You know the feeling when some everyday product lets you down. ‘I could have designed this better myself’, you think. But how many of us turn our thoughts into actions? James Dyson does. He is a man who likes to make things work better. With his research team he has developed products that have achieved sales of over £3 billion worldwide. Whilst at the Royal College of Art (1970) he designed the Sea Truck for Rotork.
This was intended to be the equivalent of a Land Rover, able to move equipment, stores and livestock between islands, etc.
The buyers/users of the Sea Truck tended to abuse the boat thinking its 6-inch draft made it indestructible... ( extracted from Against the Odds) "As a result they tended to ram it into rocks more often than was strictly good or wholesome.
As designers we knew that we could enhance the product by making it unpuncturable. And the best way to do that was to take our lead from those large plastic water pipes which will not even break if you hit them with a hammer..... the pipes would be bunged with what looked like plastic footballs,..
We bought a farmhouse.. in the Cotswolds. With drystone walls to be built.... I found myself spending a lot of time in the company of a wheel barrow... I discovered what a crummy piece of equipment it [ a navvy barrow] really was.
...It was off to France to test the Tube Boat - ....- where we needed to bung the polyethylene pipes, and where I learned how to mould unpuncturable low-density polyethylene into a sphere. And as I turned my first plasic sphere, I knew waht was happening and I said to myself "This is it matey. This is the answer to all my problems." A revolutionary wheel.
And the Ball Barrow was born
The frames of the Ball Barrow were sprayed with an epoxy powder which was then baked on. Much of the spray ended up on the conveyor and would be sucked onto a screen. Every hour the line stopped as the blocked screen was cleared. Our suppliers told us that big users had a cyclone installed to centrifuge the powder and collected at the bottom of a conical section.. but it was 30 feet high! And £75,000!
On the way home one night Dyson sketched the Cyclone on the roof of the local sawmill, climbed all over it to see how it worked,and used this knowledge to construct one of his own. As Against all Odds describes.. it worked! And this also was the inspired solution for the vacuum cleaner problem.. The Dyson cleaner that was the end result of Dyson observing observing how quickly existing bag vacuums lost their suction when he was using one at home.
It is this technology that has proved to be the platform for the Dyson successful growth.
But it is intriguing how each nugget of knowledge has been re-used on other user problems. It is just making the connections that is a necessary start. As to whether we should call James Dyson Inventive or Innovative....:
Conclusion.. both terms apply!