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David Zax

A View from David Zax

A Space Heater You Can Play Quidditch With

The Dyson Hot resembles the hoop from the Harry Potter sport. Is it overdesigned?

  • September 20, 2011

If it’s possible for a space heater to be sexy, then the new Dyson Hot is. A reworking of the “Dyson Air Multiplier,” the bladeless ring-shaped fan that shook up the world of air circulation a few years back, the Dyson Hot adds a heating ring that can help keep you warm this winter. It resembles nothing so much as a Quidditch hoop.

The Dyson Hot will set you back a cool $400, and comes in two color schemes: white with a silver heating ring, or aluminum with a blue heating ring. The device accelerates air through its aperture, passing cool air over an airfoil-shaped ramp and heating it. The Dyson Hot can be easily tilted, and oscillates to cover a broad swath of room. A curved and magnetized remote control can be stored right atop the device. The whole thing weighs five pounds; if it topples, it shuts off automatically.

Is the thing, with its exposed heating ring, safe? Space heaters, after all, reportedly are associated with some 22,000 fires every year. Sir James Dyson himself has been hitting the circuit to assure people that yes, the Dyson Hot is safe. The lack of blades actually makes it safer around children, he says: “I’ve got grandchildren,” Dyson told a crowd gathered for an event in New York recently. “I’ve watched them rush up to fans and try to poke their hands through the grill. Over the last 20 years, safety has become a big issue.” The Times went so far as to ask Dyson what would happen if a cat were to leap through the thing. “You’re going to have to have a particularly thin cat to get through it,” was his response. But “if you’re asking me if the cat is likely to combust, the answer is no.” (Personally, I’d be more worried about a pudgy cat getting stuck in there.)

The main question, of course, is why in the world anyone needs a space heater like a space ship? It reminds me of those Gillette commercials likening your razor to a sound barrier-breaking jet. TechCrunch is probably right to call the Dyson Hot a “functional conversation piece.”

But in a roundtable at the Wired offices in New York, Dyson put forth a compelling design philosophy for his products. “I don’t particularly follow the Bauhaus school of design, where you make everything into a black box — simplify it,” he said. “I want something more expressive. It’s very easy to make something like a heater into a black box. It might look impressively designed for a few moments, but it has no expression.”

The bright blue heating ring on the Dyson Hot isn’t just meant to be a conversation starter; it’s meant to get the user to think about the actual nuts and bolts of the technology–how it works. So much of modern technology is upholstered out of existence, in a way; the innards are hidden, creating an illusion of magic. Dyson, to his credit, wants to push back against that trend; he wants to make technology that “expresses what it does,” that pulls back the curtain to give a hint at the mechanisms at work. Call it industrial design as education–and bear that extra service in mind when you sign that receipt for $400.

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