Dyson Air Blade & Thorough Design

Tobias Komischke / Thursday, September 13, 2012

When I was in college many moons ago, our prof would take us to everyday machines like copy machines, vending machines, elevators, etc. for an ad-hoc design evaluation. Every time I see one of those Dyson Air Blade hand dryers I have to think back and picture a group of students standing in front of it and assessing its design. There are many aspects that can be considered, for example:

Dyson Airblade Design Assessment:

  • Does it look and feel pleasing and inviting?
  • Does it convey trustworthiness – after all it’s clearly labeled as Air Blade?
  • Is it clear how to use it?
  • Is it durable?
  • Is the height of the dryer on the wall appropriate? Is the forced positioning of the hands appropriate?
  • Does it consume less total energy or carbon footprint than other air dryers or paper-based systems?


 Dyson Air Blade


Having looked at those Air Blades over years and in many different places (OK, except the ladies room), there’s one thing that bothers me about the design. The floor below the dryer is usually wet. This is hard to see on the photo above, but depending on the type of flooring that consistent wetness is not only an aesthetic issue but can cause damage in the long run. The wetness obviously comes from the dryer. Since the air stream is so strong, it cannot evaporate all the water on your hands but rather blows it away towards the inside of the cylinder. From there the only place the water can go is onto the floor.

One of Dieter Rams’ 10 famous principles of good design is thoroughness down to the last detail - nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Instead, care and accuracy rule. It seems to me that the designers of the Air Blade put all the emphasis on the primary purpose of the product, namely come up with an effective way to dry your hands with an air . This is reflected on the product’s website that talks about: touch-free operation, rapid and hygienic drying, low noise level, and the high compression fan.

Yet, they didn’t seem to put much thought beyond that. What happens with the residue water when the hands are pulled out and the device shuts down? Not designing for the left-over water shows a lack of care. Sure, it’s only a small amount of water per person. But, if you look at the frequency of usage in public restrooms like in airports, it’s clear that the amount adds up.

What I think is so interesting about this issue is that it’s actually worsened by what superficially looks like a great design proposition of the dryer. Expectations shape behavior. The air stream is powerful like a blade. Once people know that, they modify their normal behavior which is to shake off the residual water from their hands right at the sink before they use a dryer. After all, if it’s that strong, it’ll dry their hands even when they’re dripping wet.

Anticipating future use and designing to the last detail – those are two sides of the same coin. One entails the other. This is true not only for industrial design, but also for software design. In both worlds it is hard to design to the last detail, because stakeholders are most interested in and passionate about the “big picture”, but inpatient for designers to really and fully complete their due diligence (“I thought we already determined what it will look like? Why does it take so long to finish this?”). Maybe this story about the Dyson Air Blade helps explain the importance of thorough design to stakeholders.