Inventing a Better Way
James Dyson’s invention keeps on sucking. Most vacuum cleaners use bags or filters, which clog. After 15 years of tinkering and 5,000 prototypes, Dyson developed a bagless, cyclone vacuum–the first that doesn’t lose suction. It’s elegant, too: On September 24, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art put it in its permanent collection.
From James’s original entry:
Tell us what you do and the specific challenge you faced.
James Dyson, a British-born engineer, inventor and industrial designer, was vacuuming his house in the late 70’s when he became frustrated when his top-of-the-line Hoover began clogging and losing suction. He immediately set out to develop new technology to solve the problem. More than 15 years and over 5,000 prototypes later, James Dyson overcame insurmountable odds–including near financial ruin and numerous patent lawsuits against companies trying to copy his technology–to develop the first vacuum cleaner that doesn’t lose suction. James discovered that the small pores in vacuum bags and filters clog with the fine particles of dust. Other vacuum cleaners rely on bags or filters to remove dirt–both of which clog, obstructing airflow and causing diminished performances with each usage. With his new invention in hand, James embarked on two frustrating years ceaselessly attempting to convince U.K. and European companies to license his product. Hoover, Black and Decker, Electrolux, and many others turned him down, perhaps reluctant to consider the implications his new technology would have on $500 million in vacuum bag sales they were generating each year. Instead, James decided to manufacture his new invention himself. Dyson’s patented Root8Cyclone(TM) technology creates an unprecedented amount of centrifugal force to effectively remove dust and dirt from carpets and floors. The airflow is unobstructed so there’s nothing to clog.
What was your moment of truth?
James was vacuuming he realized the vacuum he was using was losing suction. He was determined to solve the problem. It was during the next five-year period that he built over 5000 prototypes and developed Dyson cyclone technology. James used an Edisonian approach to overcome his challenge–making just one change at a time.
What were the results?
James Dyson developed cyclone technology for use in a vacuum. He had solved the inherent problem of other vacuums that clog as you use them. With Dyson’s cyclone technology, there is nothing to block the airflow so it doesn’t lose suction. Dyson is the first vacuum cleaner that doesn’t lose suction. Dyson’s latest upright vacuum cleaner, the DC07, made its debut into the U.S. in August 2002. In less than one year, Dyson has made a significant impact in the vacuum category building strong awareness for Dyson’s cyclone technology and the DC07. Dyson’s vacuum line now includes DC07 Steel/Yellow, DC07 Purple/Scarlet, DC07 Animal and DC07 Full Gear. Retailers are embracing Dyson and the number of stores selling the vacuums across the country has risen from one retail location (The Terence Conran Shop in NYC) to more than 3,000 stores including national retailers such as Best Buy, Sears and Target, to name just a few. Today, Dyson is the best-selling vacuum cleaner in Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Total worldwide sales to date are 9.8 million units. Dyson has gained a growing recognition worldwide for its unique product design. Dyson vacuum cleaners are included in the permanent collection at numerous museums, including the London Science Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. James Dyson is also well established in the design community. He is the chairman of the Design Museum in London, an active member of the Design Council in the U.K., and a member of the board of the Vienna Design Museum. The company has received awards worldwide for innovation in industrial design engineering, including the Industrial Design Prize of America, Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design’s, Good Design(TM) award (USA), the European Design Prize, the Super Good of the Year (Japan), iF design award (Germany) and L’Etoile de l’Observeur du Design (France).
What’s your parting tip?
Anyone developing new products and new technology needs one characteristic above all else: hope. This comes down to a few elements:
Having high expectations that you will succeed despite any setbacks or frustrations; having the sense to break down an imposing task into smaller, manageable ones; believing that you are able to achieve your goals, whatever they may be; Be dogged and determined; And don’t be afraid to be different.