Sir James Dyson (born 2 May 1947) is an English industrial designer. He is best known as the inventor of the Dual Cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner, which works on cyclonic separation.
Dyson was born in Cromer, Norfolk, England, one of three children whose father was Alec Dyson. Dyson was educated at Gresham’s School, Holt, Norfolk, from 1956 to 1965, where he excelled in long distance running: “I was quite good at it, not because I was physically good, but because I had more determination. I learned determination from it.” He spent one year (1965–1966) at the Byam Shaw School of Art (now part of Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design), and then studied furniture and interior design at the Royal College of Art (1966–1970) before moving into engineering.
Dyson married Deirdre Hindmarsh in 1968. Her salary as an art teacher partially supported him while he developed his vacuum cleaner. The couple have three children.
Dyson was chair of the board of trustees of the Design Museum, “the first in the world to showcase design of the manufactured object”, until suddenly resigning in September 2004. The museum had “become a style showcase” instead of “upholding its mission to encourage serious design of the manufactured object”, in his words.
In 1997 Dyson was awarded the Prince Phillip Designers Prize. In 2000 he received the Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran Award. In 2005 he was elected as a Fellow at The Royal Academy of Engineering. He was appointed a Knight Bachelor in the New Year’s Honours December 2006.
The Sea Truck, Dyson’s first product, was launched in 1970 while he was at the Royal College of Art. His next product, the Ballbarrow, was a modified version of a wheelbarrow using a ball to replace the wheel. Dyson remained with the idea of a ball which his brother thought of, inventing the Trolleyball, a trolley that launched boats. He then designed the Wheelboat which could travel at speeds of 64 km/h on both land and water.
In the late 1970s Dyson had the idea of using cyclonic separation to create a vacuum cleaner that would not lose suction as it picked up dirt. He became frustrated with his Hoover Junior’s diminishing performance: dust kept clogging the bag and so it lost suction. The idea of the cyclones came from the spray-finishing room’s air filter in his Ballbarrow factory. While partly supported by his art teacher wife’s salary, and after five years and many prototypes, Dyson launched the ‘G-Force’ cleaner in 1983. However, no manufacturer or distributor would launch his product in the UK as it would disturb the valuable cleaner-bag market, so Dyson launched it in Japan through catalog sales. Manufactured in bright pink, the G-Force had a selling price of £2,000 (British equivalent). It won the 1991 International Design Fair prize in Japan. He obtained his first U.S. patent on the idea in 1986 (U.S. Patent 4,593,429).
After failing to sell his invention to the major manufacturers, Dyson set up his own manufacturing company. In June 1993 he opened his research center and factory in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. The product now outsells those of some of the companies that rejected his idea and has become one of the most popular brands in the United Kingdom. In early 2005 it was reported that Dyson cleaners had become the market leaders in the United States by value (though not by number of units sold). Note that the US was introduced to Dyson when root cyclone was implemented, so in the US there were no sales of the DC01 – DC05 Dual Cyclone vacuum cleaners. The Dyson Dual Cyclone became the fastest selling vacuum cleaner ever to be made in the UK.
Dyson engineers were determined to create vacuum cleaners with even higher suction. This was achieved by adding a smaller diameter cyclone to give greater centrifugal force. This led to a way of getting 45% more suction than a dual cyclone and removing more dust, by dividing the air into 8 smaller cyclones, hence the name root cyclone. Dyson’s breakthrough in the UK market, more than 10 years after the initial idea, was through a TV advertising campaign that emphasized that, unlike most of its rivals, it did not require the continuing purchase of replacement bags. At that time, the UK market for disposable cleaner bags was £100 million. The slogan of ‘say goodbye to the bag’ proved more attractive to the buying public than a previous emphasis on the suction efficiency that its technology delivers. Ironically, the previous step change in domestic vacuum cleaner design had been the introduction of the disposable bag – users being prepared to pay extra for the convenience of dustless emptying.
Following his success the other major manufacturers began to market their own cyclonic vacuum cleaners. Dyson sued Hoover UK for patent infringement and won around $5 million in damages. His manufacturing plant moved from England to Malaysia, for economic reasons and because of difficulty acquiring land for expansion, leaving 800 workers redundant. The company’s headquarters and research facilities remain in Malmesbury. Dyson later stated that because of the cost savings from transferring production to Malaysia he was able to invest in R&D at Malmesbury. Dyson employs more people in the UK than he did before the transfer of manufacturing to Malaysia.
In 2005, Dyson added the wheel ball from his Ballbarrow concept into a vacuum cleaner, creating the Dyson Ball, claiming it to be more manoeuvrable. In 2002 Dyson created a realization of the optical illusions depicted in the lithographs of Dutch artist M. C. Escher. Engineer Derek Phillips was able to accomplish the task after a year of work, creating a water sculpture in which the water appears to flow up to the tops of four ramps arranged in a square, before cascading to the bottom of the next ramp. The creation titled Wrong Garden, was displayed at the Chelsea Flower Show in the spring of 2003. The illusion is accomplished with water containing air bubbles pumped through a chamber underneath the transparent glass ramps to a slit at the top from which the bulk of the water cascades down. This makes it appear that the water is flowing up, when actually a small amount of water diverted from the slit at the top flows back down the ramps in a thin layer.
In 2000 Dyson expanded his appliance range to include a washing machine. Called ContraRotator it had two rotating drums which moved in opposite directions. The range was colored in the usual bright Dyson colors, rather than the traditional white, grey or black of most other machines. The item did not take off with the public and is no longer available.
In October 2006 Dyson launched the Dyson Airblade, a fast hand dryer. The Dyson Digital Motor produces an air stream flowing at 400 mph. This unheated air is channeled through a 0.3 millimetre gap. A sheet of air acts like an invisible windscreen wiper to wipe moisture from hands.
Dyson’s recent addition is a fan which is without blades, which he calls ‘Air Multiplier’. The fan works by sucking air through the bottom and channeling air through a hoop with a gap. The air flow through the bottom of the stand is “multiplied” three different ways in the fan structure. The first way is when the air flows over a wing like structure in the fan’s ring. It is further multiplied when it passes over the cone shape, also in the fan ring. Both of these create negative pressure and pulls the air around the fan through it. The final multiplication step is through viscous shearing when the air leaves the fan ring. The moving air shears through, and pulls in, yet more air flow; hence the 16-times multiplied air.
The James Dyson Award is an international design award that “celebrates, encourages and inspires the next generation of design engineers”. It is organised and run by the James Dyson Foundation charitable trust, and is open to graduates (or recent graduates) in the fields of product design, industrial design and engineering.
It took James Dyson 5,127 prototypes, 14 years of debt, and multiple lawsuits to create the top-selling upright vacuum cleaner in the United States.
Never give up!