Humility is the point. Rejecting design’s recent love affair with maximalist flourishes and clever one-liners, DBA’s MO is to wrest innovation from simplicity, creating products that are both obvious and necessary. When the firm formally launches in May, its initial line will include housewares, small appliances, travel items, and stationery—a “holistic” view, as creative director Leon Ransmeier puts it, that fills diverse needs with single products rather than flooding any particular market with endless variations. Think of it as America’s answer to Muji or Plusminuszero, with an emphasis on sustainability. “In order for things to have a long-term lifespan, they have to have a timeless aesthetic,” says Erik Wysocan, DBA’s creative strategy director. “We want to reconsider the disposability of products and planned obsolescence,” he adds, which means DBA will prominently display replacement parts to ensure its products can be easily repaired. Eco-friendly materials are also a priority.
Ransmeier, 29, and Wysocan, 31, met as students at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1999. Upon graduating, Ransmeier spent a year in New York before moving to the Netherlands, where he and then-girlfriend Gwendolyn Floyd, working together as Ransmeier & Floyd, achieved some success with a polypropylene light shade that was picked up by Droog, as well as a dish rack that was included in the 2006 National Design Triennial at New York’s Cooper-Hewitt museum. While there, Ransmeier flirted with the Dutch brand of design-as-poetry, with its charred pianos and honeybee-constructed vases, but soon came to see “all that heavy-handed conceptualism as unnecessary,” he says.
DBA will launch its first three products—the Humidifier, a water-purifying pitcher that accommodates a number of commercial filters, and an evolution of the Ransmeier & Floyd dish rack—during New York’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair in May. Future offerings, ranging from a tote bag, a space heater, and an electric fan to a glass water bottle and a pen with nontoxic ink, will follow.
But you won’t find them stacked high in any Muji-style emporiums. DBA is rethinking retail, too: While the company will initially focus on online sales, its ambition lies in a series of guerrilla-style “micromarts,” a web of small outlets situated in, say, an old newsstand kiosk, a shop-in-shop, or other interstitial spaces. “Instead of pumping cash and other resources into a flagship, we see it as a decentralized network that allows us to grow organically,” Ransmeier says. Anything else, after all, would seem somehow unnecessary.
Aric Chen is a contributing editor at I.D.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY IAN ALLEN