Black, Sir Misha
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Misha Black was an industrial designer, interior designer and architect. His work and philosophy were a powerful influence on designers worldwide, from the 1930s to the present day.
Born in Baku, Azerbaijan, Black came to England when he was two years old. He was educated at the Dame Alice Owen School in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire. Black began designing posters at the age of 17, having had little formal training in design. In 1928, he designed the stand for the Rio Tinto Company at the Seville Exhibition in Spain. On his return, he gained some formal art training during a few months in Paris.
In 1933, he joined Charles and Henry Bassett and Milner Gray in forming the forerunner of the Industrial Design Partnership (later called the Industrial Design Unit) in London; this was one of the first design consultancies in Britain. Misha Black believed passionately in good design and was an able promoter of its benefits. He was a vocal member of every organisation or committee dealing with design. His interests were wide ranging, extending from work in product design, writing articles on exhibition design among other subjects, to designing the Kardomah cafs in London and Manchester.
Black married Helen Evans in 1935. When the Second World War started, he joined the Ministry of Information and was given the job of principal exhibitions designer. He also became involved in setting up a new design group, the Design Research Unit, in 1943.
Shortly after the end of the war, Black designed the 'Britain can make it' exhibition, held at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The exhibition was intended to boost morale by promoting the British manufacturing industry that was decimated after the war. Industry was to play a vital part in British post-war reconstruction. Black included a section called the 'benefits of good design', where he promoted good design as a force for social change.
The Festival of Britain, at which he coordinated the 'Upstream' section, established Black as one of the foremost exhibition designers in the country. He went on to work on many varied design projects throughout Britain and internationally. Black designed everything from saucepans to ocean liners. In 1955, Black was married again, this time to Joan Fairbrother.
In 1963, Black resumed his relationship with London Transport. He had already designed a number of posters for L.T. including 'London Transport at London's service' credited with John Barker in 1947.He became the design consultant on L.T's newly formed Design Committee.
Black worked very much in the vein of Frank Pick, the Chief Executive of London Transport, who had been responsible for the company's corporate image until 1940. However in the intervening two decades there had been no cohesive design vision directing L.T's operations. Like Pick, Black was concerned with 'fitness for purpose':
'We should approach each new problem from the base of practicality - how it can most economically be made, how it will function most effectively, how can maintenance be simplified, how can use of scarce resources be minimised?'
Black worked as a design consultant on the construction of the Victoria line, built 1968-71, coordinating every aspect of its design. Stations, trains, internal fittings and posters all had a unity of approach that had not been seen since Pick.
Black became Professor of Industrial Engineering at the Royal College of Art from 1959 to 1975. He also worked on the Underground system in Hong Kong and the small mammal house at London Zoo. One of his last designs was for decorative panels at Baker Street station in 1975.
He was knighted in 1972. He is still remembered in the annual Sir Misha Black Memorial Award, which is granted to people for distinguished contribution to design.
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