This article covers the life, ideology and philosophy of millennials’ favourite newfangled hair dryer inventor or a popular name in British households, Sir James Dyson. Furthermore, the article covers Dyson’s journey from being a penniless young lad to a billionaire entrepreneur who founded Dyson Limited. 

Early years

James Dyson was born on May 2, 1947, in Cromer, Norfolk, England to Alec and Mary Bolton Dyson. Alec Dyson was an educator who loved spending time with his family outdoors. Spending time outdoors and living in the countryside is perhaps what motivated James Dyson to be a sports enthusiast in his school days. Alec Dyson was an educator at prestigious Gresham’s school in rural Holt, the same school where his sons studied. After James Dyson lost his father at the age of 9 to cancer, the school offered to fund his schooling considering Dyson family’s lack of financial funds. After graduating from school, Dyson explored various distinct future career options. Dyson had a gift of painting, so some told him to be an artist. After taking advice from his teachers and others, Dyson attended the Byam Shaw School of Art from 1965 to 1966 before studying furniture and interior design at the Royal College of Art from 1966 to 1970. 

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James Dyson as a child_©James Dyson

Developing design language

During his time at the Royal College, where everyone focused on design, he realised that design should be part of engineering. After observing the working methods of different designers, he started to develop his ideology which later became the foundation of Dyson Ltd. He believed that design and engineering should be worked along, instead of designing an engineered machine at the end. He believed that his ideology of calling engineering and designing the same thing was very unusual at the time. This ideology was conceived after getting influenced and drawing from inventions made in the 60s, for example, Harrier Jump Jet, Whittle jet engine and Issigonis’ Mini and bicycle. In A Life, by James Dyson, a short documentary series by Dyson Ltd., he says, “You realise that these are engineering icons that famous British inventions and breakthroughs…..inventing, engineering, designing and art are inseparable”, which best explains his artistic or design ideology and philosophy. 

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Alec Issigonis with his iconic creation, Mini _©Mini.com
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James Dyson working on his drafting board_©Levon Biss

Professional life

While studying at the Royal College of Art, Dyson designed a mushroom-shaped theatre for Joan Littlewood in East London. And to bring his plans to reality, he met with Jeremy Fry to ask for the funds. The chairman of an engineering company at the time appreciated Dyson’s gift of designing but declined to provide him with the required funds. Instead, Fry offered him to build a high-speed landing craft, which Dyson accepted. Dyson started the project without any prior knowledge of engineering and learnt everything during the process. This project led to the invention of The Sea Truck, a one of its kind motor vehicle which can be used as a diving boat or landing craft or fast assault craft or bridging tug. The Sea Truck helped Dyson understand and value engineering even more. It also made him gain the necessary business knowledge.

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Sea Truck by James Dyson _©Dyson.com

After tasting the thrill involved in designing a product, Dyson decided to leave the comfort and security of a paid job and set up a business with Deirdre. As Dyson wanted to design something personal to them but was also widely used by folks, to ensure that product brings profit. While exploring possible options, Dyson and Deirdre experienced difficulty working with wheelbarrows at their farm and decided to design and engineer the best wheelbarrow on the market. After days of labour, they came up with Ballbarrow, a wheelbarrow with the first plastic pneumatic wheel ever made. The modern wheelbarrow did well on the market after a while due to its high functionality.  

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Ballbarrow by James Dyson_©The James Dyson Foundation

While manufacturing the Ballbarrow at the factory, Dyson and his staff faced issues with clogging air filters. Since they could not afford an industrial cyclone particle collector, Dyson along with his staff built a similar economical and functional structure based on the principle of centrifugal force. The engineering system used in the particle collector made Dyson question the traditional bag-type vacuum cleaners. For five years since 1978, Dyson worked alone each day to build a bagless vacuum cleaner which would be highly efficient. After producing more than 5,000 prototypes for the same, Dyson successfully generated a well-designed and engineered model on the principle of cyclonic separation. Despite receiving constant criticism for his bagless vacuum cleaner from traditional business owners, Dyson sold a prototype called G-Force to a Japanese company. The cleaner gradually became a commercial success and also won the 1991 design prize.

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Initial stage of Dyson cyclone_©The James Dyson Foundation
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The Pink G-Force designed by James Dyson_©lb.dyson.com

James Dyson‘s passion and experience led him to found a multinational technology company called Dyson Limited commonly known as Dyson in 1993. Today the company’s inventions are being used across 65 countries. The innovative technology company, just like its founder, invents and develops groundbreaking machines with a strong belief that art, math and science are inseparable. To motivate and help the young generation The James Dyson Foundation offers financial aid to help students pursue an engineering education and medical research. 

Early concept sketches of a recent electric car by Dyson Limited_©dyson.com

References: 

  1. The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica (2019). Sir James Dyson | British inventor and industrial designer. In: Encyclopædia Britannica. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/James-Dyson.
  2. ‌Bloomberg Billionaires Index. (n.d.). Bloomberg.com. [online] Available at: https://www.bloomberg.com/billionaires/profiles/james-dyson/.
  3. ‌Dyson (2019). About Dyson. [online] Dyson.com. Available at: https://www.lb.dyson.com/en-LB/Community/AboutDyson.aspx.
  4. ‌www.youtube.com. (n.d.). Chapter 1: Early Years from Invention: A Life, by James Dyson. [online] Available at: https://youtu.be/H1bayLIsb_M [Accessed 16 Jul. 2022].
  5. ‌www.youtube.com. (n.d.). Chapter 2: 60’s influences from Invention: A Life, by James Dyson. [online] Available at: https://youtu.be/DYF0xQ4bJww [Accessed 16 Jul. 2022].
  6. ‌www.youtube.com. (n.d.). Chapter 3: The Sea Truck from Invention: A Life, by James Dyson. [online] Available at: https://youtu.be/54wX3syuk6w [Accessed 16 Jul. 2022].
  7. ‌www.youtube.com. (n.d.). Chapter 4: Going Alone from Invention: A Life, by James Dyson. [online] Available at: https://youtu.be/YdDDCHwkWOc [Accessed 16 Jul. 2022].
  8. ‌www.youtube.com. (n.d.). Chapter 5: Coach House from Invention: A Life, by James Dyson. [online] Available at: https://youtu.be/RuJgLdaFSw8 [Accessed 16 Jul. 2022].
Author

Ujjvala Krishna likes to believe that a curious mind and a constant demand for logic are the only two things necessary for a fulfilling life. A year away from graduating, she constantly strives to further her understanding of architecture, while continuing to navigate through new avenues of design.

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