Seven Questions for Designer Dan Black of Black + Blum

With the megatradeshow NYNOW (formerly NYIGF) bringing mobs of product-seekers to Gotham this week, the hunt is on for the latest and greatest lifestyle and home products. A must-see stop in the cavernous, merch-stuffed Javits Center is the booth of Anglo-Swiss partnership black + blum. Designers Dan Black and Martin Blum joined forces in 1998 as a London-based design consultancy and soon began developing products such as an award-winning anthropomorphic doorstop named James (Black is brandishing one in the photo at right), a no-nonsense tape dispenser, and the “Brrrrr” polar bear ice tray. Black, a veteran of IDEO and Frog Design, paused in his NYNOW preparations to tell us about the personalities behind the products, their latest thirst-quenching hit design, and what the duo is debuting this week.

Punch up your lunch. Colorful sandwich keepers are among the black + blum products launching at NYNOW.

If you had to sum up the black + blum aesthetic/design philosophy in just three words, what would they be?
functional, soulful, and minimal

You’ve described a true black + blum product as “always a joint input of [your] and Martin’s personalities.” What are your personalities like?
We both like the same sort of products, whether they are contemporary new designs or vintage antiques. They will all have the same deep-rooted qualities. Although we have very different personalities, the inputs that we give to each design are actually very similar. Perhaps it is not so much our different personalities, but rather our tastes that influence the design. The most important thing is that it will never be only one of us that works on a design. We always find the final design will be a result of both our inputs and the end result is always better because of this.

What black + blum product has been flying off the shelves this summer?
Our “Eau Good” filter water bottle has been selling really well. The natural active charcoal filter is exposed inside the bottle. This can be a bit daunting for those who don’t what it is, but it becomes a talking point and allows users to proudly show that they are not drinking bottled water and helps spread the word to tell people that there is an alternative which is better for the environment.

What are some of the new products you’re most excited about showing at NY NOW?
We have three stunning candelabras launching, part of our “Loop” range. These designs are really fun for me and Martin to work on, as it is more like a sculpture project than strict industrial design. The forms can’t be developed in a sketchbook or on the computer as the free-flowing wire is not symmetrical or regular in any way. Working with metal, we twist and bend it until the form is just right and looks balanced and intriguing all at the same time.

We also have a cool new sandwich box launching. We wanted to come away from the standard plastic boxes that everyone uses and introduce one with a higher quality materials and better functionality. Ours is made from aluminum with a naturally anti-bacterial bamboo lid that doubles as a chopping board. This means you can make your sandwiches freshly and chop your tomatoes just before you add them (no more soggy sarnies!).

What are you looking forward to doing/seeing in NYC before or after the show?
I always get excited about visiting New York as there is so much new stuff going on. I am not sure about exhibitions yet, but I have some good friends who live here and always rely on them to show me the best new eateries. I also have some old favorites like the Corner Bistro on Jane Street (simple no fuss burger and beer) or the Diner in Brooklyn (creative locally sourced ingredients).

What has been your best or most memorable design/designer-related encounter?
Martin and I have a friend from design college who used to work for Ingo Maurer. We were visiting our friend’s studio in New York when he unexpectedly dropped by. Our friend kindly introduced us and it was fantastic for us to meet a designer who has had such a profound influence on us. Although we have not designed any lights for a while, the first products we launched 13 years ago was lighting and we were definitely inspired by his work. He has a minimal, but seemingly playful, approach that still inspires us today. He was also very nice to talk to, encouraging, and extremely humble about all he has achieved.

What has been your proudest design moment?
In 2011, we were nominated for the UK’s Homes & Gardens magazine’s design awards and won the best product design of the year for our “High & Dry” dish rack. This was really great to win, but equally exciting is when you meet someone new and they might know one of our products or even the actual brand and story behind it. We are still a smaller company, but we love what we do and get a real buzz when other people pick up on this and like what we are up to!