Black + Blum are a London based design consultancy who design and produce their own line of amazingly functional and charming products; including the coolest lunch box Thing has ever seen (yes, lunch boxes can be cool). Their products take classic items such as book-ends, candelabra, lunch boxes and bottles; then re-invent them for the 21st century. The results are remarkable and extremely desirable products that ooze personality and will also make everyday life that little bit easier. Thing caught up with Dan Black (the Black from Black + Blum) to discuss design and find out what exactly inspires the wonderful products these guys create.
Thing: Where did the inspiration for the products come from?
Dan: Each product is different and you never really know where the inspiration will come from…I guess this is what makes it so much fun, working on such different products and taking inspiration from everything. We get inspired by new materials and it is exciting when you find something in a completely unrelated industry that is possible to traverse and adopt into the homeware market. We sometimes get inspired by antiques, where there has been an innovation maybe 100 years ago, which has somehow been forgotten and we get the chance to reintroduce it (watch this space on this front, as we have a compost bin coming soon, that is inspired by an antique silver jam jar).
Thing:. What’s more important to black & Blum – form or function?
Dan: Function is always the most important, because without this, a product becomes a ‘gimmick’ and we catchphrase this as a product you get given, use once or twice, but because it doesn’t function well, you end up putting it in a draw and never touch again until you put it in the bin. If a product functions well, you get so much enjoyment from it and it has the chance to become a design classic, that will be appreciated for many years to come. There are some items like candelabras, which have a very simple function to perform and in this case, form is also vital as the design will have to continue to please you for the duration of it’s life. When we consider form, we try to avoid fashion led styles and the best test is when the form can fit equally as well in a traditional as well as a modern interior environment.
Thing: Any other products planned in the near future?
Dan: Historically, we have launched 3-5 new designs a year. Over the next twelve months, we plan to launch nearly 70! These new designs are split into three very focussed ranges of tabletop, kitchenware and lunch boxes. Each range will have it’s own brand name and recognisable design aesthetic and only by applying this strict focus, has it been possible to work on so many designs. Although this increased focus is a slight shift in direction for us, we are super excited with the new designs and can’t wait to show them to the market.
Thing: Could you chose 5 ‘things’ that you love or that mean something to you? (Products, gadgets, places, things Etc.)
Dan: My grandfather’s fountain pen. He died when I was young, but I inherited the fountain pen that he had used for most of his life and somehow when using it, my handwriting takes on a slightly different look, as if his hand is still guiding it. This is not meant to sound spooky, but sometimes a product that is handled regularly, develop a patina or feel that almost gives it soul and certainly increases their sentimental value.
My watch – Martin Blum and I bought ourselves a watch each on the company, after we had been working together for five years. The company couldn’t really justify the cost at the time, but it felt like a milestone had been reached and now we both still wear the watches every day still. Many product designs have a love of watches, cars and pens and I guess we fit this stereotype.
San Francisco and Silicon valley. While studying product design, I interned at Frog design who are based in Sunnyvale, California. Obviously there are lots of cool companies based in Silicon Valley (like Apple), but aside from the buzz and energy that comes from these companies, there is also a magical atmosphere to the whole place. It could be the sea breeze, the light, the micro climate, or maybe there is something else that gives the place such a magical feel (if anyone has read a Clive Barker book, they will know what I am trying to describe).
On a roll tape dispenser – I hope it’s ok to include one of our own designs in this. On a roll isn’t our most recent design and certainly not our most successful, but it is one of our designs that I am most proud of, simply because it’s pure form is dictated to by it’s function. I have one on my desk and love using it.
Whichever design I am currently working on and there are certainly a lot at the moment! This is just to say, that whatever I am working on, it will be all consuming. I have to be passionate about it, and if i’m not, then I know there is something missing and this just forces me to think even harder about it. It becomes a bit like an unsolved sudoku puzzle and the harder a design is to solve, the more passionate I get about it. Sometimes design solutions come quickly and this can also be pleasing, but it doesn’t seem to happen often This uncertainty and varying pace of a design project, just adds to the enjoyment. I am in a lucky position that I can work on projects for as long as I want, as at the end of the day I have to put my name to them and can only honestly release them, when I am happy with how they look.
Thing: What’s your favourite record cover?
Dan: Maybe a little cheesy to admit this now, but I love the album cover for Duran Duran – Rio, by Patrick Nagel. I was eight when it came out and used to try and copy it.