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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.
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Seven Question for Poketo’s Angie Myung

It’s been ten years since Poketo burst on the scene with a line of cheap, cheerful, and highly collectible vinyl wallets emblazoned with art by the likes of Gary Baseman, Tim Biskup, and Jillian Tamaki. “Having a Poketo wallet is like having a traveling art show with you at all times,” say founders Ted Vadakan and Angie Myung (pictured), whose thriving e-store and Los Angeles shop now offers an ever-changing assortment of must-have goods, from colorful pens and perfect planners to apparel (we suggest the socks) and homegoods (check out the Japanese enamel saucepan). As they packed their Tyvek totes with the latest and greatest Poketo wares to show at NYNOW, the home and lifestyle tradeshow that opens Sunday at the Javits Center, we asked Myung to tell us more about the origins of the company, memorable moments, and what’s been flying off the virtual and physical shelves this summer.

1. How did Poketo come to be?
We really didn’t mean to start a business when we started Poketo in 2003. It was a total accident. We didn’t come from a business background. Ted was a filmmaker and I was going to school for graphic design. We were throwing a lot of art shows with friends who were artists in San Francisco. They were always a lot of fun but none of the art sold as we just couldn’t afford them. So, one day, we decided to make something that was affordable, and that’s when the Poketo Artist Wallets were born.

We had another art show and along with the original art on the wall, we sold wallets with the same artwork. The wallets were an instant hit and we totally sold out that night! We walked home that night with butterflies in our stomach and couldn’t wait to release another series. Gradually, Poketo took up more time. In the beginning, we worked different jobs and it wasn’t until two years later that we were working on Poketo full time.

2. How did you come up with the name “Poketo”?
Poketo (pronounced poh-KEH-toe) got its name through my Korean grandmother’s mispronunciation of the word “pocket.”

3. If you had to describe the Poketo aesthetic/philosophy in just three words, what would they be?
Fun, colorful, and modern
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Spotted: Elusive White Moleskine Notebook

We’re known for our aversion to beige, but white? We can’t get enough of the sum of all colors (and recently spent far too many hours scouring the marketplace for a white computer monitor, eventually having to settle for a silver one from a mysterious Korean company). So we’re pleased to report that Moleskine has finally seen the light. The brand built on ‘lil black jotters is introducing white notebooks, something they toyed with a few years ago in a limited-edition created for Yoox. The new range, complete with white elastic band, bookmark, and expandable inner pocket, is available now on the Moleskine e-store. Ready to shift into full-on back-to-school-mode? Check out Moleskine’s first U.S. Store, which opened earlier this year at New York’s Time Warner Center.

Phaidon Debuts Architecture Travel Guide App

The Phaidon Atlas of 21st Century Architecture and The Phaidon Atlas of Contemporary World Architecture are inspiring sourcebooks for the ages, but as with many authoritative, lushly illustrated volumes, it is impossible to fit them in one’s pocket, unless one has very special pants. Fear not, culture-conscious traveler, because Phaidon has just released The Phaidon Architecture Travel Guide App, an iPhone- or iPad-ready resource that’s yours for $3.99 from the iTunes store. With some 1,500 projects from 840 architectural practices (cherrypicked from both atlases), the app can be browsed by location, project, practice, and building type. Plus, the bookmarking options make it easy to create a “To See” list of architecture marvels around the globe. And travelers, take heart: no Wi-Fi or 3G is required to run the app.

Got an app we should know about? Drop us a line at unbeige [at] mediabistro.com

In Which John Hodgman Deftly Compares Corn on the Cob, Typewriters, and 3D Printers

We first discovered the genius that is John Hodgman in late 2005, when we spent Christmas reading aloud to our family (and anyone else who would list) the lists of “hobo facts” and wacky state mottoes (e.g., Nebraska: “Birthplace of Unicameral Government!”) in The Areas of My Expertise. That inspired volume, the first in his since triumphantly completed trilogy of Complete World Knowledge, would go on to catalyze Hodgman’s transformation from a literary agent-turned-magazine writer to global renown as an author of fake trivia books, The Daily Show‘s resident deranged millionaire, judge, and most recently, star of his own Netflix special. In addition to the highly enertaining Judge John Hodgman Pocast, he adjudicates disputes (in 100 words or less) in a wee column of The New York Times Magazine, and his latest is a doozy:

Sophia writes: My father eats corn horizontally. I eat it in a circular motion. I believe that his way of eating is inefficient. Could you please issue an injunction stating that the proper way to eat corn is in a circular motion?
Your father eats corn that way because, as I do, he remembers what a typewriter is. It’s hard for us to see a roller-food and not proceed left to right before returning to the next line. Sometimes I even hear a bell ring. You dismantle your corn like a 3-D printer in reverse: vertical stack by vertical stack. Your argument from efficiency is specious, so I find in your father’s favor: I would rather look like Hemingway while eating than like some kind of mechanized chipmunk any day.

Adobe Illustrator, in a Class by Itself

Mediabistro continues to heed your cries for more design courses, and July is all about Illustrator. Over two weeks of online learning, budding ad designers will get up to speed on the software under the guidance of veteran art director Andrés Jimenez, who has designed everything from a website for the Jay-Z/Iconix clothing brand Artful Dodger to a NASCAR paint scheme for Jackson Hewitt. All we ask is that you use your newfound colors and gradients knowledge for good. As Spider Man‘s graphic designer cousin Gene once said, “With great special effects and filter skills come great responsibility.” Learn more here.

Stratasys to Buy MakerBot in $403 Million Deal

Big news in the extruded molten thermoplastic, layered photopolymer world of 3D printing: privately held MakerBot has agreed to merge with Stratasys in a stock-for-stock deal valued at $403 million (based on Stratasys’ stock price at yesterday’s market close). The deal is expected to close by October.

Founded in 2009, Brooklyn-based MakerBot is the most recognized name in desktop 3D printers–its Replicator 2 will be available on Amazon later this month–and Stratasys, formed last year by the merger of Stratasys and Objet, plans to preserve the MakerBot brand, management, and “spirit of collaboration it has built with its users and partners.” CEO and co-founder Bre Pettis will continue to lead MakerBot, which will operate as a separate subsidiary of Stratasys. “We have an aggressive model for growth, and partnering with Stratasys will allow us to supercharge our mission to empower individuals to make things using a MakerBot, and allow us to bring our 3D technology to more people,” said Pettis in a statement announcing the deal. MakerBot has sold approximately 22,000 3D printers to date. Next up for the company: the MakerBot digitizer desktop 3D scanner, which promises “a quick and easy way to turn the things in your world into 3D designs you can share and print.”

Quote of Note | Kevin Systrom

Ansel Adams is probably the one who got me into photography. We have a button in the app called Lux, which makes everything look contrast-y and beautiful; that was heavily influenced by Adams. I’ve always been a fan of landscapes. I rarely take photos of people. I’m awkward. I don’t like holding up a phone in front of someone’s face.”

-Kevin Systrom, co-founder of Instagram, in an interview with Garage magazine

Ansel Adams, “Evening, McDonald Lake, Glacier National Park,” part of a series commissioned in 1941 by the U.S. National Park Service. The photo mural project was scuttled by World War II.

Seven Question for Rad and Hungry Founder Hen Chung


Hole reinforcers and pencils from Costa Rica, and Hen Chung in Istanbul.

Around the world in 80 writing utensils? That’s one way to describe Rad and Hungry, which aims to take lovers of interesting office supplies on a “world tour of limited-edition goods with lo-fi style, pushing design through travel and travel through design.” Founded by former graphic designer Hen Chung in collaboration with fellow globetrotters Sam Alston and Laura Dedon Oxford, the online shop assembles an ever-changing selection of country-themed kits stocked with imported pens, pencils, stationery, and other exotic desk goodies, all beautifully packaged. A Rad and Hungry subscription is the perfect gift for the design lover who has everything—except thumbtacks from Lisbon.

“We really try to make each kit speak to our travels in that country–the people we met, food we ate, design we saw,” Chung tells us. “As each layer is unwrapped, people share in our low-down travel. The whole experience transforms the lo-fi, often overlooked daily-diet goods into something sacred. Our ultimate goal is to connect far-flung groups of people who love style, design, and travel as much as we do.” She made time between scouting trips to answer our questions about creating the company, her favorite finds, and what’s currently on her desk.

What led you to create Rad and Hungry?
I was a graphic designer for ten years and it became time for me to move on. I knew I wanted to combine the things I love most—travel and design. One day I was sitting in my library room thinking about what my next move would be. I was staring at a section of shelves that store journals that I collected from my travels. They were all untouched–they were inexpensive journals I picked up in places such as corner shops and pharmacies. Didn’t matter that none of the pages contained any words or images, they were all so sacred to me because they reminded me of each country. And then it hit me—create a company that allows me to travel and share daily-diet design through office supplies.

You travel the globe hunting for new stuff to include in Rad and Hungry kits. What are some of your favorite finds of all time?
Probably my favorite item to date is the Soviet-era notebooks in the Latvia Kit. I love the yellowing pages, the faded mint covers, and the simple rubber-stamped logo. Close seconds are the copper-colored paper clips from our first Germany Kit and the flower-scented pencils from the Portugal Kit. I love the paper clips because they’re so opposite of what people expect of German goods—they’re delicate and not uniform in shape. And the pencils from Portugal are amazing. Their smell is unreal. Super fragrant but not in the cheap perfume sort of way. They’re made by an old pencil factory that’s still in business after all these years. I’m always stoked to discover a company with a lot of history ‘cause I’m a firm believer that old school is best!

You’re packing for a desert island and can only bring one writing utensil. What is it?
Hands down a goldenrod pencil. I figure I’ll be able to create a tool to sharpen it and find something to write on. But I don’t know what I’d do if I need a fire, hurting for wood and have to make the ultimate decision between fighting off the cold or having a trusty number 2 pencil.
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Can Yves Behar Lock Up the Market for Virtual Keys?

The only thing standing between you and your Yves Behar-designed pill cases, condoms, and personal fizzy-lifting-drink maker is your front door. Good news: Behar’s got an app for that, and it may make your keychain obsolete. The designer has teamed up with entrepreneur Jason Johnson on August Smart Lock, which debuted yesterday at the D: All Things Digital conference (watch the demo below, in which the founders emerge on the stage to the strains of “Let My Love Open the Door”).

The system, which installs over an existing deadbolt and makes it possible to open doors with a smartphone, is the latest entry in a nascent smart lock market that includes Lockitron and Unikey. In developing August, which will begin shipping by the end of the year for $199, the goal was to “to make home entry magical, safer than keys or keypads, and something that makes our lives a little better,” according to Behar, who describes both the branding and the app’s user interface as “warm, friendly, and elegant.”
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