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Why Bang & Olufsen is Resonating with Design-Conscious Consumers

In a chaotic world, it’s no surprise that hygge, the Danish concept of cozy contentment and the simple pleasures of the home, has become an international lifestyle phenomenon. Written about by The New Yorker and an Instagrammers dream, hygge is achieved by creating aesthetically pleasing surroundings – ideally with Danish furniture and super functional design objects. Our ideal hygge interior would include an Arne Jacobsen Egg chair, the soft lighting of a Poul Henningsen fixture, and a soothing hygge soundtrack playing through a Bang & Olufsen wireless speaker. It was with stylish, hassle-free living in mind that B&O launched PLAY line of portable electronics in 2012. A key creative force behind B&O PLAY is Jakob Kristoffersen, B&O’s concept and design manager, who is drawing a new generation of listeners to the storied audio company. “We wanted to create products that would resonate with younger, urban consumers who don’t just want headphones, they want to curate their life with personal objects that reflect their style.” As part of Sotheby’s ongoing series By Design, Presented by Bang & Olufsen, we spoke with Kristoffersen about how the B&O’s history informs its present and future, working with furniture designers, and new ways of interacting with technology.

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B&O PLAY’S PORTABLE ELECTRONICS ARE AS STYLISH AND AS THEY ARE FUNCTIONAL, AND DESIGNED AS “SOMETHING THAT YOU WANT TO SHOW TO THE WORLD,” SAYS KRISTOFFERSEN. ALL IMAGES COURTESY BANG & OLUFSEN.

In a few weeks, B&O PLAY will unveil its spring/summer 2018 collection of portable Bluetooth speakers and other devices. Why the decision to align product releases to the fashion-world calendar?
For us, headphones and speakers are just as much as personal style objects as they are tech objects. Electronics are another element of a person’s overall look, so we look at colour trends from fashion and accessories to inform our direction. Our products are things that you want to show to the world – the way you would wear a new jacket to be noticed. 

What motivated that shift?
It was simply from listening to consumers about what resonates with them. Headphones have become part of our outfits – we use them every day, when commuting or going for a coffee. The crowd that we address cares about how they look and how they express their identity. They don’t just want plastic headphones, they want to curate their lives with objects that resonate.

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JAKOB KRISTOFFERSEN, B&O’S CONCEPT AND DESIGN MANAGER

What about sound quality? B&O is a brand for the serious audiophile. 
We pay a lot of attention to high-quality sound. We love music, but with our brand you can kind of take that as a given. The important thing is that we don’t just apply tech for its own sake. We have a human approach to it, and only use the technology that supports the experience we want to create with a product – like “a perfect travel companion” in a headphone. We reflect that experience-oriented or concept-driven way of designing to products all the way through, from customer insight-gathering to the product development. 

 

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B&O SEES SPEAKERS SUCH AS THE A1 PORTABLE BLUE TOOTH SPEAKER, ABOVE,
“JUST AS MUCH AS PERSONAL STYLE OBJECTS AS THEY ARE TECH OBJECTS,” SAYS KRISTOFFERSEN.

As a millennial yourself, how do you live with design? 
Our consumers curate their lives, and in that sense I’m very much my own target group. I pick out designs that I feel express who I am. I surround myself with old B&O objects and mid-century furniture. Great Danish brands like &tradition and MENU are updating classic pieces such as early designs by Arne Jacobsen in a great way – the “new classics” you could call them, mixed with pieces from designers I really admire like Space Copenhagen and Norm architects.
 

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COMBINING TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATION WITH STYLE, B&O’S A2 ACTIVE PORTABLE SPEAKER OFFERS LISTENERS 24 HOURS OF BATTERY LIFE IN A SLEEK FORM THAT CAN BE CARRIED LIKE A CHIC HANDBAG.

How does the legacy of Scandinavian modernism inform your current projects? 
We have a rich heritage and we are super proud of that. Jacob Jensen, one of the godfathers of Danish design, was the person who really shaped B&O’s visual language from the 1960s to the 1990s. He and others like Arne Jacobsen came out of the Bauhaus tradition but were committed to finding their own place in the world. We took as our point of origin those same modernist traditions – our products are simple in shape and utilise the ingenuity of materials – but we try to stage them in a new way. 
 

 

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THE CIRCULAR B&O A9 SPEAKER IS OFFERED WITH CUSTOMISABLE FABRICS BY TEXTILE COMPANY KRAVDRAT,
CREATING WHAT KRISTOFFERSEN CALLS “A LIVING ROOM DESIGN STATEMENT.”

Can you share some examples?
We always utilise external designers from interior or fashion backgrounds as those are the contexts for our objects. We can teach them technology, but we want to utilise what designers are best at. Our A1 portable speaker, which we commissioned from the Danish furniture and product designer Cecilie Manz. Although designing for us, the simple shapes of Bauhaus are the point of origin but her lines are softer, her shape language is more personal, and she is super good at working with the context of the home, but designs personal objects that can be taken out. Other designers we have worked with also have furniture backgrounds, like Øivind Alexander Slaatto, who designed the Beoplay A9 speaker [above]. It’s essentially a circle that stands on three legs and is just under three feet high and is covered with customisable fabrics by interiors textile company Kravdrat – a living room design statement.

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CRAFTED FROM LEATHER AND ALUMINIUM, B&O HEADPHONES ARE DESIGNED
AS “A PERFECT TRAVEL COMPANION.” 

And the buyer might already have a sofa upholstered with a Kravdrat fabric. 
Exactly. We never just design a speaker. There is always a concept story driving every innovation and product development process. With the A9 for example, it was “Sound as Furniture.” Calling it furniture may seem like a minor distinction but it changes the perception of everything. To create an object for the home, we need people who understand that context and who think spatially, who are asking, "how will this resonate with the interior design trends of today?’" They are not thinking of these products as merely devices to deliver sound, but as pieces of art.

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B&O PLAY’S E8, THE BRAND’S LATEST WIRELESS EARPHONES.  

How do you balance those aesthetic and formal priorities with acoustic demands?  
We connected with Øivind Alexander Slaatto because we wanted his views on furniture. We can teach him the technology. But it’s not about prioritising design over technology or the other way around. These concepts have both design and technology legs and are not about compromise – but a unity where both acoustics and design complement and make room for each other. We believe in bringing the best people for the job. We don’t think that we should own these entities ourselves because we want to interface with the larger world of fashion, interiors, and design as well as technology, with companies such as Google and Apple. You don’t get that exposure if you’re rooted entirely in-house and that’s the context that our product needs to work in. We are all about that.

Visit By Design, Presented by Bang & Olufsen, for videos and stories celebrating great innovation in design. Click here to learn about upcoming Design auctions at Sotheby’s and to see featured stories, videos, sale results and more.

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