Doing a Dyson

Inventors and small businesses should be encouraged to take out patents says inventor James Dyson, who visited New Zealand to launch the Dyson Product Design Award 2001.
As designer and inventor, Dyson learnt the heard way. After spending 15 years developing and perfecting the bagless vacuum cleaner, he sued Hoover for infringement of one of its patents. Following the court action, Hoover proposes to alter its product.
Dyson’s Dual Cyclone is the only vacuum cleaner that can claim it won’t lose suction, and Dyson took out number of patents to ensure no other machines can operate in the same way. Before deciding to manufacture it himself, Dyson offered the technology to multinational vacuum cleaner manufacturers, none of whom were interested. Dyson records their responses:
“In 1982, an American manufacturer would only meet Dyson if he agreed to sign over the rights to anything he revealed in their conversation.
“A Scandinavian manufacturer said they weren’t interested because they made too much money out of selling replacement bags” (The UK bag replacement market was estimated to be worth £100 million alone.)
A Welsh development agency rejected development grant application, insisting that if there really was better type of vacuum cleaner then surely one of the big manufacturers would be making it.
Venture capitalists were equally forthright: “You’re designer, what makes you think you know anything about manufacturinge or marketing… or making money?”
Hoover later admitted that it regretted it had allowed Dyson to get foothold in the market by not rushing out with similar bagless model.
Anyone familiar with the bright colours of the Dyson will see that it challenges design and colour.
“Designing new product is about surprising people, rather like work of art. If it’s expected, it’s rather boring. But if it is not expected it is exciting and inspirational.
“We don’t try to discover what people want before we develop new product. People don’t necessarily know what could be possible – why should they? That’s what engineers and designers are for. New technology can look startling, but if it works better, then people will buy it rather than the usual sales flannel.”
Thinking creatively about products interests Dyson most. “I have passion for design and making things. This isn’t because of the economic benefits, I also passionately believe in what it can do for the human spirit.
“It’s good for the country, good for its economy and good for its soul. We cannot do without it.
The original motivation came from using traditional bag vacuum cleaner and realising it lost suction.
After replacing the bag it still didn’t work properly, so he took it apart and began developing better machine. His first prototype was made out of cardboard and gaffer tape.
Some 5127 prototypes later, he had perfected the Dyson dual cyclone that maintains suction.
“I don’t aim to be clever, I aim to be dogged. The research process was painstaking because one of the golden rules of development is that you only make one change at time between tests. It’s the Edisonian approach,” he says.
His vaccum cleaner hit the market in 1993. Two years later, it was the UK market leader. In less than eight years, Dyson was an international name, retailing in 14 countries with turnover of $1.5 billion. “Here in New Zealand we have become the leading vacuum cleaner brand by value with 22 percent of the market.”

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