People, Products

Interview: Designing Around the LED Stephen Blackman, CEO and Chief Design Officer, Blackjack Lighting

Stephen Blackman
President & Chief Design Officer
Blackjack Lighting

This content is part of the luxe design series. Check out other posts featured on the topic.

Stephen Blackman founded Blackjack Lighting and serves as President and Chief Design Officer. Blackman’s fixtures can be seen in thousands of installations around the world. His designs for Blackjack Lighting have garnered a variety of industry awards including several Lighting For Tomorrow Awards presented by the American Lighting Association., Underwriters Laboratories and the Consortium For Energy Efficiency.

Steve Jobs once quoted Henry Ford in saying “‘If I’d ask customers what they wanted, they would’ve told me a faster horse.’ People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” What is your approach to product development at Blackjack?

We design around the technology of the LED.

Stephen Blackman, BlackJack Lighting

We approach product development at Blackjack Lighting by thinking about what LEDs can do that other light sources (incandescent, xenon or fluorescent) cannot do.  We design around the technology of the LED. The LED can be combined in many ways to create sophisticated, illuminated 3D shapes, impossibly thin forms, and incorporate translucent materials that were never considered able to be used with very hot light bulbs before. We try and let the LED do what it does best and not try to design around an “A” lamp with screw-in socket (even if it is an LED “A” Lamp) screwed into a traditional incandescent socket.

How has the decorative lighting industry evolved in the last few years with respect to LEDs? Has the pace of adoption been what you anticipated?

The higher end of decorative fixture design started off at a disadvantage in the LED area. LEDs allow you to do a lot of exciting things but it is not always easy to do. In the past all a designer had to do was to design a beautiful chandelier and put a few sockets on the arms and let the end user buy some light bulbs and that was that. 

Now with LEDs, the manufacturers are responsible for designing the LED PC boards, decide what driver to use and where to place it in the fixture, how to allow the user to replace the light source in the field and also allow the end consumer a choice of color temperatures, and control options for each fixture. 

New technologies like LED tape (in reels) are becoming easy to work with and allow for creative companies to once again to more easily bring something new to lighting fixture design without having to have a degree in electrical engineering.

What are some of the advantages of being an early adopter in this area of decorative LED applications? What are some of the challenges you faced?

Fortunately, there are still many new technologies springing up around LEDs that are still open to explore.

As an early adopter, I very much like to be the first one to seize on a new illumination light source or fabrication method that will create something unique and awesome. 

However, as many design pioneers have found, sticking your neck out with new technology and fresh designs is fun and sometimes works out well but as the owner of a business you have to have a good balance of tried-and-true designs that sell every day that grow the company and then after that you can put your designer’s hat on and experiment with being an early adopter.

Sometimes you hit a home run with a new design, and sometimes you just have fun trying something new.

How did your approach to the industry and the customer change as you transitioned from a lighting designer to a manufacturer?

As a designer of lighting products, I was always interested in being unique and bringing something new to the table to help differentiate my decorative designs from those of my competitors. There are nuances we can add to our designs that increase the appeal to our customers. Of course, if we can lower the price that is always welcome, but our ability to offer a range of design and performance options sometimes makes a good design even more attractive to specifiers. 

And as a manufacturer, I have learned that we get a wide range of modification requests. When we develop new lighting fixtures, we engineer them with the specifier in mind.  Great looking designs that can easily be engineered and modified to fit their needs. We make it easy for our customers to get truly what they are really looking for.

Are there any standout luxe design applications or projects you can talk about?  

Our projects at Blackjack Lighting are like our children, I would like to tell you about all of them. The challenge of doing something new is what is always exciting to me.

We have started to add RGB color-changing lighting to our line with a project in Chicago. We were able to create a ceiling full of pendants that were arranged across the open space in a three-dimensional undulating pattern. On top of this, the flow of the color-changing programmed patterns moving down the long dimension of this fixture made this a spectacular sight.

RGB Color-Changing Ceiling Pendant for a Project in Chicago

We have developed fixture systems that create three-dimensional groupings of patterns of mini pendants that grace large entry lobbies and conference rooms in many buildings. A couple that come to mind are an athletic facility in Arizona, and the three-story conference room in New York.

Mini-Pendant Groupings, Athletic Facility, Arizona

Conference - BlackJack Lighting - NY
Mini-Pendant Groupings, Three-Story Conference Room, New York

For residential fixtures I am happy with the amazing success we have had with our Starburst Chandelier.

It is a classic that creates a unique look that works singularly over a dining table or as multiples in a large retail store.

Starburst Chandelier

Our new Facets Chandelier (below) is another customer favorite.

Facets Chandelier

Both fixtures are great examples of reimagining how LEDs can be embedded inside the fixture bodies to technically light up chandeliers in new and exciting ways.

Stop by the Blackjack Lighting booth at LightFair to see their latest decorative LED fixtures.

LightFair will showcase the latest in lighting design and technology from your favorite brands, familiar manufacturers and first-time exhibitors. Register here to discover what’s new in lighting.

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