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  • Words by Mr Nick Compton

The desk lamp - task light if you prefer - is one of design's favourite problems. It has also obsessed engineers who should have been busy with other more important things and driven them to decades of distraction; sketching diagrams, stretching springs, balancing and counterbalancing and generally tooling around in workshops. The British engineer Mr George Carwardine came up with the now iconic Anglepoise in the 1930s. It was the game-changer. Now you could alter a light's height, direction and position with a touch rather than through a tiresome process of unclamping, twisting, turning and re-clamping. It has been endlessly imitated, generating a whole new typology.

Mr Richard Sapper's Tizio is a sort of masterpiece, a study in balance and beautifully realised functionality. And though it was designed in the early 1970s, it gained totemic momentum in the 1980s and became the altar-piece in the mat-black dream home. Other designers have placed formal elegance before flexibility and functionality, putting together sometimes stark, sometimes delicate compositions of shape, material and light.

Much more attention is now being paid to quality of light - computer screens present different lighting challenges to ink on paper - and energy efficiency. The major Italian lighting brands such as Flos and Artemide, and the A-list designers they employ, are working with LEDs to produce lamps that give off a kinder, gentler light and are kinder and gentler to the planet. Here are 10 lamps that would look quite at home on the desk of any man of influence.

For the discerning desktop...