It might surprise people that Bang & Olufsen is characterized and fuelled by its collaborative design process. Products and concepts are hatched and nurtured in unison by groups of designers, concept developers, engineers, acousticians and many others. Join us as a concept developer, an acoustic engineer and a technical project manager take us through the creation phase of a new and ground breaking product.
EVERYTHING STARTS WITH ARCHITECTURE
We start by looking at architecture,” says Kresten Bjørn Krab-Bjerre when describing the birth of any design at Bang & Olufsen, “and it serves as preparation before the designers arrive. We have general ideas about what kind of components are needed for a given product, and when it comes to speakers, the acousticians might have specific demands. With BeoLab 50, for example, the speaker placements were determined before the designers set pen to paper. So sometimes a design process contains fixed conditions.”
Kresten Bjørn Krab-Bjerre is a concept developer, and part of the team that takes a product from inception to birth, managing all the expectations and inputs from the different stakeholders in the process. “Form follows function as the saying goes here in the company,” says Søren Jørgensen, “and when lots of the hardware has been selected beforehand, as was the case with BeoLab 50, it pushes the form in a certain direction.”
Søren Jørgensen is a technical project manager and the one who handles all the mechanical aspects of the product creation phase. “We set an indicator with BeoLab 50 – it had to perform above and beyond the speaker it replaces in the portfolio, the BeoLab 5, and it had to blow the socks off the immediate competitors too,” says Jakob Dyreby, “and that has implications for its size and shape. We needed a certain amount of space to move the air within the cabinet, and space for the speaker units to be able to move too, so the initial concept choices help guide the designers.”
Jakob Dyreby is an acoustic engineer, and responsible for the sonic performance of the products. Collaboration is paramount when combining design and technology. We have gathered the concept developer, the mechanical engineer and the acoustician behind BeoLab 50 to talk about the collaborative design process that characterizes Bang & Olufsen. Because, contrary to popular belief, the designs coming out of Struer are not the works of a single maestro, but rather the work and collaborative effort of a team of experts from different fields.
As already stated, the design process starts with a look at architecture, but before you even get to that point there’s a conceptual phase where the foundation is laid. If you ask Kresten Bjørn Krab-Bjerre, it resembles a shopping trip. “A big part of creating a product is doing a shopping budget,” he explains. “You have got shelves with basics and necessities, and shelves with candy and other temptations. And if you pick the big ice cream it means you only get a small piece of chocolate, so we constantly look at different scenarios. If we take a big bass and a couple of midranges, we get to use more on the design, and if we choose another amplifier we can do something completely different with the materials. These choices are what sets things in motion.”
Jakob Dyreby and Søren Jørgensen nod in agreement with their colleague, and one of them adds that the concept briefs they work from are very straightforward, almost hardcore in their infancy, but something happens along the way.
“As a product starts to take shape you get more and more emotionally attached to it,” says Kresten Bjørn Krab-Bjerre with a broad smile, “and it is imperative that you keep your feelings in check and don’t stray off course.”
“The reason we’re here (at Bang & Olufsen) is because we’re passionate about what we do. And I have to admit that we get carried away once in a while.” Laughter erupts as Kresten Bjørn Krab-Bjerre describes the company atmosphere. “But we always put the consumers first,” he adds. “If the total package is attractive to them, we go for it.”
HOW TO MEET AND EXCEED EXPECTATIONS
“When people buy a Bang & Olufsen speaker there are certain basic expectations we need to fulfil,” says Søren Jørgensen. “The materials and craftsmanship have to be outstanding – and if there’s a beautiful movement it doesn’t hurt.” He smiles as Jakob Dyreby chimes in, “from an acoustic perspective we have to deliver at the highest level, but that has always been a given, so it is not something we talk that much about. Perhaps we should,” he adds thoughtfully.
When you boil it down there are three must-have attributes for any Bang & Olufsen product: the mandatory qualities, the expectation qualities and the positioning qualities. The mandatory qualities are the legal demands from the authorities, the expectation qualities are the things you expect from a product at this price point, for example the sound quality, the level of craftsmanship and the customer service. The last but most important attribute is the positioning quality, which in the case of Beolab 50 is the wow effect you get when the acoustical lens appears and gently spreads its wings out wide.
“The positioning qualities can close the deal. Once that small moment of magic happens the customers feel they can’t live without the product,” says Kresten Bjørn Krab-Bjerre with confidence as he demonstrates the choreographed movement of the lens.
“The sound quality of Beolab 50 is worth mentioning in the positioning bracket!” Jakob Dyreby adds, “we’re at a very high level here, and really utilizing the knowledge from our flagship, the BeoLab90 . In terms of power, clarity and precision we’ve succeeded, and the clever placement of the speaker units have allowed us to create fantastic directivity control.”
The trick is getting all the pieces to fit within the cabinet, as well as letting the heat out and moving the air around, and that task belongs to Søren Jørgensen. “It’s a big puzzle, because there is also the wiring and assembly to factor in, so a design process involves a lot of iterations and tests. Every action results in a reaction, so it is a group thing which is also fascinating. Every department has a finger in the product.”
“Every decision has an impact on the sound too,” says Jakob Dyreby, “which means there is a test for us in the acoustics department afterwards. Luckily, we have learned so many things from BeoLab 90 that we can leverage. These have not only saved us time but resulted in a next-level-product.”
“Our knowledge of how sound behaves in a room and affects it has taken a quantum leap with BeoLab 90 and BeoLab 50,” says Kresten Bjørn Krab-Bjerre, “and you can see those skills filtering down to our flexible speakers Beosound1 and Beosound2 , and you will continue to see the technology evolve across our product portfolio.”
The magic happens in the meeting between design, acoustics and the entire thinking behind mechanics, hardware and software.
— Jakob Dyreby, Acoustic Engineer
THE BANG & OLUFSEN SOUL SETS THE COMPANY APART
“The magic happens in the meeting between design, acoustics and the entire thinking behind mechanics, hardware and software,” says Jakob Dyreby.
“The key to our success is the way we collaborate, no doubt,” says Kresten Bjørn Krab-Bjerre, “we work as a team with a shared understanding of what the objective is. We sit together and we’re accountable to each other. If the acoustician has a problem, the guys from concept development and mechanics try to help – and vice versa. It’s never about one department trumping the others, it’s always about creating things in unison.”
“That special Bang & Olufsen soul and way of working together truly sets the company apart,” says Kresten Bjørn Krab-Bjerre, “we constantly try to improve and always look at the details, and because we use so many different skillsets to answer the questions, we are able to do better than we could separately. In fact, I would actually argue that you could remove the logos from all Bang & Olufsen products, and people would still be able to tell which ones we made. The products do reflect the passion of the people here.”