James Dyson: How To Be Different #5

Beauty is more than skin deep

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I'm happy when someone says they don't like the colour of a Dyson vacuum cleaner, because it proves they didn't buy it for its looks. Performance is what is really important. If you buy a wonderful electric kettle and, when you get it home, it burns you, you will never again be seduced by the illusion that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder". A product is only truly beautiful when it works. People don't buy design that just looks good. At least not twice.

It is gratifying that some people like our machines for their looks - for every one who says they are garish, another says they are "futuristic". But what we are really about is improving our machines' performance. Function always comes before form when you buy a product - or you are wasting your money.

One or two of Britain's design gurus and museum curators think differently. Their refusal to acknowledge engineering and science might have suited pre-industrial society, but it threatens British jobs in a competitive global economy. All too often they brush over technology or engineering with flavour-of-the-month frippery. Should we really take them seriously when they allow stiletto heels and CD covers to take precedence over bridge-building, car design and space exploration?

Unfortunately, we have to take them seriously - and take them on - because they exert a baleful influence over priorities in politics, the media and education. Their dismissive approach is one reason why science and mathematics gain such low ratings from school students, in contrast to their counterparts in China, India and Korea. Design is relevant to nothing without substance. I hope our design czars will redefine their mission and encourage serious design of the manufactured object. We need to rekindle the fascination in technology and industry on which the prosperity of our society rests.

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