoretically possible, he knew, if only he could deal with the pesky heat issue. But who could solve the heat issue, if not the big LED manufacturers?

“LEDs are semi conductors,” Dyson reasons aloud, “and semiconductors are used in computers. And the way they cooled semiconductors in computers was using heat pipes.” The answer to the LED problem wouldn’t be found in the LED industry. It would be found in the computer industry. But while Dyson had realized heat pipes could probably solve the LED overheating issue, his studio couldn’t figure out the technology on their own.

“We tried to make our own heat pipes, sucking air out with a wine vacuator,” Dyson tells me.

“Did it work?” I ask.

“No!” he laughs. “We got onto the professionals rather quickly at that stage.”

By this time, Dyson had become almost fanatical about collecting heat-pipe-laden computer chips, bits of silicone ripped from any electronic hardware around. So when he flew to Taiwan to meet with the world’s largest manufacturer of heat pipes, CCI, he was prepared.

“I dumped my whole box of them out on the table, and they said they manufactured every single unit,” Dyson recounts of the chips branded by companies like HP, Apple, and Intel. “We very quickly realized, this is the company we have to work with to create our heat pipe. But unlike other companies that came to them with a design to manufacture, we asked them to design it with us using their knowledge.”

Heat pipes are a fascinating cooling technology worthy of a bit more explanation. They’re essentially copper tubes with a vacuum inside. But inside that vacuum resides a single drop of moisture. Water evaporates at very low temperatures in a vacuum, so ambient heat transforms this water into vapor, the vapor shoots from the hot end of the heat pipe to the cool end. There, the water cools and condenses, making its way back to the hot end of the pipe. The cycle repeats to create an infinite loop of efficient, passive cooling.

So in the CSYS, the entire cross beam (which holds the LED) is one gigantic heat pipe. This heat pipe is supported by a scaffolding of heat sinks. When you combine all of that surface area, heat within the LEDs dissipates with remarkable efficiency. With the temperature at which the LEDs’ junctions run in the CSYS, manufacturers can guarantee 160,000 hours of sustained light—no dimming or color temperature change. That’s over 30 years. And it’s a conservative figure. One internal estimate by major LED manufacturer Osram gives the CSYS an operational run time of 220,000 hours—or about 50 years of nonstop light. Dyson can’t publish that number as no LED light has ever been tested that long in a lab. (But that’s not stopping us.)

As of today, the CSYS is going on the market as one of the most expensive table lamps you’ve probably ever seen—priced at $900. As ridiculous as that may appear, their own math argues that over 30 years, the lamp’s energy and bulb savings (against CFLs) will actually save the buyer money while helping the environment. Then again, that logic might not be so reassuring, given that the CSYS will probably be saving you all that money long after your own torch has gone dark.

Buy it here.

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15 Comments

  • McGRAFFIX

    I enjoyed meeting Jake Dyson and having him demonstrate his lamp to me at Neocon recently. Your thoughtful article, pictures and diagrams are nice, but the lamp really wows in person. Every moving part feels like the best of its kind one has ever touched. The light quality is lovely, humane and very adjustable. It might seem expensive, but it promises the daily enjoyment of good design for which I also pay extra in my car. I hope to own one of these lamps soon.

  • Bob

    Great "styling" for a desktop "gadget" but p155 poor "design" - WAY too complicated (unnecessarily for a production design) with far simpler, more cost effective and far more elegant ways of removing substantial amounts of heat with truly clever design rather than (once again) unnecessarily complicated (and hence expensive) methods.

    As several people have intimated in this thread, design is all about "function" and NOT about form. Final form comes LAST not first. The term "Design" Studio is an oxymoron really, automatically signifying "Styling" Studio to me, whereas a true "design" establishment would be full of REAL engineers not stylists.

    Apple, as a classic example, is far more about styling and marketing rather than design (for which it has a more than capable bunch of very talented engineers typically over-ridden by the marketing guys - witness the utterly puerile iPhone antenna fiasco which the engineers SAID wouldn't work, but the marketing guys over-rode them).

    The best "designs" encompass a completely holistic approach that embodies not just the form (which may well help it sell) but manufacturability, marketability, saleability, profitability, usability and perhaps others. The price of this unit has been set high because it is aimed at a high-end market and WON'T sell in huge volumes at THAT price.

    It also is HIGHLY unlikely to last 50 years with THAT mechanical design. In fact I'd give it no more than 5 to 10 in frequent daily usage (if that long) before that clunky counterweight system jams or breaks - WTF is THAT all about? - it's a light-weight alloy unit for God's sake, why does it need 400 year old (or older) heavy sash-window technology to support it vertically? Will it have a readily-available (at reasonable cost) spares availability? NO WAY Jose. So a lamp with a (potential) 50-year light lifespan but only 10% usability lifespan - now there's a proposition worthy of the car industry of old "designed-in" long life with market-leading obsolescence.

    Just like his dad's famous vacuum cleaner design that claims "no filters to clog" - NOT! (There's a HEPA filter that clogs like crazy in really dusty environments; I KNOW I've used one) - this "design" is an epic FAIL. Unfortunate here really, since the basic research and engineering premise is completely sound (and potentially easy and cheap to implement) but overall implementation (as per the drawings shown anyway) sucks. Has anyone actually worked out how many typical vacuum bags you actually have to buy (using NPV) before a Dyson vac ACTUALLY becomes better and more cost effective? It typically translates into the Dyson being a poor second.

    It's the old Apple syndrome again - sell people (read logo junkies and brand zealots) something that looks great, is iconic, costs a fortune but is way overpriced and typically underspecified for the (overall) job compared to alternatives and fails to perform certain functions that should be obvious & mandatory - witness complete lack of standard USB functionality on an iPad - Doh!.

    Conclusion: Styling: 9/10 Design: 2/10

  • mario fernandez

    YOu don't know or have owned one of this lamps, and we don't know the design process or the reasons for it to be like it. I would disagree with your view that this lamps was designed and later engineered, the wight could be because they wanted the vacuum and the exterior to be divided by the least possible amount of metal, du not now.  This design seems bare, the are only some extra metal parts that I don't know if hold any function. 

    PS: the lack of standard USB functionality on an iPad is because of the slow data transfer compared to the old connector not because of design

  • RV

    Ok, so the LED's can beam 50 years of light. But will the heat tubes resist 50 years of water flow?

  • Al

    problem is styles change. Imagine you had a lamp in your house from 50 years ago... hahah

  • mario fernandez

    Imagine you had a sofa from 50 years ago. Oh wait there are designs from the 30 or older that still look modern ,the Barcelona chair or any Eames chair or the Vitsoe furniture, design can be timeless. 

  • SS

    Jeez, people, he has to pay for all that R&D somehow! I can't afford one either, but I sure wish I could, because I also wish that all the cheapo crap that we all buy way too much of had never been invented, wasn't eating up our natural (&personal, &temporal) resources and turning them rapidly into landfill. 

    What's wrong with spending a lot on the front end for fewer products that last longer, work better, and justly compensate the teams who put so much into developing a solution? A cultural mind-shift to focus all that energy we put into manufacturing & buying a bunch of cheap bs that no one REALLY needs anyways into things like, oh, I dunno... world peace or something idyllic like that could be a welcome change, no?

  • Rodg Rodriguez

    This is completely ridiculous. Charging every human being an amount for so many years in the future for something very basic as getting LIGHT in homes. This company thinks only of money and getting rich. Why don't you come up with something that even poor people can buy and use so they can save the extra money to uplift their lives and get out of their poor situation? Besides, even if everyone in the world world spend like 2 dollars on your LED lamps, you still get to earn Billions of dollars in the end. Your invention will just rot on the shelf and China will do this ahead of you. Thinking about not just SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY but GLOBAL.

  • Ryan Johnson

    I hope they come down on the price. That's just price gouging. There's no way it costs them that much to manufacture and design.

    I'll settle on $60 for now.

  • MCLEOD MORGAN

    Maybe he can provide interest free, 30 year financing at $30 a year. Where is China when you need them?

  • Wes

    I am a lighting technology developer specializing in LED's, and the notion of a "220,000 hour" LED is not so much of a big deal when you break their design down. I know that they like to tout the spectacular design of their heat sink, but since heat rises and theirs is both off to the side and off center from the concentration of heat, I think that had little to do with this lamps proposed longevity.  Instead, I think they are just using the commonly used under driving technique with very high powered chips (hence the $900 price tag).  Basically, by severely under driving (providing less current then the rated typical amount) ANY LED you can dramatically increase its life span.  Even though they got Osram to put on paper that the LED will last that long (which it could at 1/10 typical rated current), the figure of 220,000 hours isn't something that I would count on.  That number doesn't take into consideration other half of a solid state lighting fixture, the power supply, and nothing electronic can hold its tolerances over that much time (and in most cases even last that long).  Just and FYI, the average Fluorescent tube will last around 15,000 hours, and that is being generous, and for an LED lamp around 50,000 hours.  I applaud their design and efforts to create unique lighting solutions, I mean...the light looks good, I just would appreciate a little more realism in their marketing.

  • Indu Varanasi

    Dyson, has fallen into the cost trap again..............if he is designing for function. The function is also translated into affordability. If you are designing for the rich to use, then you are cutting out a sizeable population and the rest don't care anyways. Think......................complete!!!!!! INDU

  • george

    Eagle Picher designed a "50 year light" in the 1950s, and it's still going strong. But it's not for sale, I guess. Impressive anyway, because of technology limitations of that time.

  • rockfish66

    First, the company maybe small in employees but it's backed by a huge trust fund I'm sure. Not exactly a guy in his basement.
    Second, you ask "But how did CSYS, a relatively tiny design studio, succeed where the industry giants have failed?" They didn't. As the FIRST LINE in your article implies, the "giants" never wanted to make a light that lasts forever. It's not good business.
    Third, I'm sitting here under a desk lamp that is 50 years old. It probably has another 50 years in it. The design genius of it is that the consumable part is replaceable. The fundamental flaw in most current LED fixture designs, including this one, is that the fixture is designed so the entire thing must be thrown away when the lamp burns out.

  • midwstgirl

    I pretty sure the major LED lighting manufacturer's dont want them to last that long...