For Torsten Valeur, 2015 marks the completion of two decades in the renowned group of David Lewis Designers. As a creator of audio luxury for Bang & Olufsen, the Danish designer believes that emotionally enduring design should remain invisible, like a chameleon. For hard-working Torsten, being fluent in the diligent craft of audiovisuals, above all, means taking steps with that very Scandi approach of mutual respect and understanding.
When did David Lewis Designers begin as a household name?
The office was founded by David Whitfield Lewis who moved from London to Copenhagen in the early 1960. He began to design Bang & Olufsen products as an employee at Jacob Jensen and Moldenhawer, then he went solo in late 1975 and founded the studio. I joined in 1995 and years later we made a generation shift that happened sooner than planned due to David’s sudden death.
How does timelessness come into play in Bang & Olufsen's design approach? What helps to capture the timelessness element without losing the emotional appeal of a product?
The whole aim is to make audio and video products that bring enduring magical experiences. When you first see a Bang & Olufsen product, you are attracted by its radically different, yet logical audiovisual shape. It's beautiful and desirable. It stands out from the crowd with its own strong personality. In everyday use, it should bring you joy and a feeling of getting more than just fulfilling the basic need - the feel that everything has been taken care of, and there is this little extra. This should stay the same for years making you wish to keep the product forever.
However, it is also about the pride and persistence put into creation and into production of a Bang & Olufsen product. Every single one of us wants to do all we can to achieve the best - this means not compromising due to indifferences and laziness. When you hold the product in your hand, like the BeoRemote One, you automatically sense that it is made with diligence, not sloppiness. Timelessness and emotional appeal are indistinctly related. If a design does not have a strong emotional appeal, it will never become timeless. Timeless is when something is so attractive that it breaks the time it is born in by keeping its attractiveness.
“If a design does not have a strong emotional appeal, it will never become timeless. Timeless is when something is so attractive that it breaks the time it is born in by keeping its attractiveness.”
What's your opinion on the recent design movement that has turned towards operating on a 100% transparency policy? How could we possibly make conscious and honest design more attractive to the consumer?
If we have to make every step visible, we might spend too much time telling people what we do, instead of using the time by doing what we really should do. The designing process is not straight and completely rational, going step by step. You have to allow the process to go in circles sometimes because that brings better results. However, I am a big fan of an open dialogue from A to Z between designers, engineers, specialists and others that can participate with knowledge and ways of problem solving. Especially during the later part of the process in which the design is developed to mass production, then is it important to have an open and honest dialogue among the participants.
Who are the key practitioners that you admire?
I tend not to observe what other designers are doing, because designing should never resemble to a closed community activity. Instead, I appreciate creativity that merges across people in parallel work fields. I look up to practitioners that come up with new ideas and break consensus by doing it upside down, yet in a completely logical way.
What personally allures you in the design of soundsystems? What defines the quality of a product?
I am not interested in filling up living rooms with stuff that draw attention by being visually noisy. Rather, I try to respect the idea that every room is the inhabitant's own unique space where they should feel at home. So my aim is that every design should be able to melt into any interior like a chameleon when you don't look at it directly. However, when you look at it directly it should have a strong identity, full of stance and opposition to indifferent products. To be more precise, a speaker must look like a music instrument playing wonderful sound, yet it should melt into the interior and become almost invisible, when it is not in focus.
The [product’s] identity is related to being autovisual, which means you should be able to understand it instantly by looking at it. Parameters, such as function, idea, culture and emotions are the ones to be considered.
“‘Form follows function’ is good but not enough.”
What's perhaps the most unexpected place you've drawn inspiration from and referenced in audio design?
The linguistic space. I am not verbal, however, it happened to me that a sentence, which had been taken out of a completely different context, was the inspiration of a speaker we have been designing for a while.
How to make a visually appealing product functional?
Nothing is more frustrating than a product that is difficult to use. I am not patient and do not like to read manuals. I am also frustrated by ergonomic products that can be used in only one way. In reality, it often happens that flexible products are more ergonomic. Sometimes products are designed with a great functional approach, but they end up looking so complicated that you feel that they are complicated to use as well. I believe that the eye and the hand have equal importance to functionality - I try to make things look simple and straightforward, so that they would still be able to work seamlessly. ‘Form follows function’ is good but not enough. One function can have different forms that all solve the function equally well. It is also important to take history and culture into consideration when shaping a function. Culture determines the perceived expectation of how a given function looks like.
What are your personal tips for slowing down? How important is the role of technology outside the boundaries of your professional life?
I am a strong believer in creativity and inspiration which derive from hard work, but I do find that the breakthrough ideas often come to me when I have a little break during the process. However, you cannot start a project by sitting down and waiting for inspiration, you can only start by starting to work hard.
The moments of inspiration arrive when I watch a movie, listen to music, drink green tea or talk to friends. I think it is when you mentally relax and feel comfortable that you liberate the brain in order to deliver what you are searching for. Stress is the killer of creativity and innovation.
What's the secret of making things work in a creative team? Do you personally consider it hard to compromise?
It’s basically the same as if you are playing in a band. You have to be very good at you job, but also listen to what the others are doing and be cooperative as well as individually hard working. As a person, I like to look for a consensus, professionally, I must fight for the right solution all the way. I love to co-work with the right engineers - I fully understand the issues they are facing, yet I challenge them continually with the aim that we together can make the seemingly impossible become possible. You can only do that with mutual respect and understanding.
How important is sustainability for you, both in the design and manufacturing process? Overall, do you reckon sustainability is an important value in Scandinavian design?
Absolutely. Sustainability is important and a part of Scandinavian design’s DNA, though not unique for us. A product should have a long lifespan without breaking down prematurely and by having an enduring attractive appeal. A product should also be honest in what it does, how it looks like and the way the materials are used.