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 fortune.com 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.
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.
…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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