Design: The wash of the Titans

Can Martin Myerscough's monster monotub revamp the humble washing machine?
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The Independent Culture
The imminence of the Millennium seems to have re-awakened English inventors' collective spirit of adventure. Hard on the heels of such fin de siecle mouldbreakers as Trevor Baylis's clockwork radio and James Dyson's bagless vacuum cleaner comes the Titan washing machine, the latest in a series of inventions which attempt to invest dull domesticity with a sense of glamour and excitement. Not that the prototype I saw demonstrated at London's Design Museum last week looks superficially any different from an ordinary machine. White, boxy and standard-sized with a conventional "porthole" window, it would blend in well at any Comet or Curry's. But for the unusually large door, that is. Open it and you immediately grasp the machine's chief selling point. The interior is huge. So much bigger than any other machine that you wonder why its prospective manufacturer, Monotub Industries, didn't christen it the Tardis.

"It accommodates 40 per cent more washing than other machines of the same size," its bullish inventor and Monotub founder, Martin Myerscough, tells me proudly before launching into an animated exposition of the Titan's other major benefits: a removable plastic washing basket for convenient loading and unloading; an inclined drum which allows easier access to the contents; and the facility to open the machine at any point during the cycle without flooding the kitchen floor.

Only those lucky enough to avoid regular laundry duties would dismiss such features as minor innovations. I'm hardly in the Good Housekeeping Institute league myself but, as one New Manly enough to take on my fair share of the washing load, I'm predicting success for the Titan when it reaches the market some time next year. For one thing it's a machine that, unlike my own Bosch, really feels big enough; for another, I won't need to waste time trying to force open the machine in mid-cycle to add the smalls I've accidentally scattered down the stairs; finally and most important, this is a machine that won't mix up my socks or wash stray coloureds with precious whites. With the plastic clothes basket - you can buy and rotate two if you wish - and the 20/20 view of what goes in and comes out of the Titan, there's simply no longer anywhere for odd socks to hide.

If it does take off, the Titan will be Martin Myerscough's second winner. The Clitheroe-born 42-year-old is already doing rather well as financial director of KS Biomedix, an arthritis-drug company he helped launch on the stockmarket five years ago. So what, I wonder, sets a chartered accountant turned biotech entrepreneur thinking about ironing out the irritating aspects of our domestic appliances? The answer, it seems, is a desire to make money, combined with a generous dash of lateral creativity. Myerscough is something of a designer manque himself. He trained as a naval architect, consciously opting for a more lucrative career at the age of 30 but never abandoning what he calls "my compulsion to invent". "It was a chat I had with a repair man years ago that started me thinking about washing," he says . "I realised that all washing machines were the same. They are all designed to suit manufacturers rather than the public. That's what I set out to change."

Myerscough soon realised that he couldn't do it on his own. He approached Trevor Baylis who put him in contact with TKO, the London-based product design specialists who were behind the Baygen clockwork radio. The Titan has taken shape in the five years since then, with TKO's women dominated team, led by partner Anne Gardener, working alongside product engineers Cock & Hen and Myerscough himself on 15 prototypes and four separate research surveys before settling on its final form.

Gardener makes no apologies for the understated styling of the machine. "We could have taken the jazzy, coloured route that Zanussi has with its new machines, but that could have been alienating," she argues. "It isn't about novelty. It's about making the Titan familiar enough to be recognised as a washing machine. We're communicating its benefits in a form with which people are already familiar in their own kitchens."

It remains to be seen if the great British public will be prepared to trade in its Hoovers and Hotpoints for an unproven machine made by an unknown company. There is however a recent, encouraging, precedent.

"One thing Dyson's success proved is that if the product is different enough and good enough, brands and names don't count for much," says Myerscough. "Besides, I think people are already dissatisfied with what is currently available."

He is not expecting a nation to be rushing to trade in their old machines en masse as they did with the Dyson. "Washing machines are too pricey for that," he admits, but points out nonetheless that the existing two million people who trade in their washing machine for a new one each year already provide plenty of potential customers.

So would I swap my two ageing Bosches for one new Titan? Ironically, industry gossip suggests that Martin Myerscough's chief competition may yet come from one of the innovators he so admires. James Dyson is said to be planning the launch of a new washing machine later this year - purported to be one that removes all water from clothes.

Bearing this in mind, I think I'll try to keep my nine-year-old machine limping on until we see what millennial wonder the dual-cyclone king has up his sleeve. But now that I have seen the Titan I reckon that, if Dyson is to do for washing what he did for vacuuming, his new machine will have to be big as well as clever.

Call 0171-917 1863 for details of the Titan washing machine