The most important thing you need when redesigning something is perseverance and a willingness to fail. Inventors rarely have those hallowed “Eureka” moments. Developing an idea and making it work takes time and patience. Dyson engineers are constantly testing different ways of working – just as we did with the CR01. And we fail every day. Failure is the best medicine - as long as you learn something.
Where does inspiration come from? Has an idea for a design ever come from an unlikely source?
My inspiration to invent and redesign is fed through frustration. I spend a lot of time taking things apart and putting them back together, considering how they work and how they might work better. Observation is important. The inspiration for incorporating a cyclone on a vacuum cleaner came from a visit to a sawmill. Using an industrial cyclone it was able to remove the sawdust from the air. I found myself thinking ‘Could we use this principle on a smaller scale?’ Five years later I had developed the G-Force, my first bagless vacuum cleaner.
How do you begin the redesigning process?
We develop technology iteratively - making the smallest changes, building prototype after prototype until we have got it as close to perfect as we can muster. Testing and prototyping is at the heart of the most successful technologies. Prototypes allow you to quickly get a feel for things and uncover subtle design flaws. Dyson prototypes are subjected to months of repetitive and rigorous testing. These are made using SLS (Selected Laser Sintering) - a rapid prototyping technique that moulds plastic or ceramic particles together to form a fully-working model.
Do you have a design motto or ideal that you are striving for (function over form etc?)
We consider that something is beautiful only when it works properly; we value function over form or design. Good design requires good technology. Our machines look the way they do because of how they work. [Victorian inventor] Brunel’s bridges look so inspiring because you can see the maths and science behind them. Every arc, nut, bolt and girder tells a story. Design should not be afraid to bare its innards.
Why are you so interested in redesigning household objects?
I do not set out to redesign any particular object. My passion for inventing stems from frustration and hunger to develop something that works better. We are developing a wealth of technologies.
In our Research, Design and Development department our design engineers have been developing motor technology for over 15 years, seeing an investment of more than £100m ($148m). Last week, we saw the fruits of our labours as we launched our newest Airblade technology. Three new hand dryers powered by one of the world’s smallest and efficient brushless motors, the V4 Dyson digital motor. As we focus on better performing and sustainable engineering, the application of technology like this becomes an exciting reality. It is the development of these technologies that allows us to challenge conventional design in and outside the house.
What, in your opinion, is a perfectly-designed object – something you can’t think of a way to improve?
Perfectionism is knowing that there is no such thing as perfection; there will always be a way to make something work better. We are always looking for better ways to make things work – even with our own machines we go back to the drawing board again and again. We call this challenging of convention and ourselves ‘wrong thinking’. And it is critical in the design process: no one way is right. I challenge my young graduates to think boldly and ask questions.