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Dan Black + Martin Blum


Black + Blum = Dan Black + Martin Blum

Photograph courtesy of Black + Blum

Q & A with Dan Black

Q. Here is the chicken and the egg questions. Which comes first and which is more challenging for you when designing - form or function?
A. Obviously the ideal solution is both and this is the challenge we always face. ‘Form follows function’ is a well known quote and for good reason. The challenge is to always add a little bit extra and unexpected to the function. Too often, people become complacent with things which actually do not really work that well. Our challenge, as designers, is to spot these complacencies.

Q. Where do you get your inspiration from and do you design with a particular consumer in mind?
A. We always design with ourselves in mind, as Martin and I the harshest critics. Our homes are filled with our own designs, which is a great way to really test the designs (although I am not sure what our wives think about this). Too often, designers will create products that they have no experience of really using and this is when products fail. Designs will only survive when they really work.

Q. Tell us about some of your new products and how best to use them?
A. Our two latest designs are the Hot-pot BBQ and the Lunchpot.
The Hot-pot BBQ is ideal for urban livers, where they may have limited outside room and do not want to have an unsightly barbecue taking up space, especially when it’s only used in the summer season.

By making it look like a plant pot, it can blend into your outside space and has the added functionality of being the perfect pot to grow your herbs in. You can then use these herbs to season the food you grill on the barbecue (rosemary is ideal). The grill itself is very easy to use. Simply fill it with charcoal, fire it up and away you go. We have also included great tongs that store neatly inside the BBQ and can also be used for lifting the grill surface when you want to stoke the charcoal. We have been doing a lot of barbecuing in the last few months (not a typical activity for a London Winter!), but the more we do, the more we learn. The secret is to wait until your charcoal is really hot (when the charcoal has turned white) and only then, start to cook. You may be tempted to rush into cooking, but the secret to good barbecuing is patience and also good quality charcoal.

The Lunchpot has two separate water tight compartments, so your food stays fresh and crisp and you do not arrive at work with some kind of soggy mix which bears little resemblance to breakfast or lunch. Things like granola and yoghurt, milk and cereal, noodles, rice and soups are easy to hold and the pots are microwave safe (BPA free). It’s simple to warm up you food, come lunchtime.

Q. Do you have a gadget or product on your ultimate design wish list?
A. We actively try to ban the word ‘gadget’ in our design studio, as we see these as products that you get given, you like it for the first five seconds (the time it takes to appreciate the idea) and then put in a drawer, because it is something that you very rarely use.

As for products, the list is pretty big. There are some really key products which we admire as being the benchmark of our profession. An obvious item would be the latest Apple product, but then it can be as simple as an antique corkscrew.

Q. What design problem / creation are you dying to solve, but haven’t found the solution yet?
A. We are currently working on a new shopping trolley design. This has been going on for over three years and has taken many different turns in direction. It is a really challenging project and hopefully one day we will solve it...or we will die trying!

Advice / Tips

Q. Shopping for products that have both form and function can be difficult...any tips for consumers?
A. In relation to design, always ask yourself would you really want it. If you are truthful with yourself then you have a better chance of designing something exciting and unique.

Will the item have a second hand value in a second hand design store in twenty years time (an antique of tomorrow)? If the answer is yes, then it is probably good design.


Q. What home / housewares stores do you love (anywhere in the world) and what do you love about them?

A. In New York, MoMA is one of our favorite stores.

In the UK, there is a store called Labour and Wait. It is a bit like an old-fashioned hardware store, which only sells hardwearing useful products and we always get inspiration from the products they carry.

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Q. Who in your field do you respect for their designs and which specific products do you like?
A. Jonathan Ive is often referenced and for good reason. As head of Apple Design, he has completely pushed the boundaries of manufacturing techniques and design standards. He has proven that with good design, you can enter a saturated market and become the brand of choice very quickly (the iphone). He has also proven you can create completely new markets that people would not have realized there was a market for before the design existed (the ipad). He also studied design at the same university as Martin and I.

Q. Products you would recommend for:
- its cleverness?

A. A folding UK three pin plug by a recent RCA design graduate. This might be harder for you guys in the US to appreciate, but any of you who have seen the bulky UK will appreciate the design.

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Q. If money is no object?

A. An Ikepod watch by Marc Newson.

Ikepod Watch HDP99

Photograph courtesy of Ikepod

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Q. Good bang for the buck?

A. An old-fashioned Swiss stainless steel potato peeler...although once you have one, you will not need to buy another one.

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Q. Favorite hidden design gem in London that shouldn’t be missed?
A. Possibly less well known to the public than the Conran shop, but Aram in Covent Garden is an amazing store to visit with lots of design classics and an amazing heritage.

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Q. Favorite restaurants in London /or anywhere else in the world, for its design aesthetic ...but also has great food ?
A. Whenever I am in New York, I love going to Diner in Brooklyn. It has great food, cozy atmosphere and the traditional diner interior makes you feel like you have gone back in time and are in a Edward Hopper painting.

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Q. Favorite traditional pub in London or in the U.K. that shouldn’t be missed?
A. I actually live in the UK’s smallest county called Rutland. This is two hours north of London.

The Exeter Arms - Barrowden

Photograph courtesy of The Exeter Arms

There are lovely limestone villages (similar to the Cotswolds) and we have a fantastic local pub which brews its own beers. They have benches in front of the pub which look over the village green and down the doesn’t get much better than this. It is called the Exeter Arms and is in Barrowden.

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Q. Favorite place to grab a drink in London for its design aesthetic or some interesting quirk... and also has great drinks:
A. Above our design studio is the OXO Tower restaurant, owned by Harvey Nichols. It has great cocktails and an amazing terrace overlooking the River Thames and St. Paul’s Cathedral.

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Details of Dan Black’s recommendations for design stores, restaurants and pubs in London, England, and New York.



Dan Black’s recommendations for design stores, restaurants and pubs in London, England, and New York.


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Dan Black and Martin Blum on what makes a black + blum product. See more of their videos.

Q & A