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Remembering Rick Dickinson

11th May 2018

It was with great sadness that the Northumbria School of Design recently learned of the death of one of its most celebrated alumni, Rick Dickinson.

Here, Neil Smith, Head of Industrial Design at Northumbria; Professor Bob Young, who was in the same cohort as Rick while a student at Northumbria; and John Elliott, Rick’s former tutor and a friend of the Dickinson family, remember a man who made a lasting impact on the world of design.

Rick Dickinson graduated from the four-year Design for Industry course with a first class honours degree in 1979. He was part of the very first cohort to progress through the new programme and was an outstanding and gifted student.

From the earliest days he showed a talent for combining innovative technology with sensitive and elegant visual detailing, often demonstrating a level of maturity and aesthetic sophistication way beyond that normally expected from an undergraduate.

His quiet confidence and laconic demeanor established him amongst his peers as a ‘savant’ of intuitive industrial design practice. It came as no surprise therefore that on graduation he was immediately engaged by the groundbreaking Sinclair Research in Cambridge and was responsible for the innovative work of that company throughout the 1980s.

Many of his products became household names in that first era of democratisation of the home computer. His gift for the use of novel material technologies had driven down the cost of production and the ZX80, ZX81 and ZX Spectrum sold for a fraction of the cost of the competition.

In an interview with the BBC in 2012 Rick commented that these early machines had “spawned a generation” of coders who helped establish the UK’s reputation as a creative, game-making powerhouse.

With the sale of Sinclair in the late eighties Rick left to form his own consultancy, Dickinson Associates. One of his first clients was the former competitor Amstrad and Rick designed their early portable computers, game consoles and mobile phones.

For over thirty years his company developed a broad portfolio specialising in capital and consumer goods for the scientific, medical, life science and telecoms industries.

In 2016 he featured in the BBC Arts production “The Brits Who Designed The Modern World”. The production celebrated the opening of the new Design Museum in Kensington, profiling ten of the most influential living British Designers whose work has had a major impact on our environment and way of life.

Rick was very much a “hands-on Designer”. The practical involvement with products, engineering and architecture permeated every aspect of his personal life whether it be a passion for automobile restoration or an architectural rebuild of his home in Portugal. His appetite for challenge and boundless energy were with him to the end.

Although very much the traditionalist in terms of the design values he held so dear, he fully embraced the computer and the digital world and used it mercilessly to enable a combination of business with lifestyle.

Together with his wife Lizzy, an events management consultant, a digital circus would be strapped onto their Land Rover and they would hit the road for a season in the French Alps or to a coastal location somewhere in Portugal while business continued as usual.

Rick had received successful treatment for cancer originally diagnosed in 2015 but it reappeared last year and he had travelled to Texas for specialist care where sadly he died.

An automobile enthusiast to the last, he held a lifelong passion to drive a Ford Mustang along Route 66, his wife managed to hire the car and drove his ashes on a four hour trip to the Airport in Austin, she commented that it “seemed appropriate for the first leg of his final journey home”.

Rick is survived by his Wife Lizzy, his two daughters Grace and Daisy and his Mother.

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