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How Radical Design Comes To Life At Dyson

Archie Henderson is a Senior Design Engineer at one of the world’s most innovative technology companies. If you haven’t heard of Dyson, then you’ve probably been living under a rock or really need to clean your room.

The company doesn’t just do domestic appliances – they revolutionise them entirely, turning your average vacuum cleaner into a work of art which also happens to run circles around conventional products on the market.

D’Marge spent five minutes with Archie to understand the brains behind this award-winning company, how to score a job with them and the inspiration behind their products which makes cleaning look cool.

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MH: So how does the Dyson team come up with these wild and unconventional ideas for household products?

AH: Good question. At Dyson everything is technology and future led. Any problem we can think of to bring something new and offer a solution that nobody else can offer is something we’d consider. Someone once told me a great starting point for ideas is picking at things that annoy you and figuring out how to fix them. I think that’s the kind of thing we do.

MH: They don’t look like conventional cleaning products. Where does the inspiration come from in terms of design?

AH: The look and feel of a Dyson is completely dictated by its function. We use colour and paint to highlight parts and bring out the aesthetics, but the the shape is purely functional. So if you look at our handheld cleaner at the top of the cyclone pack in the cutaway, you can see that the external components mirror the internals and they’re all there functionally. Same like the back of the exhaust with the little power bulges. They’re there not because they look cool, but because they benefit airflow.

MH: Did James Dyson come up with the idea because he wanted to encourage the average bloke to be more domesticated with cool looking products?

AH: [Laughs] I haven’t heard that one before. I think it was born out of frustration. The story that James always tells is that he bought an old bag vacuum. A week after using it, it had no suck left and it spiralled from there.

MH: Your latest project, the V6 Absolute, has a motor that spins to an insane 110,000 revolutions per minute. Is that really necessary in a cleaning product?

AH: The 110,000rpm rating is true. During most of its operation it’s not at 110,000rpm – that’s its peak speed. But it’s really all about efficiency. To get the most efficient and power dense motor, it’s important to spin the impeller as fast as possible. There’s compromises with that like acoustic challenges but from an efficiency point of view, it makes perfect sense.

If a more conventional motor was used, the impeller would need to be larger [leading to a larger body] to provide the same amount of air flow. It’s all about packaging and design.

MH: What does one need to do to score a cool role at Dyson?

AH: I studied Mechanical Engineering at University. I rather ignored electronics as I thought I’d never use that, but now I’m working with a company with quite a lot of electronics in a role that requires me to know quite a lot about it.

Obviously we look for good candidates with a minimum grade required. But it also come down to personality and if you’ll fit in at Dyson. The application process was pretty simple compared to a lot of companies. Which is actually one of the things that attracted me; being lazy attracted me.

I didn’t fancy filling in this enormous online form asking me to give an example of ‘one time where you led a team’ or something. I sent my CV to Dyson and they called me in for an interview, met the engineers and they set me some logical problems.

We’re interested in seeing people have got a good brain. A lot of it is their approach to problems. You ask them technical questions and we’re not necessarily interested in them getting the answer immediately. It’s how they go about thinking about the problem and answering it.

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MH: Do international candidates have a shot?

AH: We’re based in the UK but we have engineering sites in Malaysia and Singapore. The UK site is pretty diverse. Lot’s of Aussies and an entire acoustics team which seems to be French and people from all over.

MH: Can you tell us some of the wildest projects you’ve worked on?

AH: It’s tricky for me to talk about [products Dyson haven’t released], but there are always a number of wild and wacky projects we’ve worked on. Once a year we have an engineering competition where we team up and build something based on a brief. Who can throw the most squash balls in the shortest amount of time, building a hovercraft out of Dyson components. There were even quadcopters.

MH: What’s in store for the future of Dyson?

AH: Like any company, we’re always looking at new ideas. Source of inspiration comes from things that annoy us or things we think we can do better. We haven’t created the perfect vacuum yet so we’ll be working on that and our robotic vacuum cleaner. It’s been launched in press but not yet for sale. It’s undergoing some beta trials in Japan. It’s coming. I can’t say when, but it’s coming.

MH: What’s cool about the product you’ve helped bring to life? 

AH: The V6 Absolute has two key features which is a re-designed cleaner head which we call the Fluffy. It’s targeted towards cleaning hard floors where you’ve got large bits of debris which gets pushed along the floor and you end up picking the cleaner head up and putting it on top of it to suck it up.

That was one of the things we thought wasn’t satisfactory and we got a big plastic nylon roller on the front edge which just gobbles up everything in its path. There’s also a HEPA filter on the back which filters pollen, granules and the smallest mould spores from the surrounding air.

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MH: And the end game question: What do you say to a girl at the bar when they ask what you do for a living?

AH: I tell them anything other than engineering. It tends to lead to awkward questions.

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