The design process depends on new ideas, failed experiments, and incremental improvements. Collectively these little failures let engineers make big leaps. It’s the approach I took when I ripped my hoover apart back in 1978 to create the first cyclonic vacuum cleaner. I was frustrated with vacuum cleaner bags losing suction and thought, there must be a better way. Ripping the bag off the machine was just the start. It then took me 5,127 prototypes to develop the final machine, each failed prototype informing the next one. There is always room for improvement and we have been iteratively improving the machine ever since.
Today Dyson has more than 1,500 engineers and scientists developing new technology by testing, breaking, and tweaking across hundreds of prototypes before we launch a new machine. DC54 is the result of over 2,000 prototypes. We’ve achieved a machine that, in its lifetime, will never lose suction. It means that it will suck up just as much dust and dirt ten years from now as it did on day one.
Bagged vacuums lose suction as pores clog. And other cyclonic vacuum cleaners often rely on filters to capture dust, which also clog, causing loss of suction. By using small, tightly packed cyclones to generate high centrifugal forces, we’ve got to a stage where we can banish replacement vacuum filters as well as vacuum bags. Instead, the cyclones inside DC54 contain flexible tips that oscillate at extremely high frequencies. It took 50 iterations of the technology and plenty of failure just to find the right material.
James Dyson is an industrial designer, inventor and the founder of Dyson Appliances. He invented the Dual Cyclone, the UK’s best-selling vacuum cleaner. He is also a board member of the Design Council and was appointed a CBE in the 1996 New Year Honours. He lives in Malmesbury, Wiltshire.