By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
JAMES DYSON, THE ENGLISH INVENtor and industrial innovator, swept through town last week to vacuum some dust. Downtown, at the A+D Museum in the Bradbury Building, Dyson, an architect by training and a tinkerer by predilection, stood over his DC07, a nifty reworking of the upright vacuum cleaner that recalls those antique, bristling chrome Kirby cleaners, with the catfish mouths and inflatable penguin bellies. The DC07 doesn't have a bag that puffs up, and it doesn't raise a helicopter racket when it starts to spin, but Dyson isn't ashamed of the association. "I hope when you look at it, you don't think it's been styled," Dyson says, as he tries to untangle the cord of his invention. "I like its looks as good engineering." In other words, his vacuum resembles the old uprights because he's a firm believer in form following function.
"Design is a difficult word. You think of something as made to look good, but when it doesn't work, you kick it. Designing is technology: How long will the product last, how much does it cost, and performance, performance, performance," Dyson repeats. "That's the whole thing."
Even so, the looks of the DC07 are pretty impressive. The primary cyclone resides inside a clear dust receptacle that resembles a NASA booster rocket, and it has a crown with eight secondary, smaller cyclones that evoke a jet engine. Emerging from the body of the machine are various injection-molded and extruded plastic gills, ducts, intake and exhaust ports, and a set of striated catches and handles. These components are set to a contrapuntal rhythm of bright yellow and rifle-gray, calling attention to each part as an essential piece of engineering, and highlighting the geometry of the machine as a whole. This is reinforced when the vacuum is sucking in dust, which swirls around inside the clear canister, putting on its own little show of how the airflow behaves. The whole package is engineered art. As Dyson says, "People like to see how things work."
Dyson, who heads a $10 billion enterprise and is also chairman of the London Design Museum, admits that design can be pure, unto itself, like art. "Everybody hates vacuuming. The vacuum itself became an object of hate. You could see the manufacturers hated them. It became, perversely for me, a challenge to take something that is hated and make it liked."
Certainly the woman in a black sweater with sequined seams, a pink silk scarf and a sleek black skirt, likes what she sees. When Dyson dives into a short lesson in cyclones, she avidly takes in his words. His vacuum, he tells her, uses a 1.5-horsepower, 40,000-rpm motor to draw air and, of course, dust into the cyclones. The cones speed the spinning air to create greater and greater centrifugal force, 100,000 G's at the top of the tightest cyclone. It's like one of those amusement-park rides where the faster your gondola spins, the greater the force that pushes you outward. "You are artificially increasing the weight of dust particles," Dyson explains. "A weightless particle becomes a heavy ball bearing." Drawn into the cyclone, the dusty bits are literally flung out of the airstream and deposited into the clear, polycarbonate collection canister.
"The polycarbonate is unbreakable," the inventor tells the woman and her husband, who stands impatiently with his arms folded, eyes wandering. Dyson unlatches the see-through canister from the body of the vacuum, takes a step forward, kicks out his leg like a champion cricketer and swings the bin against a concrete pillar. It bounces and reverberates with a dull croak. Dyson isn't sure he's convinced his audience, so he detaches the integral metal wand and flails away at the canister with glee. His smile is childlike and contagious, full of the excitement and satisfaction of discovery.
The woman, excited, begins to question Dyson about how he hit upon the idea for his vacuum. He goes down the list of his earlier inventions — a high-speed "sea truck," a lightweight plastic garden water roller, a wheelbarrow that doesn't sink into the ground — that led to his dual cyclone technology. Then he mentions his newest invention, a washing machine with twin tubs. The woman, in her 60s, stops Dyson.
"I wish you'd brought that," she interrupts.
"Hand washing can take a mere fraction of the time to get clothes clean," he says as he explains the principles behind his patented washer.
"Hand washing?" she asks, incredulous.
"You've got to . . .," he gestures as if hand washing, and the woman chimes in, "knead."
"Do you vacuum and do your own laundry?" I ask the woman.
"No, but I have a lady who comes in."
"That's the big difference between the UK and America," Dyson says. "We don't have servants." Hmm.
By now it is time for a full-on demonstration, and while Dyson vacuums, a small crowd of mostly middle-aged men and women surrounds him. Everyone smiles, right along with the tall, thin inventor. He rolls over the concrete floor, and vacuums up a tidy nest of brown debris. Dyson pops the canister from the machine, hits another button, a trapdoor opens, and the dust tumbles out onto the floor. He promptly vacuums it up again. More laughter. He pulls the integral 17-foot expanding hose and begins cleaning a window Ã¤ frame 10 feet above his head. The troupe is rapt with attention, and delight.