The Echo of Design That Touches
VON SANDY STRASSER
(Veröffentlicht in Das Produktkulturmagazin Ausgabe 2 2014)
Bang & Olufsen produce a unique and exclusive range of televisions, music systems, loudspeakers, telephones, and multimedia products that combine technological perfection with emotional appeal. Whether it comes to picture, sound, or design, the company strives to ensure that the customer always receives a full experience. Each product incorporates user interaction and ensures that the materials and finish work harmonize with moving mechanics, quality, design, and system integration. Provided with this kind of technical equipment every home becomes a perfect home that has no equal.
It all began in 1925: Peter Bang and Svend Olufsen had an idea for a new kind of radio that would run on mains electricity – quite difficult at the time given the power voltage fluctuations. From the start, Bang & Olufsen aimed to create quality products that provided innovative solutions. They set up their own company at the Manor House of Quistrup, south of Struer in Denmark. In 1927, the first commercially viable product, the Eliminator, was born. The Eliminator allowed a radio to be directly connected to the mains. The company has grown from a small local operation to become a global icon, combining technological and design excellence with the strongest possible emotional appeal. It stands for the opposite of mass production, which is vital to the exclusive aura surrounding all Bang & Olufsen products. The pioneering technologies, the innovative design and innate elegance, the time-honoured craftsmanship and honest use of real materials, the careful attention to detail and the passionate devotion to the complete experience – all these elements have made Bang & Olufsen one of the strongest and most widely recognized brands in the world. The distinctive range of quality audio, video, and multimedia products is based on a guiding principle which was first postulated by the two founders in the late 1920ies: “Enterprising is needed, a never-failing will to create only the best to persistently find new ways of improvement”. This vision has been passed on from one generation to the next. Today it is expressed by the ideal to reach maximum performance and quality in all their products, and to give their customers an unsurpassed experience when using their products. It is the company’s wish to let its products become part of the customers’ lives. To get a better sense of how Bang & Olufsen aims to achieve this, CEO Tue Mantoni provides some insight.
How do you manage to be permanently represented in the high-price segment of the market?
Tue Mantoni: We aim to make technology in a way that adds value to our products in their everyday use. The ambition is to combine technological experience with emotional appeal, and to adapt the most advanced technological products to the everyday lives and homes of our customers. Craftsmanship is part of our DNA. The materials we use are high-quality materials such as glass, aluminium, wood, etc., and we are known for setting extremely high standards in our quest to find the exact right materials to use in a product. A good example is that Bang & Olufsen holds one of the largest privately owned anodizing facilities in the world, and has over 50 years of experience with crafting, anodising and colouring aluminium material. And we continuously aim to push ourselves to become better at what we do.
Were there times in which your company had to deal with the declining buying power of consumers?
T. M.: Bang & Olufsen was founded in 1925, so we have experienced challenging market conditions over the years. As many other companies we were also affected by the financial crisis that started in 2008, but after challenging times, Bang & Olufsen has always come out stronger. This is one of the reasons that we can celebrate our 89th anniversary this year, with the launch of the BeoVision Avant, the television that moves.
How do you think the home of the future looks like in terms of electronics? What visions do you have?
T. M.: Although it is hard to predict the future, I do believe that Bang & Olufsen will keep on aiming at designing high performing products that appeal to all senses and fit into people’s homes. The world is getting more and more complex and the consumer electronics industry is as well, but I believe that the Bang & Olufsen approach to offering convenience and simplicity will always have a place – also in 2050. For more than 20 years, the company has followed its customers from room to room as they fully equipped their homes. Bang & Olufsen therefore has entered into new business partnerships in many B2B areas in recent years. Now you also collaborate with automotive partners like Audi, Aston Martin, and Mercedes-Benz. What exactly are the services that you offer?
T. M.: Bang & Olufsen specializes in the art of sound reproduction. Ever since 1925, we have aimed at putting the listener in touch with the music.
Since 2005, we are bringing our expertise into the car. Our starting point was that most people spend more than two years of their lifetime in a car – many times all by them- selves. This offers them a unique opportunity to listen to their favorite music. Nevertheless, we discovered that the quality and performance of car audio systems had not followed the rapid development of the car itself. With the launch of the first Bang & Olufsen sound system for a car, the top-of-the-line Audi A8 in 2005, Bang & Olufsen redefined the segment for car-audio by increasing the joy of ownership and use of the sound system. Today, Bang & Olufsen features sound systems for Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Aston Martin in more than 45 car models, available as a factory fitted optional feature for all car sound enthusiasts.
With the Bang & Olufsen Sound System you are able to bring the complete Bang & Olufsen experience with you on the road. Up to 19 speakers deliver surround sound playback resembling the sensation of a concert hall, while an integrated microphone constantly monitors changes in background noise adjusting the sound to ensure perfect playback. The customized speakers and the proprietary Bang & Olufsen technologies – Acoustic Lens Technology and the unique ICEpower technology – make it the best acoustic experience ever created for the car. And it does not stop here: Beyond pleasing the ears of the listeners, Bang & Olufsen’s sound systems also incorporate crafted aluminum details and moving loudspeakers that address the eyes and hearts of our customers.
His design is legendary, his approach inimitable. Hardly any other industrial designer has influenced shapes of everyday objects like Jacob Jensen. Especially his creations at Bang & Olufsen have popularized his distinctive way of making design in perfection. For Jacob Jensen the phrase “Less is more” is an attitude of life. From his beginnings as a designer, his vision was to be a leading international high-end brand of Danish and Scandinavian design. His style is composed of pure lines, simple forms and the contrasts of light and dark. He formed a unique and classic design language for many everyday products, always focused on the idea of radical purity and quiet beauty. Jacob Jensen sat down with us to talk about his philosophy and Danish design.
In 1958, you founded your first design studio. Over the following decades you developed the design language that changed our view of how hi-fi systems, telephones, watches, and many other products can look like. When did you discover your passion for design? Did you always want to be a successful industrial designer?
Jacob Jensen: Growing up, I had similar dreams to all other boys at my age; becoming a police officer, an astronaut, etc. However, relatively early in life I started creating things which gave me a lot of enjoyment, and by the time I was 16, it became natural for me to join my father’s studio. I have never looked back since. Together with our team in Denmark, Shanghai, and Bangkok, we have and will continue to contribute to the world by making beautiful design solutions in a sustainable way. Our mantra is quite simply to “Unjunk the world”. Now, whether I or we have become successful because of that, I will leave for others to judge.
The first product to bear the brand JACOB JENSEN™ was a wrist watch. Shortly after its launch it was included into the Design Study Collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. What did you feel when you realized you would receive this kind of honor?
J. J.: I was very young at the time. However, as my father in previous years had the invite of exhibiting his works as the only solo Scandinavian designer of his generation, the honor somehow came in naturally. In all honesty, I did not pay much attention to it at the time. However, later on in life, I understood the value of this great honor. I take the liberty of including a quote from the former Director of the Department of Architecture and Design at MoMA, Arthur Drexler: “In a thousand years, the ‘Design Collection’ – we hope – will be an invaluable treasure composed of some of the most beautiful cultural examples of our time. Many of them rival in beauty and importance with the best of what has survived from earlier civilizations.”
That was more than 25 years ago, but the JACOB JENSON™ 510 and 520 wrist watches are still produced today, and its enduring character continues to attract appeal. What do you think is the secret?
J. J.: They symbolize time in the expression of night and day. Their beautiful and simple design makes them appealing to many different cultures and demographics in the world.
Between 1964 and 1991 you created the look of products from the Danish company Bang & Olufsen. How do you remember this time?
J. J.: I was only 2 years old when my father and I got into the long-lasting relationship with Bang & Olufsen. It became an integral part of my childhood to hang out in the studio with my father, and of course later on in life, I understood the enormous impact that Jacob Jensen’s design method and style had on many categories of consumer products. I had the pleasure of being involved in creating some of the masterpieces for Bang & Olufsen when I joined the studio in 1978. And I think it is commonly known that the era when Jacob Jensen Design worked for Bang & Olufsen was their golden age. Last year we had the honorable nomination by CNN Blueprint: “12 best designs from the last 100 years” for the Bang & Olufsen Beomaster 1900/2400 designed by Jacob Jensen Design.
The range of JACOB JENSEN™ products currently includes even collections of jewellery and elements for kitchens and bathrooms. Where does your inspiration come from?
J. J.: I always say: A tasty soup will never come out of a package that only has to be heated for some minutes. You have to cook it yourself. Sourcing the right raw ingredients from the local farmer or market and dedicating some hours in making it from scratch will never fail to succeed. However, if you are a chef you will pay particular attention to these details, just as a musican would with music or any other profession for that matter. Our team of designers and me are tuned to value the creation of beautiful solutions.
Is there any difference between design and art?
J. J.: Yes, in my opinion the difference is that any serially manufactured product is a compromise between functionality, design, aesthetics, materials, price, etc. In contrast, art is a free creation without any economical agenda, at least when it is created. However, an artistic process and a design process share a lot of the same ingredients such as inspiration, sensitivity, and foremost hard work.
What is the most important kind of piece that you created? And why?
J. J.: As a co-creator, it would be my daughters. When it comes to design, it is the use of form that Jacob Jensen Design has developed and maintained over the last 60 years.
What is the last book you have read?
J. J.: “Winston Churchhill” by Roy Jenkins.
Picture credits © Bang & Olufsen