Crap Design: The Dyson Airblade

  • Dyson have reinvented a number of consumer products, adding Unique Selling Points. Their fancy, expensive hand dryer, the "Airblade" is one of the latest examples
  • The "innovative" Airblade is overpriced, overhyped and has numerous design flaws
  • The ergonomics of the Airblade are a primary area of controversy, making it unsuitable for short people, children or the disabled
  • The Airblade has been widely criticised for being a health hazard. It has been labelled a "virus catapult"
Sir Jimbo with Exhibit A
Sir Jim with Exhibit A

Welcome to a new regular EngineeringClicks section where we critique what we consider to be the worst examples of mechanical engineering, product design and industrial design on the planet. First up is the Dyson Airblade, the self-proclaimed “fastest, most hygienic hand dryer”.

Nick Donnelly, on his Usability Hell website has succinctly appraised the Airblade as “shit”. Having used the Airblade numerous times in shopping centre and motorway service station toilets I am inclined to agree wholeheartedly, particularly as it is a much-hyped product, that in my opinion is nowhere near as special as it’s made out to be.

Reinventing the wheel

As we all know, Sir James Dyson is the famous British inventor of the eye-wateringly expensive bagless hoovers, and whose company has also completely re-invented a number of other consumer products that had previously mildly frustrating characteristics, transforming them in to products that (we’re told) represent the pinnacle of British ingenuity …and slapping on a hefty price tag in the process.

The warm air hand dryer is no different, and has also been given the Dyson “Hollywood remake” treatment.

Launched in 2006, the Dyson Airblade operates differently from traditional hand dryers. Instead of a flow of warm air provided by a fan and heating element, the Airblade forces air through long, narrow slots creating a 400mph jet of air which “wipes” liquid off hands rather than relying on evaporation. Friction generates heat which aids the process.

Ergonomics from hell

Hands must be inserted vertically into a small aperture in the top of the dryer and there’s absolutely no room for manoeuvre. My natural instinct is to wring my hands to expedite the drying process, but his is impossible with the Airblade due to the limited space. Discomfort is further compounded by the height at which the Airblade is installed. This dictates your posture whilst you use it, and it varies wildly from toilet to toilet.

On the subject of installation height, Timothy Lethbridge makes some great points in his blog, stating that the Airblade is totally unusable by small children and disabled people in wheelchairs. This, he quite rightly states is a “critical accessibility problem”.

Lethbridge also notes that people with Parkinson’s Disease, or unsteady hands will always find that they accidentally touch the yellow seals of the Airblade. This is unhygienic. Dryers should not require physical contact because not everybody washes their hands well.

This brings me onto the next MAJOR point about hygiene…

The Dyson Airblade is a health hazard

The Dyson Airblade has been criticised numerous times for being unhygienic. The Independent newspaper claims that it can”spread 1,300 times more germs than paper towels”, and a more recent article on describes it as “basically a virus catapult“. This is due to the fact that a large proportion of the soap-dodging general public (the “unwashed masses”) don’t wash their bum-scratchers to the extent that all bacteria is removed. Many simply rinse their fingers under cold water, and once their hands are blasted with a 400mph jet of air courtesy of Dyson, their lovely germs are distributed far and wide much more effectively than a conventional hand dryer. This is an absolutely monumental design flaw.

The Dyson Effect

Dyson have been so successful in selling their revamped innovations to the mindless consumer, other manufacturers have had little choice but to jump on the bandwagon and try to manufacture their own Dysonised products that echo the form-factor of the Airblade. My heart sinks when I come across one of the many copycat dryers that now are ubiquitous. Often slow, frustrating and ineffective they are all plagued by the same fundamental design flaws of the Airblade, whilst also managing to be even worse.

Stretching the truth a bit. I always need to have 2 or 3 goes.

Glorified mediocrity

Overall, the Dyson Airblade is a triumph of marketing over engineering, and goes to prove that if you’re a marketing genius you can make people want to buy anything.

Dyson are masters of creating products with a unique selling point (USP) and making people want to buy his stuff. It’s not necessarily the best, but it’s a hot brand that sells product based on perceived ingenuity. It could be argued that marketing is Dyson’s greatest achievement, and not engineering.

Dyson fundamentally solves small problems by redesigning products so radically that they contain design flaws that were otherwise not there. This is not an approach I am fond of, and think it would be far more beneficial to direct energy into designing new, original products instead of curing existing ones of perceived minor niggles.

And finally…

…a big EngineeringClicks smack on James Dyson’s bare bottom for his company’s gross misuse of the word “engineer” on the back of their repair vans. We have made appropriate corrections to the image below, and would very much encourage him to get his vehicles modified accordingly.

It’s ironic that the printing on the back of the van states that “bogus engineers are currently operating in the area” when there’s one sitting in the driver’s seat listening to Radio 1.

Note to Sir Jimbo: the phrase “parts and labour” is not in the vocabulary of an actual, proper engineer.


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6 thoughts on “Crap Design: The Dyson Airblade”

  1. You begin this article as “Well-Deserved” Dyson bashing, and I humbly advise about your pompous judgement.  Polar-opposite of your assessment, I find the Air-Blade’s ergonomics very intuitively obvious.  Attempting to wring your hands while being jetted within the knife chamber should have adjusted your foundational paradigm that mandatory hand-wringing is no longer needed.  But you are too set in your ways to appreciate paradigm-changing designs.  Furthermore, calling the blade drying process 1,300x more unhygienic  than paper towels because an un-documented quantity of people only rinse without using soap, and actually labeling it as a  “critical design flaw” is like calling an internal combustion engine a failure because people were never officially trained how to pump gas. It’s a ridiculous stretch.  I’m neither a Dyson supporter nor a basher, but this article is akin to slander. It only makes you look bad, not Dyson. Critiques don't have to slanderous to effect a positive influence.

  2. Dyson creates new product markets.  This is one of them.  It is a general rule that the first product in a new area does not get it completely correct.  We need to see the following products to see if the problems you state for ergonomics are corrected.    The second point on spreading germs maybe the most important.  This machine is the equivalent of hundreds of people sneezing or a child touching everything in site.  The germs on their hands if the soap did not kill them in the washing process with is not likely have been mixed with the air in the room.  I suspect it is not much more then that already happens.   Remember that the handles on the doors and faucets and the counters all are already contaminated by those same germs.  And we touch them.  The only people that are more contaminated is a person that does not touch anything.

  3. Loved the article: great!The Dyson Air blade is a silly attempt at redesigning the hand drier: it provides the unfortunate use with the opportunity of contact with any germs or residue, left by previous users, on the surfaces each side of what I might term the ‘gulch’.It is no good to excuse this ill though out product by pointing to all the other places where one might pick up germs (door handles, etc.): the addition of a poorly designed hand drier just increases the number of potential points of contamination!I will concede that, years ago, I did find the DC 02 Vacuum Cleaner very good: until the flex failed, inside the body of the cleaner, rendering it only fit for the dump.Dyson’s upright Vacuum has lots of fussy bits on it: but do they do anything, and are they intuitive, for the user?

  4. Our staff bathroom that has fully replaced paper towelettes with an airblade unit causing hilarity on occasion. More than one ever I’ve Seen someone fluster as they try to solve a sneeze, nose bleed or spill at the sink with pure frustration.

    All in all this could work better- but I like the approach. Some room for hand-ringing would be helpful, and a drain on the bottom bowl would be welcome.

  5. I was involved in its concept design – shell form surfacing only……….left when better offer came in…….crappy engineers (so called) managing things just left school looked like.
    I don’t EVER used it due to dangerous noise.
    Better copies now exists thankfully

  6. OMG, TY for this article! I totally agree that this item is an utterly hideous botch job. The Sam’s Club stores here have installed them and there are no paper towels to use an an alternative. Ugh! The things get filthy from a little cesspool of water that collects in the bottom, and the velocity of the air is not nearly enough to get the water off of your hands. Did I say Ugh? I meant YUCK!!

    There is a hand dryer that actually works that I have found installed in a few other stores:

    It instantly provides a strong jet of warm air and has room to wring your hands underneath. It is the fastest hand dryer I have ever used. 10 sec max to get your hands totally dry. The only downside is that it is pretty noisy, but not much more than the Dyson. Oh, it is a bit pricey too, but it looks to be built like a tank.

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