The former Dyson product designer who reimagined a cleaner shisha

Paul Dawson worked on the Ooka, which is claimed to be the world's first charcoal-free pod-based shisha product

Paul Dawson played a key role in developing the Ooka, which sold out soon after it hit the UAE market. Photo: Air Global
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With more than two decades designing products for Dyson under his belt, Paul Dawson was looking for a change.

After setting up his own business, he received an offer from a UAE company called Air Global, which was struggling to make its idea for a charcoal-free shisha device work.

With Mr Dawson's help, the company soon had a fully functioning product, the Ooka, which sold out soon after it hit the UAE market.

We had to totally rethink how this thing works when it’s heated electrically and how a user gets the best possible experience
Paul Dawson

The company now aims to take the device global, with plans to launch overseas within the next few months.

Starting out

Mr Dawson decided he wanted to become a product designer very early in his career.

But after beginning to study for a PhD on the science behind cricket bats, he realised he needed some real world experience to be taken seriously.

In the early 2000s, Dyson was not the household name it is today, but Mr Dawson liked what he heard.

“They were trying to make things better for people and, in making it better, they were really thinking differently about what could be different, what could be improved about the product. They’re also very hands on,” he told The National.

“Dyson’s view is: you design it, you make it, you test it and then you break it, see what happens and then you repeat it.”

He started out working in vacuum cleaners, listening to customer complaints in an effort to improve the products. But after five years he moved into product development.

By 2013, the company was looking to diversify its portfolio, a project Mr Dawson became heavily involved in, moving into air purification and developing the first connected Dyson products.

He later ventured into hair and beauty, where he helped design the Air Wrap hair dryer and other hair products.

But after 20 years, he started thinking about life outside the company.

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“I think at the point in time I made the decision, it was in the Covid pandemic, in the middle of 2020. It was a bit bleak and I was doing more product launches. I suddenly thought I can sense a huge amount of opportunity around me in the world,” he said.

He took the plunge, starting his own company that helped businesses get their products to market.

Air Global

That is when Air Global came calling.

“Air said, 'we’ve got this idea but we’re really struggling to make it happen. Can you help get this product from an idea stage into production?',” Mr Dawson said.

“I didn’t know anything about shisha but the way I looked at it was pretty simplistic. I met with the CEO of Air and said, 'the tobacco thing doesn’t necessarily interest me, but I’m happy to help you get your idea [off the ground] and develop a future range of products which take the company into new territories'".  

Ooka had been partially developed, but it was not a fully-fledged solution. So Mr Dawson set about studying everything there was to know about shisha, while trying to work out what could go wrong when designing a new product.

Once they established what they needed to do, it was a case of developing experiments and trials and trying different ways to achieve it.

“My approach was to break it down into smaller manageable problems to solve and developing that process with the team,” he said.

“We worked out eventually that we had to reformulate slightly the molasses that goes into the product to make it work. It’s more refining.

“It’s a very different approach to how normal shisha molasses is heated. We had to totally rethink how this thing works when it’s heated electrically and how a user gets the best possible experience.”

The process to design the Ooka took about four years. Mr Dawson came on board for the final two.

The device heats the shisha using a “micro-oven” without burning it, before it passes through water for inhalation, resulting in a 94 per cent reduction in a range of harmful chemicals, and non-detectable levels of carbon monoxide.

The technology is similar to that used in vaping, which is regarded as a less harmful alternative to smoking cigarettes.

Ooka is claimed to be the world's first charcoal-free pod-based shisha product, which sold out less than a month after launching in its home market, the UAE, last year.

Air now plans to expand overseas, at what could turn out to be a fortuitous time.

According to research conducted on behalf of Air, global shisha use is set to surge, with the market reaching $22 billion and more than 32 million users by 2026.

The industry grew by 18.5 per cent last year to reach 20.8 million users and is predicted to reach 24.6 million users this year.

Air Global plans to expand into Germany in the second quarter of this year, and eventually the US.

Both countries have a “huge” shisha following, Mr Dawson said.

“Traditionally in shisha-consuming countries, it’s mainly a Middle Eastern expat-led ritual. But in Germany there is a lot more of a broad range of cultures enjoying shisha.”

Updated: April 18, 2024, 10:57 AM