The September 20th issue of The New Yorker has a really interesting piece on James Dyson, inventor of vacuums by the same name. Definitely worth a read, for a bunch of reasons.*
What jumped out at me initially was the description of how he brought his first model to market. At the time the marketplace was full-up with brands hovering right around the $99 mark. So when Dyson decided to enter the fray with a model costing three times that amount how did he do it?
Not with flashy graphics or even a list of product attributes and advantages. He did it with a story. A story about cleaning his house and becoming frustrated with the ways in which his vacuum was underperforming. And how he rolled up his shirtsleeves and invented something better.
This approach is interesting, and seems to make sense in other categories as well. If a spirits brand decides to go after a higher-end niche you don’t see a bunch of ads with dudes exchanging high-fives in a parking lot. What you’re more likely to see is a story about quality, about how the product is aged, where the ingredients are sourced from, etc.
The New Yorker article also talks about Mr. Dyson’s belief in engineering, and how it should fit hand-in-glove with design. “All our engineers are designers and all our designers are engineers”, and “the engineering leads the design”. Hey that’s neat.
But my question is this: does all of this have to automatically lead to a high price tag? Mr. Dyson talks at length about the need to shift back toward manufacturing, which is all well and good. But so far all we have seen Dyson hang his hat on is The World’s Most Expensive (and therefore Best) Hatrack.
Encouraging folks to get their hands dirty (to MANUFACTURE, to INVENT) is dandy but where does utility come in? How does this angle apply to the pedestrian goods we need and use everyday? Inventing and building a better mousetrap is an admirable goal but is it a business model if the shelf price is three times that of the competition?
Maybe Dyson would say “Why yes. Yes it is.” Create some sort of fancy Brand Mythology around your Mousetrap 2.0 and customers and mice alike will come running. Hell I think the marketing would actually be kinda fun to work on.
But what I’d like to ask Mr. Dyson about is using these powers for good. I’d like to see some of this same shirtsleeves go-get-‘em attitude combined with a more “for the people” product or product line.
The article makes passing mention of the automobile industry, pointing out the steel-clad division between engineers and designers. But what would happen if you mashed all these notions together and got a bunch of designer/engineer hybrids working on, say, an affordable hybrid? Get these brainiac Designgineers™ to work on every part of the process, from design to materials to manufacturing. Thus making it both better AND more affordable.
Plus I’ll bet someone could gin up a really good story to bathe it in.
(*Article by John Seabrook. Abstract here: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/09/20/100920fa_fact_seabrook )
Filed under: Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »