Bang & Olufsen’s values of high-quality design and expert craftsmanship have been combined with the latest in sound and technology to create unique products for the home for almost 100 years.
Sound has always been at the heart of this brand and creating sound in a way that creates a unique experience for the customer. As technology has advanced so too have the designs and today Bang & Olufsen creates technological and design masterpieces that seamlessly fit into the home.
The latest creation of the Beovision Harmony is at first glance a television. But it is too a piece of art, created to enhance the design of the home, rather than disrupt it. With its unique design and incredible sound system, this is a TV like no other.
Heading up this project was VP of Design Gavin Ivester. Previously at Apple and many other global companies working within product design, Ivester joined Bang & Olufsen in 2018. He was always inspired by European design and so when he joined B&O it was a perfect pairing. As he unveils his latest design we talk to him on craftsmanship, creating beautiful objects and the future of home products after the global pandemic.
What would you like to share with our readers about the new Beovision Harmony 65” and 77”?
Beovision Harmony is Bang & Olufsen’s best-performing television ever. We’re passionate about delivering superior sound— that’s what gets us excited and in fact, it’s the very reason we design. With Harmony, we took extra steps to extend the life of the product, to make its acoustic performance truly exceptional, and to solve some real-world problems for the first time. The design, engineering, and craftsmanship that go into Beovision Harmony show Bang & Olufsen at our very best.
What makes these designs different from anything else on the market?
Firstly, we gave Beovision Harmony sound performance that can handle anything. The built-in speakers on TVs are often focused on the frequencies of human voices, so you can hear the dialogue. That’s important, but there’s a lot of excitement missed in many movies unless the higher and lower frequencies — especially the lower frequencies — are strong. External systems that cover those frequencies can be impressive but miss the dialogue. You need both. That’s what we designed into Beovision Harmony.
Secondly, we talk to our customers and partners about the experience of living with our products every day and we observe trends and make our projections about what our customers’ needs will be in future. In all of the conversations around that research, we realized one thing we never heard is that people love the big black rectangle on their wall. When the TV is off, it can be visually disruptive to beautiful interior design. To give our customers the best of both worlds took some very B&O-style invention. The Beovision Harmony essentially folds into a smaller form when not in use and the result is a more beautiful object when you aren’t watching something on the screen. Powered by a hidden mechanism, the speakers pivot inward to transform from a very wide rectangle for cinematic sound, to a narrower, taller shape that hides most of the TV screen as it sinks down into the Harmony. You have to see it in action, it’s quite a surprise and it’s a lot of fun to watch the transformation. In the down position, a margin of the screen is left exposed. That’s deliberate. You can still use Harmony as a powerful music system, so the exposed edges of the TV screen are there to show you what you’re listening to.
What can you tell us about the craftsmanship and techniques involved in the coming together of these products?
In Struer, Denmark where the company was founded, Bang & Olufsen has one of the world’s most impressive craftsmanship facilities specializing in aluminium. It’s one of my favourite places in the company because the team is so dedicated and inventive. From fabrication to finishing, they’ve developed techniques no one else has figured out yet. When you find a new way to make something, you’ve figured out how to design something truly original. They make all the beautifully crafted aluminium pieces on Harmony.
For the wood components, we partnered with the same company in western Denmark, Bjerrum Nielsen, that we’ve worked with since their founding in 1949 when they made radio cabinets. There’s a trust and respect there that can only be developed over decades and dozens of product models.… they actually made the wood cabinets for our TVs back in the 1950s and they know our level of craftsmanship because they were part of creating it. For Harmony, they go through 28 painstaking steps to craft the speaker grilles and the result is a product you want to keep for a long, long time.
What about the choice of materials – they are quite unique – what can you tell us about them?
The wood is the most interesting part of the materials story. The oak is sourced in Europe, and the walnut is from the US. All of it is FSC certified. One of our design principles is honesty in materials. If it looks like wood, it is wood, and if it looks like aluminium, it’s not a vinyl decal that resembles aluminium. It’s the real thing. We choose finishes carefully to enhance interior environments — Bang & Olufsen products aren’t meant to be hidden, they’re meant to be enjoyed and appreciated, and bring timeless beauty to environments. Working with materials and finishes that feel more like furniture than consumer electronics gives our pieces timeless, lasting value. They become part of your world.
How important is the visual aspect and appearance of the designs at Bang & Olufsen?
Our three brand pillars are sound, design, and craft. They work together: the reason we make products is to deliver goosebump-inspiring sound experiences, whether it’s the raw emotion of your favourite music or the feeling that you’re in the middle of a scene in your favourite movie. So sound is where everything starts. We are pretty precise about that. We map out the sound experience and the performance we need, then do the preliminary engineering to bring that to life in a product. We create options — different combinations of internal hardware that can deliver precisely the acoustics we know the final product must have in order to be the best in its class. From there we start design concepts. We brainstorm around the options, folding in what we’ve learned from talking to and observing users, and developing forms that solve the needs we’ve identified, create a statement, make it feel great to be around, or even surprise — it really depends on the product.
The look is incredibly important to us — we want our customers to feel something when they see our designs, and they should make the space around them look great too. For us, that comes from simple, powerful geometry and minimalistic detailing. It gives our products calm confidence. When the performance is really there, the design doesn’t have to shout. The thing about minimal, timeless designs is that when there are fewer distracting details, craftsmanship really stands out. It only works if the craftsmanship is extraordinary, otherwise, the flaws are obvious. That’s why we invest so much care and effort into beautiful materials and workmanship. It’s the secret to giving clean designs long-lasting value.
How does Bang & Olufsen balance the technology, creativity and appearance aspects of the design – is there one that comes before the others?
Our concept of luxury starts in performance. Making beautiful music out of digital code is a highly technical process, but our goal is to make the experience of using Bang & Olufsen products a very human experience. In a B&O product, technology makes those goosebumps possible, and it also empowers us to streamline the experience of using our products, so it’s highly forgiving and feels highly responsive. There’s no need for balance — it’s all there for the same purpose. The creative approaches we take to reimagining products to make them sound amazing and look beautiful rely on technology and craftsmanship to come to life.
Who is the Bang & Olufsen customer today?
There’s no single profile, but they have a few things in common: a passion for music, and appreciation for the finer things. Our customers love design, and they’ve experienced some of the best design in the world. They’re enthusiastic about life and expect excellence from themselves and the things they choose to have in their lives. They feel at home with Bang & Olufsen and some of them ultimately become collectors.
What do you think these customers are looking for from your products?
Beautiful design, stunning sound, exceptional build quality. They can see the lasting value of Bang & Olufsen products. For someone whose expectations are elevated by the best hotels and restaurants, gorgeous homes and luxury vehicles, B&O is the logical choice.
Of course, the world is currently facing a global pandemic. In every crisis there is always an opportunity – what do you think is something positive that will come from this terrible situation?
I’ve noticed a few things. First, when professional and creative conversations move online, borders melt and our ability to connect personally skyrockets. Rather than waiting for an infrequent trip to talk face to face, we have become more comfortable with streaming connections, whether it’s for a one-to-one discussion or a big meeting. The trip from my house to yours, or from my continent to another, takes just a few seconds and we do it more often. So the unexpected benefit is that while we’re separated, we feel more connected and things can move faster. My online meetings all start on time!
The home environment matters more than ever. We’re spending all our time there and not only seeing the benefits but noticing the shortcomings. Investing in the home feels like the right thing to do right now, whether it’s equipping a workspace or creating a gathering place for family.
What can you tell us about the plans for Bang & Olufsen for the second half of 2020?
Absolutely nothing, other than I am excited for it all to unfold!
Do you think the buying behaviour of customers is likely to change after coronavirus?
That’s going to be so different depending on profession and region, and everyone’s story is unique. I expect some pent-up demand to travel, whether it’s to catch up with faraway family members or just to get a change of scenery, but my sense is we’re all learning the value of home and the power of connecting virtually like never before. We’ll think twice before bringing something temporary into our homes because we may find ourselves spending all of our time there. It will be fascinating to see how it all plays out, but what never changes is the power of beautiful sound. Music can calm us or energise us, and movies can transport us to another time or place.
Of all the products that the brand has, what would you say is your favourite?
That’s a hard one for me because my favourite is always the next one in development, and I can’t talk about it yet. I am so proud of our team — from UXers to design managers, insights researchers to colour and material designers and the hugely talented outside designers with whom we collaborate constantly. My role is influencing the direction via our design principles, through the talent we choose to work on particular projects, and by inspiring everyone to understand what’s at the core of the brand. Striking the right emotional tone while elevating sound, design and craftsmanship is our daily challenge.
Since I can’t talk about future products, I’ll mention another recent release: Beosound Balance. As with Harmony, our vision was to make sound you can really live with and enjoy in your favourite interior space. Balance fuses a very interior-driven look and feel, crafted from substantial wood, textile, and satiny aluminium, with some incredible sound capabilities. It measures the acoustics in your room to calibrate itself, so it can project sound expansively in your space when you want to dive into a favourite piece of music, or it can focus sound in one direction if you need that. It’s all very easily chosen by a couple of touches on Beosonic in our app. It’s fun to use. Inside Balance, the bass tones are produced by two woofers that face each other. So when they play a big bass note, one speaker is moving up while the other is moving down at exactly the same time. That balanced movement of mass cancels out the vibration of the speaker itself, producing powerful bass sound but not shaking the floor. How it looks, how it’s made, and what it is able to do all make that vision for the product real.
I’m also a huge fan of our Beoremote 1, a product designed long before I joined the company. It’s our TV remote that is made in the most uncompromising way — the main body is milled from a single chunk of billet aluminium, which is an incredibly painstaking and expensive way to manufacture. Normally remotes are designed with a clamshell construction: imagine you have a little five-sided box with no lid, and you drop your electronics down into it. Pop on a lid with buttons, and there’s your remote. Super easy to make and assemble, but that’s not how we do it.
The Beoremote One is made from a long bar of aluminium that fits perfectly in your hand. It just feels right. Because it is cut from a single piece, there are no seams you can feel and no chance of them ever mismatching, creating tiny offsets that you notice as imperfections. Those surface mismatches make a cheap product feel cheap. Beoremote 1 doesn’t have them. To get the batteries to fit into the lower half, a very long mill has to bore out a pocket inside, an operation that takes a long time and is definitely not the efficient way to do it if you are thinking conventionally. But the result is a rock-solid, seamless, and flawlessly smooth remote whose centre of gravity settles right into the palm of your hand. It’s a magical piece of design, engineering, and manufacturing.
How would you describe Bang & Olufsen in three words?
Beauty, longevity, goosebumps.