The New Yorker Sucks Up to James Dyson

Sorry, we’re suckers for vacuum puns! James Seabrook (bladelessly) fans the flames of the cult of Dyson in his profile of the chipper British inventor. Published in the September 20 issue of The New Yorker and filed under “Annals of Invention,” the piece sets out to question whether home applicance mogul James Dyson can “pull off a second industrial revolution,” or at least seize a chunk of the fan market. Seabrook begins with the story of how, several years ago, Dyson took the vacuum cleaner market by storm with a sleek and superior product—the bagless upright known as the Dyson DC07—that was quadruple the price of most retail machines. How? A combination of design, engineering, and branding…and that charming accent didn’t hurt. “Dyson didn’t hawk his vacuum; rather, he explained why it was superior in the calm manner of an engineer (though he didn’t look like an engineer, either—he looked like a British actor playing a Roman senator in an ‘I, Claudius’-style production),” writes Seabrook. “In its packaging, the company did not rely on a striking logo or a ‘brand image,’ such as, say, the red squiggly tail of the Dirt Devil. Instead, Dyson offered a brand story.” And it’s a testament to the power of that story that we can recount practically verbatim from the savvily art-directed commercials Dyson’s tale of woeful suction loss and the endless making of prototypes (5,271 over four years, notes the profile) that led him to a plastic-encased wonder of cylclonic technology that never tires of inhaling dust and dirt. Meanwhile, Seabrook isn’t much impressed by Dyson’s Air Multiplier (pictured), but he brightens up when recounting his experience at the company’s Chris Wilkinson-designed headquarters, where formal dress and memos are forbidden. Between reports from research meetings, he offers this look at Dyson’s past and future:

In the company’s early years, Dyson told me, “we were very focussed on products, but as time has passed, we have begun to look further out at more blue-sky stuff.” He has added chemists and microbiologists to his staff of engineers. Robotics is one area in which they are doing research, and motor technology is another. The Dyson digital motor, which spins three times faster than a conventional motor and is twice as energy-efficient, powers the latest Dyson handheld vacuum cleaner and hand dryer….The Dyson motor uses microchips to transmit current, and according to the company’s claims, these are clean and never wear down. The digital motor will power new Dyson products—he won’t say what they are—but it could also be licensed to other manufacturers of consumer products, or used in electric vehicles or in other industrial applications.

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