A New Form of Hairdryer Treatment
How making weird and wonderful connections is the best route to great design and why President Trump should hold the hairdryer the right way around.
FERGIE AND BECKHAM
I only came across the expression ‘hair dryer treatment’ fairly recently on starting a new job that was ‘blessed’ with a boss who seemed to have a switch inside his head which, when flipped, exposed you to close range, high decibel ‘motivation’. That organisation was not Manchester United where Sir Alex Ferguson’s management style actually gave rise to the phrase as David Beckham said, “The fear of getting the hairdryer was the reason why we all played so well. He was a manager you wanted to do well for”. Players talked of the moment a switch flicked in Fergie’s head, he pressed his face close to yours and gives you the hairdryer treatment.
But this article is about design not leadership and certainly not about politics. It’s about how the good design mind works to make weird and wonderful connections; hence the topical cartoon at the top of the page. Read on to learn some interesting stuff about hairdryers, nothing about politics, and ultimately some fresh Apex Ideas about how the product could evolve and improve.
AMAZING CONTRAPTIONS AND THEN DYSON
They’ve certainly become a lot more portable in recent times judging by this contraption that was popular in the late 19th century. By the 1920’s handheld versions were available but were heavy, prone to catching fire and electrocuted people, which doesn’t make good advertising.
Almost a century later Dyson, who are best known as the masters of sucking, have started to blow. They took 50 months, more than 100 engineers and created a world shortage of hair to go supersonic. It’s a great product but with a truly eye watering price tag of £300, have they really changed the hair drying world? Which magazine have rated it at 79% but you can get a Remington rated at 74% for less than a tenth of the price. And it also seems that the low speeds are too fast – maybe that’s a downside of the extraordinary digital motors that underpin so much of Dyson’s innovation as it’s hard to believe that the Dyson team missed anything without knowing it.
But the point of this article is more to do with what’s going on in that cartoon at the top. The most important part of
any creative process is that tiny neuron burst of electricity that starts the idea. At Apex we focus on making connections between things we already know to generate new thinking. To be great at this you need to know a lot of stuff and then be able to connect the dots at lightning speed so you can sift through the obvious to get to the gold fast. It’s interesting to read the Dyson engineering story and see that their starting point was the motor – not too surprising since they probably have the best consumer product motors on the planet and wanted to capitalise on that. But to start with the motor means you’re still going to end up blowing hot air at people which isn’t that much of a change. The Apex approach of processing zillions of connections (some of which involving Trump, Syria and hairdryers are just amusing, make us smile, and spur us on) means that you really examine more of the alternatives before you set off down a certain road. In fact, the first thing we do when we think we have locked onto the winning idea is stop, have a coffee, and re-examine all the ideas we’ve discarded to make sure we’re heading the right way – after all the consequences of heading down to wrong road can be huge.
So apart from Trump (who’s hair is understandably rather distracting when thinking about hair dryers) what more useful stuff did we dream up?
Yes raisins. Things that need drying, right? But what’s the connection? Well, raisins are dried by the sun, which is a form of radiation that dries by working at a sub-atomic level. This connects into some established ionic tech in hair drying which is the shower of negative ions from a corona in the motor which helps destabilise the water molecules and helps them evaporate more quickly. This sounds like good root cause proble
m solution stuff so we like the idea of exploring the various safe forms of radiation perhaps in conjunction with safe chemical pre-treatment (perhaps contained in the conditioner) that might also create marketing opportunities for the hairdryer folks to team up with the shampoo folks. Pie in the sky? We don’t think so.
No matter which way you slice it the starting idea is king. Get that wrong and you’ll miss the target. There are many techniques out there to help crown the right idea but in the world of mechanically based consumer products most of what you find in the best new products has been seen somewhere else before. As for the President, I just hope he holds the hairdryer the right way round although I doubt he ever holds it himself!