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Witnessing the birth of the “frustrated” technology product – with Sir James Dyson as doting dad

Posted by Hannah Wright on 23rd October 2013

In my previous blog post, I looked at innovation for innovation’s sake in smartphones – the trend that’s seeing alternative technologies combined to make something ‘new’ – just because it can be done. But as soon as I spotted Dyson’s new “Hairblade” hairdryer concept last week, I was inspired to write about how these consumer innovation ideas even come to life in the first place.

For many women out there (myself included), blow-drying your hair is an irksome and incredibly noisy task, with an average hairdryer matching the same volume as a vacuum cleaner at 75 decibels. So when the silent, economical hairdryer dubbed as the “Hairblade” eventually hits the UK market, it will be a blessing in disguise; particularly for those fed-up partners who wake up to the irritating buzz blaring through the bedroom during their lie-in.

However, it’s becoming apparent that most products under Sir James Dyson’s wing are born purely from the frustration of already-existing products that fail to carry out a job to the ultimate best of their ability. Current Dyson devices, such as the bladeless fan or the ball vacuum cleaner, are strong examples of how irritating, noisy blades or vacuums that fail to stretch round corners are the motivation behind these technology ‘upgrades.’

And that’s something that Dyson is opening up about – the idea that new technology entering into our markets is being born from deep-rooted frustration of existing inventions. Following the ‘accidental’ release of the Hairblade’s patent papers, a Dyson spokesperson just came straight out and said it –  “A lot of innovations are inspired by frustration.”

But it seems this has been a common phenomenon throughout history, with innovations born from an inventor’s pure frustration with an existing problem.

Here are my top three favourite inventions from history that we regularly take for granted now, which were born entirely from frustration.

1)   The Fountain Pen – 1901
When ink from a fountain pen leaked all over a document to close an import insurance contract (which then caused him to lose the deal), inventor Lewis Waterman was so annoyed he created a new type of fountain pen that used the “capillarity principle”, allowing air to induce a steady and even flow of ink.

2)   Air conditioning – 1924

Willis Haviland Carrier didn’t invent the very first system to cool an interior structure in 1924. However, his system was the first truly successful and safe one that started the science of modern air conditioning. It started out as a way of offering cooling for human comfort to hot and flustered shoppers rather than industrial need.

3) Masking Tape – 1925
In the 1920s, Richard Drew observed auto-body workers were growing frustrated when removing butcher paper they had taped to the cars they were painting. He noticed the adhesive on the tape actually peeled off the paint they’d just applied. So Drew invented masking tape to provide a gentler adhesive tape, keeping the workers happy at the same time.

Image credit: Teeejayy

Hannah Wright

After joining in 2011, Hannah brings a wealth of experience across both consumer and B2B PR.