Case Study: Black + Blum on Market Research
Black + Blum are an Anglo-Swiss design partnership, Dan Black and Martin Blum, who joined forces in 1998. Over the last ten years they have become known from their iconic home accessories that combine functionality with humor and style. Their designs have won numerous awards and are sold through selected stores all over the world. With so much experience creating internationally successful product lines Design Event asked University of Northumbria graduate Dan Black about how they have used market research to grow their business.
How has Black + Blum used market research to help make decisions about the types of product lines you produce and the sales mechanisms you use?
We do not really carry out any formal market research. We exhibit at eight international trade fairs a year and this gives us a very good idea of new designs and what is coming to market. We don't use this to influence our designs, it is actually probably quite the opposite. At trade fairs, you can see what is classed as the hot product and we actively try to avoid being a company, which follows trends.
When did you first realise the importance of market research and how valuable is market research to your business?
Most of the design briefs that we set ourselves for designing new products, come about through observation rather than conducting surveys. We observe the products around us that we use on a daily basis and make judgments accordingly. It’s easy to become blinded by things, which are not practical that you learn to put up with every day.
The market research we do carry out is on the internet. Google is an amazing tool once you have come up with the idea. It gives you a great chance to see how international markets vary, what price points are acceptable and even how colour and finish popularity can vary between countries.
Has market research become more or less important as you've grown?
The more products we design, I think the more in tune we become with what the market needs and rely even less on market research. We appreciate that Sir Clive Sinclair probably thought this before launching the Sinclair C5 and that we could fall flat on our faces with some designs. However, I do not think a really new design will come about if you relied on market research alone to tell you what to design and for whom. It is also more exciting relying on some gut instinct. I very much doubt Alessi would have had amazing feedback when they communicated to their buyers that they were producing a £60 lemon squeezer that does not work very well and yet, the Philippe Starck ‘Juicy Salif’ lemon squeezer has been one of their best sellers.
What market research techniques do you use and how have these developed over the years?
The only market research we do undertake is to sometimes show a prototype of a new design at a trade fair, but even this has to be carefully judged. Sometimes the public don’t have the same imagination as a designer to envisage a prototype in its finished production stage. We have sometimes had a poor reaction to a white model, but once the finished design launched, it has been a great success (our new lunchbox is a good example of this).
As previously mentioned we use the web (Google) to understand what designs are already on the market.
What advice would you give to new businesses approaching market research for the first time?
Get to know the market you are entering into. Understand the price points and what your competition is, but don't follow the competition or be too influenced by it.
Black + Blum: www.black-blum.com