‘What does a Product Designer do? The life of a Dyson designer…

Recently, Jobsite research found that Product Design was the voted most desirable job by Generation Z. With such high expectations, can the reality live up to the perception? We spoke to Dyson product designer Connor Macmillan to find out…

In the beginning

My attraction to product design was a combination of my creative side and my fascination for solving problems. All through school, my favourite subjects were Art & Design, Maths and Physics as well as practical subjects like woodwork. As a Product Designer, I use a combination of practical and creative skills which can both solve math problems and produce an oil pastel drawing.

Creating something physical to demonstrate how you can improve peoples’ lives, with solutions they didn’t realise they needed is what really attracted me to Product Design.

Securing a degree

My degree is in Product Design Engineering, which covers everything from Mechanical Engineering to sketching and model making.  With this, you can go into many areas of Design and Engineering and find the best route for you. This can be agency work, producing high quality products in small quantities or working in a bigger company, producing on a much larger scale.

Would I have my current job without a degree? Probably not. Having a degree opened up many more opportunities for me. As a Product Designer, the processes and practical skills you learn at university will give you a great base to build on which I think are among the most valuable things to take away.

More and more employers are offering the option to gain a degree and practical experience at the same time. This is where you’re able to study Engineering and work full time whilst you earn a salary and gain invaluable experience. The Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology is a great example of this. 

Life at Dyson 

I’ve always been motivated by designing products that will be experienced and enjoyed by lots of people. I successfully joined as a Graduate Design Engineer at Dyson straight from university. Working for a company like this immediately after university is great for getting hands on straight away whilst gaining a huge amount of experience and insight into product design at the early stages of your career.

My role as a Product Designer at Dyson is to understand the benefits we can give our users by solving their problems or delivering features they didn’t know they needed. I’ve now worked here for over four years. Initially I worked in the Product Engineering team working on the latest Dyson vacuum cleaners before moving into the Design and User Experience team.

My current role sits at the intersection of physical and digital design, developing features for our latest connected products. At Dyson, we are actively encouraged to build and test ideas quickly in order to find the best possible solutions. This means a typical day here can contain any number of tasks. 

The job in hand

As a Product Designer I work on everything from research and innovation, to driving those designs into the delivery stage. The day could start with initial concepts on Post-It notes generating new ideas as if in the mindset of your users. By collaborating with peers, we can quickly assess which ideas are best before developing them in more detail using software or 3D model making skills.

I’m often able to review my work with my line manager or the Head of Design. This is great to show where the ideas can be improved, meaning I can quickly get started on the next iteration to make the product better.

Innovating the ordinary

The exciting part of working at Dyson include the world-class facilities available and the pace of work on a daily basis. I work on many different areas of Design and get hands on with the designs relatively early in my career which will help massively as I develop my skillset.

Often the designs I work on here are products in established markets which haven’t changed much over the years –hairdryers or vacuum cleaners for example. At Dyson, we are always challenging the ordinary and designing products which solve genuine problems in innovative ways. That’s what makes it so exciting to work here and makes it so different to other companies. We’re always striving for better technology.

Part of the challenge of working at Dyson is the constant focus on the user. We always want their experience to the best possible. My designs have the potential to be seen and used by lots of people so I’m always conscious that they must exceed expectations of the user. As a designer, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as seeing my idea go from paper to something physical or interactive that people enjoy using.

The best way for me to overcome the challenge is to build something physical or digital that I get into peoples’ hands to then gain feedback on. With this feedback, I can improve the design and re-test it. By doing this repeatedly, I try to iron out all the little faults and produce a something great. This rigorous process gives me the confidence needed before a review or when I come to the point of submitting my design for production. 

How to get ahead

Having worked in both physical and digital, I’ve been exposed to multiple areas of design. Looking forward, the way we interact with hardware is becoming increasingly more automated and virtual. These are definitely areas of technology to keep an eye on and not be scared to engage with.

My advice would be to remain flexible, be prepared to learn as many new skills and programs as you can whilst adapting to the ever-changing design landscape. Don’t become too attached to your designs or refuse to accept change. By embracing the changes, you will remain flexible.

Studying or working in Design, you will pick up and develop a variety of new skills and personal qualities which are useful and can help you push on in your career. My top three tips are:

    1. Remain objective about your designs and be accepting of where they fail. Being able to use this as an opportunity to correct the failures with each iteration is where you will get your best results.


    1. Try to build relationships with those around you and get into discussions about your designs as they will progress much quicker through collaboration. The most important skills to gain are those which allow you to visualise, build and test these ideas quickly.


    1. Learn prototyping software like Solidworks or Adobe Illustrator so you can quickly draw up your ideas. Workshop, model-making and 3D rapid prototyping skills will quickly turn 2D into 3D to understand the context of your ideas. Finally, prototyping software such as Flinto or Framer lets you very quickly get prototypes in the hands of users to gain invaluable insight into your design and understand where to improve it.


The future of Product Design

When I was growing up, I was surrounded by the assumption that we would become Doctors, Teachers, Architects or Lawyers. Nowadays, I think young people are much more aware of a greater variety of career options.

I can only speculate as to the real reason behind the increasing popularity of Product Design, but the rise of websites like Kickstarter, INDIEGOGO and Instructables means that a variety of information is much more readily available.

The continued rise of technology companies like Dyson, Apple, Sonos and Google means our homes are filled with the latest products. More young people are growing up surrounded by technology and being exposed to its possibilities.

The younger generations also have much greater access to information via the internet, meaning they have exposure to a much wider variety of cultural issues than ever before. I suspect all of these things make Product Design an attractive career to have as it brings together familiarity, creativity and the potential to solve real-world problems.

Find out more about a career in product design here, or start your job search today.