Listen to Benjamin Hubert, founder and creative director of design agency LAYER, discuss his very first collaboration with Danish audio brand Bang & Olufsen and the British designer will touch on the ideas of craftsmanship, sculpture, geometry and musical preferences. It soon becomes clear that the new ‘Beosound Balance’ (£1,750) is a speaker that’s about more than just technology. That technology is incredibly impressive, though, distilling many of the audio abilities of B&O’s top-end ‘Beolab 90’ – a literal heavyweight of a speaker that weighs 100s of pounds – into a design that looks perfectly at home on a coffee table or shelf.
We met up with Hubert and Gavin Ivester, B&O’s vice president, design, to dissect the delicate balancing act involved in creating a powerful speaker capable of room-filling music that can also disguise itself, peacefully, in any interior. Here, Hubert shares his insights…
How did your collaboration with Bang & Olufsen begin?
They came to us initially, but, of course, it was a bit of a dance. Where LAYER sits, is we have a couple of toes in the furniture world and we do a lot of more hardcore strategic work. Products like the ‘Beosound Balance’ sit between those two spaces – you can clearly see the interiors influence, but there is a lot of intelligence inside it as well. Bang & Olufsen is a company that invests in design; they consider every detail and craftsmanship is very important to them. As a designer who has created things that are supposed to last a very long time in that furniture space, you are looking for that. It was about six months of just talking and getting to know each other. When you sit down with B&O’s technical team you are constantly learning. That’s what you want to do as a designer. When I get really excited about working with companies it’s because there is that potential. At LAYER, we are not experts in acoustics, but B&O definitely is. For us, that was like food.
What inspired the name ‘Beosound Balance’?
I think the answer is two pronged. Clearly there is a dual metaphor. There’s the fact of two things being visually balanced one on top of another, and the acoustic performance, which balances different types of audio experience within a compact package.
Did you take any influence from Bang & Olufsen’s back catalogue when beginning this project?
As a studio and brand we are quite forward looking, but having said that, if you go back to certain moments in the history of Bang & Olufsen, those products are forward thinking but also timeless. Their design is based on pure geometry and very clean silhouettes. Own-able silhouettes. Those overarching values were what we wanted to instil into the ‘Beosound Balance’. I’m a firm believer in using really pure geometry because it stands the test of time, but you can’t claim ownership of a cylinder or a circle. You have to start layering it with a richer sense of detailing. The shape of this speaker is slightly sculptural and unusual – most are simple monolithic blocks. We wanted to break up the design but not alienate people from it. There is a very fine line between those things.
How did you decide on the materials used here?
That was an iterative process. We looked at a lot of materials, but the bedrock of that exploration was always craftsmanship and dedication to quality. We love materials at LAYER and have a huge library, but one of the privileges of working with Bang & Olufsen is they share that mindset and more. We’ve used wood and neutral fabrics and those are some of the materials that have historically been used in other Bang & Olufsen products. It’s about carrying on a philosophy. Frankly we were surprised, in a good way. Our experience in the tech space is usually being asked to strip everything out and cut the cost, but here the materials are very honest.
Tell us a little about the design process…
The number of iterations, and the amount of discussion and reworking was quite high on this project, but you can see the end result of those questions being asked. It’s like a funnel, you’re narrowing and narrowing the design concept. We’ve worked on projects where you propose something and it goes right into production, but I always feel that when that happens you miss lots of tricks which a robust process of questioning would have helped you discover. As a designer, it’s refreshing to be able to have design conversations on an intellectual and philosophical level as well as a critical and engineering one. That can be rare to find.
What music do you listen to when you are designing?
I’d love to say that we had a playlist that helped us design this speaker, that would be romantic. Subliminally maybe, but there were other things that influenced it. Personally, I’m a big electronic music fan – much to my studio’s despair sometimes. I have to have something on in the background when I work. It doesn’t have to be pumping, but there has to be a rhythm. I am quite a methodical person, so I need methodical, bass-driven electrical music to keep the cogs whirring.
I particularly like Thom Yorke’s recent album. I was lucky enough to see him in Seoul at the end of last year. If you ever see someone like that in Asia it’s a super-weird experience because everyone is really polite. They only cheer when they are given permission from the artist. It’s quite a special experience. bang-olufsen.com; layerdesign.com
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