'My Life In Design' is a new interview series where we speak to a leading designer, creative director or influencer – basically, someone who acts outside mainstream industry standards to make their mark on the world - to get them to share their secrets. But rather than a regular interview, we let them tell their story in their own words. First up is James Melia, Founder of London-based design studio Blond; the innovative design studio that sews its subtle, muted and unobtrusive design seeds across various disciplines including Industrial Design, Product Design, Branding, UX & UI, Packaging and Visualisation. James, and the entire Blond studio for that matter, do this through a collective belief that ‘good designs answers questions’ and ‘striving for simple solutions to what are often complex problems.’ Naturally, we wanted to not only know more, but we wanted to find out how they do it and what we can expect from the British brand that is redefining the aesthetics of modern, multi-functional design. So, read on for James’ take on mentors, mistakes and what it takes to be a success in the modern design world.

What was your first job?

I had many jobs as a youngster; Landscape Gardener, Labourer and for a short time I built timber framed houses for a company in Yorkshire, too. Every job was ‘hands-on’ and involved building something. However, the first job which can be considered as part of my design career, following a degree in Furniture and Product Design, was for an Industrial Design consultancy in London.

What are your earliest memories of design? In the respect of being aware of design and analysing how it works, looks etc.

I have been fascinated by how things work since before I can even remember, really. I knew very early on that my path would involve building, fixing things or solving physical problems, probably from the age of around 12 or 13. Which has been a blessing.

What was the first piece of design you fell in love with?

I remember it so clearly – it was the Eames Rocking Chair. Something about the organic shell and beautiful proportions really resonated with me. I now have a limited-edition, leather-clad version at home, which is something I treasure.

Is there a single piece of design that defines your childhood?

I don’t know about ‘defines’, but the one that stands-out the most was a VW Golf MK1 Convertible. My first car, which I have very fond memories of. It was bronze, had a white roof and was constantly breaking down. Once, I mistakenly took it thought a car-wash after a typical school prank involving flour – it turned out that 70’s convertibles were not water-tight. In hindsight, it was a mistake purchasing vintage car, I couldn’t afford to keep it running, but when it was running it was a lot of fun.

What was the catalyst for you stepping into the design world?

My path to the design world was muddled to say the least. Due to my fascination with building and fixing, I originally thought I would be an engineer, and so, I enrolled onto a foundation course at Loughborough University. I quickly realised as the course progressed that engineering was not right for my developing passion for design. I needed to follow a more artistic career path. So, after completing my course I applied for a place at Nottingham Trent University through ‘clearing’. I was lucky, I got one of the few remaining spaces. I fell in love with artistic culture in Nottingham; the music, art, design. I suppose the city itself was one of the biggest catalysts.

You founded your own studio in 2014. Over the last four years, what have been the biggest changes to Blond?

Every business is developing and changing each day, however it became clear when I thought back to those early days – just me in a bedroom, cold-calling clients, no products to display and working every minute in the day. We are now a team of five, working with some of the world’s most forward-thinking and exciting brands. So, I suppose the biggest changes were; the first full-time employee, the first big contract, the first product to market. Those first steps were the building blocks to getting Blond to where it is today.
Opumo

What have you learned along the way? Has your love for design changed at all?

My love for design and my approach has remained unwavering. The biggest learning-curve has been client acquisition, something that is never taught and must be learnt along the way. To start- off I was nervous and admittedly, not very good. The change came when I stopped being nervous and starting to think of my clients as friends. Naturally this made the relationships stronger, more fun and productive – leading to word-off mouth referrals and ironically; almost rendering the acquisition process redundant.

There’s an old adage in football that ‘you’re only as good as your last game’, do you believe the same to be true in design? I mean, is it always good to look as yourself as new and with something to prove in order to get the best from your work?

I’d agree with that, for sure. If not literally, perhaps as an ethic; as I think it is very important to remain humble, try to learn on each-and-every project and keep progressing your skills.

Do you believe designers ever retire? Can you ever stop creating or reacting to create solutions to problems?

Professionally perhaps. However, we are problem solvers by nature and even after professional retirement – there will be problems that present themselves, I think it will be impossible to resist the need to solve them.

When do you know a design is finished?

In an ideal world I would say; when you have found the most simplistic and elegant solution to the problem. In reality however, it does come down to time and budget. But it is the restrictions, including budget and time, that make the job interesting. Without them the line between ‘art’ and ‘design’ starts to get blurred.

What is it that drives you?

Seeing a concept become a reality. Holding the product in your hand after months or even years of design and development. That moment is really special.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were 21?

That I didn’t know everything. That I was going to learn more in the approaching decades than I could possibly imagine, and importantly; that this would be the joy of the career path.

The dirty little secret about design is that...

there is a lot of emailing.

A designer is only as good as...

their team.

I don’t think design should be...

purely aesthetic.

The last piece of design that took my breath away was...

The Press Mirror by Philippe Malouin for Umbra Shift

The one dream item that I could have in my home is...

Naoto Fukasawa’s Hiroshima Chair

The piece of design I am most proud of is...

Rivington Glassware for Yod and Co.
Blond Studio
Keep up to date with all of Blond's work on Instagram, @BlondCreative.