An icon on icons

James Dyson is a design icon in his own right. So which designs does he admire?

James Dyson is a design icon in his own right. So which designs does he admire?

1. Harrier

The Harrier Jump Jet is a great feat of engineering. It was the first aircraft capable of vertical take-off and landing. Powered by four thrust engines, it could reach speeds of 737mph, hover for 90 seconds and reach 50,000ft. Sadly, these jets went out of fashion years ago, but we managed to get hold of one at Dyson – it’s now parked outside the Dyson headquarters in Malmesbury, Wiltshire to inspire our engineers.

Harrier jump jet

2. Moulton Bicycle

I first met Alex Moulton as a student in the sixties. He taught me to have the courage to be both a designer and an engineer. He put engineering first and yet still considered the whole product. Through iterative development, he created the most extraordinary, unusual products. The Moulton Bicycle was mounted on small, high-pressured wheels, an unconventional frame and front and rear suspension. It was a cinch to mount and as fast as a racer.

moulton bicycle

3. The Mini

I remember the launch of the Mini in 1959. It was a complete break from the past. Other cars had big wheels that protruded into the interior, making it feel cramped. They were all about the exterior aesthetic. Mini’s designer, Sir Alec Issigonis, turned this on its head. He miniaturised the wheels, shortened the frame and still made it comfortable for a family of four. It was such a clever use of putting function ahead of form in car design. There’s a reason it became Britain’s best-selling car.

james dyson on the mini

4. The Hovercraft

Before the Eurostar, crossing the English Channel was a slow, stomach-churning experience. But this changed in 1959, with the introduction of British scientist Christopher Cockerell’s Hovercraft. Powerful gas turbine engines propelled the hovercraft at speeds of 60mph. By sucking in air and channelling it into a space beneath the vessel, the machine created an air cushion, enabling the craft to hover just above the water’s surface. Stable and manoeuvrable, the hovercraft has found a second life breaking ice in the Canadian north.

the hovercraft

5. JCB

You’d be hard-pressed to find a construction site, roadworks or farm that hasn’t been influenced by the ingenuity of Joseph Bamford’s JCB digger. By harnessing hydraulic power, the first JCBs could swivel 180 degrees and dig up 45 cubic yards per hour. The 1957 Hydra digger – the first backhoe loader, incorporated the front shovel of an excavator with a loader’s rear arm for digging. Bamford thought of everything right down to the interior fittings, which included space for electric kettles so the operator wouldn’t have to leave his cab for lengthy tea breaks.jcb digger