James Dyson: Vacuum virtuoso
You know the story by now: In 1978, James Dyson got annoyed -- his vacuum cleaner clogged up. Being an engineer, he decided to do something about it. And 5,127 prototypes later, he had created the cyclonic vacuum technology, taking the world by storm and earning $10 billion in sales worldwide. In March of this year, two new Dyson vacuum cleaners were launched in Canada: the Dyson Slim and Dyson Stowaway. To encourage other creative thinkers around the world, James established the James Dyson Award, which honours innovative design, with the first international winner to be named in 2008. We visited James at Dyson headquarters in Malmesbury, England, to talk to him about vacuums, inspiration and more.
STYLE AT HOME: What inspires you?
James Dyson: Irritating things -- things that are not as good as they could be and I get angry. That's the starting point. It's not so direct as someone inspiring me. Quite negative things, like complaints, are always interesting; that's how one learns what he or she can fix. And sometimes it's just something that we think can be done better.
S@H: Where does it go from there?
JD: We start building prototypes. Even if one doesn't work, it can still set us off on a certain train of thought. Thinking only of the next logical, sensible thing is a lousy way of doing it -- that's what everybody does. So we often think of a rather unusual and quite stupid idea, and although that doesn't in itself work, we've gone off on a different path than anyone else.
S@H: Your products have a masculine, industrial, playful look. When does form start coming into play?
JD: Quite early on, but it doesn't dictate the function. Well, certain things might, practical issues: if the bin is up front, you can see what's going on. But we don't have any idea at the beginning how something will look. The engineering and technology come first, and then practicality, ergonomics and how it looks.
S@H: Colour is used prominently in your products. Is it dictated by what's trendy?
JD: Certainly not! We choose our colours a good year before products hit the market because a new colour has to be tested first -- it affects the durability and strength of the plastic. Blues in plastics look awful. Purple looks great; it's got a richness you'll never get in blue. Fashion doesn't come into it at all.
S@H: What do you consider to be ugly?
JD: Poor use of materials and bad design are the ugliest things to me. I can tolerate ugly shapes more than poor design and workmanship.
S@H: What's beautiful?
JD: I find gears, bits of engineering, far more beautiful than nearly any sculpture. It's almost heresy to say that, but they have a sort of beauty and a meaning that sculpture never can.
S@H: Because they perform a function as opposed to just being beautiful?
JD: Well, some sculptures have a statement to make, a profound statement, but I'm happiest with an engineering statement: the ways gears mesh and transmit power and produce the speed, and just the sheer look of them.
S@H: Which architects do you admire?
JD: There are a lot of good architects about, which is exciting. People like [Norman] Foster, [Richard] Rogers and [Chris] Wilkinson, whose company did this building [the Dyson headquarters in Malmesbury, England] -- these are people who are engineers, at least at heart, so the structure is very apparent in their buildings.
S@H: What are your fave household product designs -- other than your own, of course!
JD: I don't have many. They're very dull!
S@H: Nothing stands out to you?
JD: Very little. There's this [electronic eraser] I got for $2 in Japan. And we have something called the Quooker; it provides boiling water on tap, cutting out the need for a kettle and speeding up the cooking of rice, pasta and all sorts of things. And Global knives -- they're the best.
S@H: What about Philippe Starck's Juicy Salif lemon squeezer?
JD: I prefer his interiors. I do like Boffi kitchens. And the Achille Castiglioni Toio lamp; designed in the '60s, it has a transformer on show and a fishing rod vernacular. I'm more keen on high-tech things than anything else.
S@H: Favourite place to be and thing to do?
JD: Golly! I don't think I particularly have that! I'm very happy on the water, sailing or doing something that involves battling the elements, and driving a digger -- what do you call it? An excavator. I'm happier doing that than lying on a beach.
Spring cleaning smarts
Always dust before vacuuming. Dusting disturbs particles that will eventually end up on the carpet, where you can vacuum them up.