Sucking and seeing

the material world: We wanted it to look like a piece of Nasa technology. Its superior performance has to be visible. It has to look the business
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The Independent Culture
Nearly 70 years ago, the Ladies' Home Journal ran an advertisement for a new vacuum cleaner. It showed a salesman doffing his hat to a housewife at the open door of her (servantless) new home. The slogan invited readers to: welcome the eureka man - he brings new standards of home sanitation.

Today's Eureka Man is the Bath-based inventor and designer James Dyson. The new standard of sanitation he brings comes in the shape of the Dyson Dual Cyclone. In a field where evolution is anathema, the Dual Cyclone represents perhaps the greatest technological leap forward since electric- powered suction did away with the need for manual bellows.

By moving on, Dyson is cleaning up. In February, UK sales of Dyson's upright cleaner pipped the leading Hoover model. Since then, sales have doubled to more than 20,000 a month; Hoover's have virtually halved. With the addition of a compact model, by October, Dyson was shifting vacuum cleaners worth pounds 4.6million a month, more than Hoover or the mighty Electrolux.

May the G-Force be with you

Dyson sowed the wind with his first cyclone cleaner in 1986. Styled in pink and mauve and christened the G-Force, this product bore a price tag of more than pounds 1,200 - a lot, but about the same in today's money as the Eureka Man would have been asking for his machine. And behind its effete colour scheme lay some startling new engineering, based on the weather system in which a tightly circulating column of air creates an updraft that in turn creates suction. In the cleaner, a high-speed air vortex whizzes dirt particles to the walls of a cylindrical collector. There is no need for the conventional dustbag which gradually becomes more clogged and less effective. The G-Force is both more efficient to begin with, and it keeps performing at the same level. All you have to do is empty the collector from time to time.

The G-Force sold well to rich and fastidious Japanese admirers of Western design. Despite the availability of an attachment that would enable it to tackle tatami mats, it probably passed its days in spotless homes - more as a sculpture than as a functional appliance.

Its successor is rather different. Using the same cyclone technology but priced at pounds 199, the Dual Cyclone is intended to appeal to the grimy, penny-pinching British. It is styled in less controversial tones but is still distinctive in yellow and silver. With its ribs and fins, it looks like a Fifties' space rocket. "We wanted it to look like a piece of Nasa technology," says Dyson. "Its superior performance has to be visible. It has to look the business."

Who you gonna call? Dust-busters!

The new machines, two-speed cyclones - one subsonic, one supersonic - suck up everything from pine needles to fine dust - adjusting automatically to the pile of your carpet. The handle of the upright cleaner ingeniously unclips to double as a suction tube. With a special solvent and powder, the cleaners can also attack stains.

One difference between the new cleaners and their Japanese forerunner is that they let you see the dust. The Japanese apparently prefer not to be reminded of how dirty their floors are; their qualms are respected by means of a smoked plastic dust collector. The British collector is clear, providing the earthy thrill of watching the sucked-up dust swirl to its doom.

Dyson is gambling his good name on the Dual Cyclone. "One of our strong points is that it is an individual doing it. It's a bit of a Branson operation. There is a possibility that the name will become a generic," he says royally. "That would be wonderful."