UNTIL recently, our office banter on what’s cool or trendy has largely fallen on the latest releases from the fashion houses. Well, that changed recently, when one of our young writers started talking about the “spiritual journey” behind Japanese organising guru Marie Kondo, otherwise known as Konmari, before raving about his new Dyson Supersonic Hairdryer.
Ordinarily, the talk about home appliances wouldn’t raise much interest in our office, but not this time. Everyone chattered about the product’s performance, the design and of course, the hefty price tag.
We have all seen the products, whether on social media posts or at one’s fancy salon. As with the rest of the products in the Dyson portfolio, the Supersonic’s minimalist design looks like it’ll fit right in a Star Trek movie; it’s highly futuristic. It turns out the product works excellently. Those who own a Dyson can attest to it. Their latest release, the Dyson Airwrap, has gotten so much hype; many of our female colleagues swear by it as they would on a pair of Louboutins.
It’s strange, but we have to ask: when was the last time we heard anyone get so excited about appliances?
That last time was after the success of its revolutionary cyclonic upright vacuum, capable of generating 100,000g of centrifugal force (three times that of a bullet exiting a gun). That was 2002. The British technology company has continued to roll out a series of cutting-edge products with eye-pleasing aesthetics.
Dyson’s success has built it a cult-like status. They are like the Nespresso of coffee machines, the Rimowa of luggage, the new staple of every modern household. So how did the company go from inventing Ballbarrow—a Dysonian twist on the standard wheelbarrow —to a multi-billion company? What comes first, design or technology? How did it achieve its cult status?
We sat down with Jake Dyson – eldest son of founder James Dyson, and who’s tipped to be successor to the Dyson empire – at the Dyson Malmesbury Technology Campus to get some answers.
August Man (AM): You guys recently set up your corporate office in Singapore. Dyson has been such an established business in London for so long – why the move?
Jake Dyson (JD): Well, because our business has been in Singapore and Malaysia for 8 to 10 years. We started off manufacturing in Malaysia and we’ve been setting up digital motoring factories in Singapore, (these have) been there for a number of years. We have a tech and research headquarters in Singapore which we have had for 4 to 5 years now.
AM: There’s been talk about building an electric vehicle…
JD: The Asian market is very interested in the electric vehicle, which is what we are manufacturing in Singapore. Our board directors are mostly in Singapore. We are investing in other technologies, in other factory plants in that location, so we need to keep an eye on these investments very closely, as well as the financial structure and rigour of developing a car industry in Singapore.
Really, the business is global; you can say that we are everywhere. Our board directors have already migrated to Singapore, keeping an eye on our investments. That’s why it seems sensible that we expand in Singapore with our headquarters. It’s a fantastic place to be supplying electric vehicles.
AM: The brand perception of Dyson in Singapore is akin to (being) the Apple of home appliances. You don’t buy a (Dyson) vacuum because you need to vacuum the floor, but you buy a Dyson because it’s also cool. How did that happen?
JD: When you talk about branding at that level, it’s not something we really focus on; we’re all about the technology. I think what’s happened is the technology, the performance for our machines, is rewarding and people enjoy the experience of using it.
I think what follows that is the fascination in the object, because of what it is doing. In whatever product we do, we expose that the technology as part of the form. And that becomes fascinating and intriguing and beautiful. That is always a signature of the Dyson product. It’s very much geometry; the intersection of pure geometry. There is very little free form or shape. The geometry and layout of the technology all dictate the design, to give you that Dyson signature.
I think that without the performance and the technology in the products, you wouldn’t be attracted to the brand.
AM: Are you under any pressure to come up with a certain number of new ideas for products to roll out every year?
JD: I think the trouble is that we have too many ideas, actually. It’s not a case of a “What should we do next” but more of “What shouldn’t we do”. It’s a problem because we are bursting with ideas.
We have a team called the New Concepts Team. What changed in the business, about 3 to 4 years ago, is that we started to look 10 years ahead, but previously the furthest we looked was only 2 to 3 years into the future. Now it’s different. So, “what will Dyson look like in 2030?” “What technologies do we want to invest and develop to get ready for 2030?”
We don’t develop and invest in technologies for tomorrow – we develop technologies we want in 10 years time. The digital motor is a good example of that; it took us 10 years to develop our first digital motor. Once we established and understood how to do that, we made it smaller and smaller and more and more efficient; we have the best digital motors in the world now. It’s a long term ambition.
We have research teams looking at areas to improve like filtration, battery and heating technologies, and we are investing in the future. Our ideas on what products to make are based around which one of these technologies we can use and put together (in a product). So, it will be about tackling and solving problems in people’s lives, improving their well-being and improving the performance of the product; a need to improve on a product that sometimes it’s a frustration or irritation of a product we use and think of “that’s awful, we can improve on that, we got the technologies to do that”.
AM: Do you adopt a form-follows-function kind of model?
JD: It’s all about technology. For example, we talked about the clear bin moment, the wow moment. When you vacuum your floor, and you suddenly see all the dirt coming into the bin and you realise how good the machine is and you see the impact of the technology… that was 10 or 20 years ago.
Now, the change in the performance of our technology seems like magic. It excites people, “how did they do that?” people ask. It’s airflow – the fans with no blades, people wonder “How’s all the hair coming in?”. It’s a celebration of technology and the physical product. When we design, we want that magic. We desperately want to expose the thing that is making that product perform well.
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