Interviewed: Robin Sansom – Brand Manager at Blackburn Design Aug 24, 2014

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Photo by Spencer J Harding

As both a “journalist” and a consumer, I get really excited when I see something new coming from a brand, especially one with a history like Blackburn. In recent months, I’ve gotten to know the brand a bit better, both through their Meet the Rangers program and from a product perspective. I’ve seen a few of their forthcoming products, many of which I think you’ll be stoked on but before those roll out, I thought you’d appreciate a little Q&A with the brand.

To give the readers of the Radavist some insight into Blackburn’s modus operandi, I reached out to brand manager, Robin Sansom for an interview.

Read on below!


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The Radavist: Robin, you recently took over the reigns at Blackburn, correct? How long have you been in the brand management position? How many people do you have working at Blackburn currently?

Robin Sansom: I have been leading Blackburn for less than two years, but I have actually aged nearly four years in the same time … we have done so much great/fun stuff with the brand. Although we have a tight crew that includes designers, engineers and product folks, we are all very focused on making sure every product meets the standards of the brand.

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The Radavist: For those of us who have never seen your offices (how is that possible?!) could you describe the work environment and the various roles of your co-workers? Who does what and who gets paper balls thrown at them the most?

Robin Sansom: I sit in the Blackburn Advanced Research Facility, or BARF for short. We’ve taken a modest lair of cubicles and transformed them into a small bike shop for rigging up test bikes. Our desks are nearby and the space is littered with samples and drawings from Blackburn’s past, present and future. Elsewhere in the building we also have a prototype shop and test lab.

Jim Blackburn was an industrial designer who also had an eye for hiring great design talent (Jim Gentes and Robert Egger, among others). They understood the needs of the user and made a connection with them through design. We are now recommitted to that ethos, and our designers along with the product experts, look at the world through the Blackburn lens to dream up new concepts. Engineers are in from the beginning as well, making sure the dreams are grounded in reality … or perhaps encouraging them to be bigger. Paper balls flying everywhere …

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The Radavist: Now that we’ve got an understanding of how many people are behind the brand, what’s the biggest challenge working as a team, designing products?

Robin Sansom: Until recently, the primary challenges revolved around having a shared vision of the brand. We also can’t agree which tall beer is the best, but I’m certain we will sort that out with enough testing and “offsite meetings”.

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The Radavist: Do you spend more time designing in the office, or out on the bike?

Robin Sansom: I’m always designing. At my desk, on the bike, surfing, in the shower or shop … for better or worse, my brain’s Solidworks is always running. I know our designers are built the same way. I’m writing this to you on a road trip from the Oregon coast back to my house in Santa Cruz, camping along the way … a great way to free the mind and look at things in anew.

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Photo by Spencer J Harding

The Radavist: What was the biggest void you felt needed addressing with the new Blackburn line?

Robin Sansom: I grew up with this brand. Not only installing Blackburn racks for customers as a shop rat, but also using them on long tours in my youthdom. When I had the opportunity to work with the brand again, sure I saw a voids in the product line, but that is always the game. The bigger void was the brand itself, and how it had little resemblance of what I remembered and cherished about it. The first task was to ask seemingly stupid, but very important questions like: Who are we? Why do we exist? How do we go about making things? What people do we serve? We’ve answered these and many other questions about the brand, many of them by simply looking at the past, and now have a very succinct vision that is shared by everyone here. Given the length of time it takes to develop products, you will just only now begin to see the new/old vision of the brand come to life.

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Photo by Spencer J Harding

The Radavist: I’ll be pretty straight forward, for me, seeing your Eurobike booth last year piqued my interest in the company. Using Brian Vernor and Chris McNally to help capture the visual essence of the brand was the right move ATMO, how did that come about?

Robin Sansom: I watched the debut of Vernor’s film Where Are You Go at a local theatre several years ago, which is about a cross continental “race” from Cairo to Capetown. The film was adventurous, artful, fun and inspiring. There was no other photographer I wanted to work with for Blackburn. For illustration, we had a particular style in mind that we showed around, and someone eventually pointed us to Chris. When I told Vernor about this great illustrator, he just kinda shrugged as if saying “of course” and mentioned they were good friends. From there we embarked on a photo/illustration bike trip, which resulted in the bonanza of great imagery you saw. We did another trip this year along the lost coast, with similar results . . . I think this will have to be a tradition.

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Photo by Spencer J Harding

The Radavist: Let’s be honest, there are tons of pumps, lights, racks and bags out there, what makes Blackburn different from the competition? No cheesy answers!

Robin Sansom: I suppose the biggest difference is that we now have a point of view and aren’t just making widgets. All of our new products strive to meet the standards of people who want to go farther, do more and be ready for anything. Maybe I am in the borderlands of cheesy when I say these principles can apply to blinky lights as easily as bikepacking bags, or opening price point vs. premium products, but I really do believe it.

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Photo by Spencer J Harding

The Radavist: PR&D is essential in the design phase, what kind of riding do you like to do to test out your gear?

Robin Sansom: Santa Cruz is a great place for all the riding tribes. A really good day of testing would be the surf and turf: ride my cargo or beater bike to the point and surf early in the morning, then take the dirt dropper up to work on roads and neighborhood trails . . . and rip single track back to town on the mt. bike with a stop down by the river for a tall one. Daily rides like this along with overnight trips by our staff, Rangers and friends are how we field test the gear.

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The Radavist: Finally, what’s your favorite competitor’s product? Surely you have one! Don’t be shy…

Robin Sansom: I’m a fan of brands, as they ultimately define the products. There are so many good ones in our business to choose from, but Brooks is one that tops my list. Something like the Cambium saddle deserves a lot of respect.

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Many thanks to Robin at Blackburn for this Q&A. Follow Blackburn on social media: Facebook, Twitter and @BlackburnDesign.

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  • Nolen Brown

    What’s mounted to their forks in the first photo? They have a dry bag and bottle on there.

    • http://theradavist.com/ John Watson

      It’s a new Blackburn product…

      • Nolen Brown

        Cool beans

      • http://hopecyclery.blogspot.com/ Hope Cyclery

        is that the new blackburn anything cage…ala salsa, with a little bit more stability at the bottom

  • Benny Cruickshank

    Having worked alongside Robin, I can’t say enough nice things about the guy. He’s just a great human and I’m stoked to see him getting recognition. Nice interview John.

  • caliente

    the driveby photo is AMAZING. It needs a hashtag.

    • Felix

      #midskiddriveby
      I need a gun mount now. And a gun.

    • spencer harding

      #stuntpacking

  • Dan von Kram

    Tony Ton is the designer for Blackburn, shown in the image. Great job Tony!