March 1, 2010
answers a few questions on engineering, hands-on work, and protecting your ideas.
Inventor and engineer. Founder of Dyson.
We recently launched a fan, the Air Multiplier, arriving in stores in the U.S. this month. I’m very excited about it because it’s a completely new take on the technology—no blades, just smooth air.
Why do you do what you do?
Engineering is in my blood. I try to encourage others, especially young people, to get involved with design. We run an award that gives young designers and engineers a platform for their inventions—there’s a lot of up-and-coming talent.
First step on a project
For me it starts with challenging the way something works and setting out to make it better. This can take time and a few missteps, but ultimately it’s worth it to solve the problem.
Last step on a project
There isn’t one. We’re constantly improving our machines. Not superficial changes but fundamental improvements to the technology. Design is an ongoing process.
How do you break a creative block?
A nice, long run usually does the trick.
Self-trained tinkerer, then the Royal College of Art
Jeremy Fry, who ran an engineering firm in Bath. I learned how to improve things by making one small change at a time.
To get people interested in engineering. Where would we be without Edison, Ford, Faraday? As a society, we’re so affected by engineering yet so out of touch with it. Businesses need to recognize that research and development is vital to future success.
First act as “design czar”
Introduce people to the importance of engineering at a young age; change curriculum in schools to put more of an emphasis on making things. My second act: make all museums free of charge.
I’ve got it. Over 300 engineers and scientists that help imagine and develop new technologies at Dyson.
At Dyson we use Herman Miller chairs. They’re adjustable and ergonomic.
I love classical music. I listen to a lot of opera. I’m not averse to the occasional Rolling Stones track.
I like to have things that inspire me close to hand, so I have models of jet planes and JCB excavators in my office.
Most useful tool
In addition to my sketchbook, a Rotring pencil. It’s an engineer’s pencil I use to do my drawings. It’s not styled in the least, but it’s comfortable and does the job.
Best place to think
In the lab, working hands-on with the engineers. The back-and-forth really helps move an idea along. The best results come from challenging one another.
I read a couple of papers in the morning—the U.K. has a half-dozen quality nationals. I also like Wired.com for technology news.
I’ve been reading piles of books on British engineers for a TV show I’m working on.
The original Sony Walkman. Where would the iPod be without its predecessor?
DC31. It’s the first-ever handheld vacuum with a digital motor. Our DDM (Dyson digital motor) revs at more than 100,000 r.p.m., but the machine is less than three pounds.
If I’m not in the lab, I prefer to be at home with my family.
Wine—I’ve even tried making it myself.
Engineering. We cross suspension bridges, work on computers, and fly in planes every day but don’t think about the vital role engineering plays in our lives.
Cheap imitations. It’s remarkable how many companies try to make money by copying the ideas of others. It may look the same, but if it doesn’t perform, it’s vastly different.
Learned the hard way
Nothing learned is ever easy. My first vacuum took over 5,000 prototypes to get right. But designing something that solves a problem is always worth the effort.
Patents are vital to protecting ideas. I invented a wheelbarrow that used a ball, but I didn’t patent it under my name. Big mistake—I lost all rights to it. It was a tough lesson, but we now know how to ensure our future technology stays protected.
Luckily enough, I’m doing it.