Dream factory

Updated: 2013-01-14 15:14

By Gan Tian (China Daily)

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Dream factory

Red Wall is a round, wall-mounted speaker designed by Johannes Torpe for Bang & Olufson. Below is a Torpe designed flashlight for WiseDive.

Dream factory

The creative director of Danish audio products manufacturer Bang & Olufsen says he has the perfect job. Gan Tian finds out more about the synergy between design and engineering.

Dream factory

When Johannes Torpe was appointed creative director of Danish audio products manufacturer Bang & Olufsen, he felt like the protagonist in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. "For Danish kids, Bang & Olufsen is just like that dream chocolate factory. I bought a pair of Bang & Olufsen earphones when I was 13. Now I'm 39 and they're still fantastic," he says. "And now, I am Charlie," Torpe says happily.

The Danish man is in charge of Bang & Olufsen's overall design direction. He not only gives his opinion on the shape and color of electronic devices, but also shares his ideas on the label's brand image and its workshops' interior design. He says it's a job that mixes music and design.

Torpe developed an interest in music at a young age. He says his mother wanted him to learn the violin, but his father wanted him to play the guitar, while he was keener on the bass and drums. As a teen, Torpe started a band and held a few concerts. He made his own drum kit and even designed a stage and lighting system, all of which led him to his current job.

But how does music connect with design? First, close your eyes, and think of a CD player. What do you see? Usually, it is a big, black or silver box.

"But our company offers slim devices without buttons, that have a soft touch. It is something like a piece of glass that you can click," he says.

In Torpe's opinion, however, it is a bad time for audio products. From the 1960s through to the 1990s, it was very easy to design these, because there were media, like CDs, cassette tapes, or DVDs.

Dream factory

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"They offered something visible, something that you could put in a machine, so there was always something you could 'wow' with," he says. "For example, there was one CD player in which I could put six CDs and it changed them automatically, and had a strong futuristic mechanical design."

But now, everything has gone digital and all the music in the world is in your pocket and there is little mechanical to show.

"So, now my goal is to take this music out of devices, and make it sound good," Torpe says of his new daunting task.

Torpe is working on a device now that makes digital music sound less digital, or warmer. "It is difficult. I'm making speakers as small as possible, that can play good, big sounds."

The key to success is to "link" creativity with high technology. For an audio product company, it means there should be a link between designers and technical staff.

The first meeting after Torpe was on board as the creative director was about televisions. He talked about how users could control TVs, but the directors dismissed his idea as "impossible".

However, one senior engineer, who looked a bit like a bearded Viking, approached Torpe a week later and invited him into his workshop, in the factory's basement.

"I can't tell you what he made, because it is a business secret, but I can assure you, that what he presented to me, is what exactly I was talking about. He built it out of wood, a web cam, some cables and some panels in the hardware store around the corner of the factory," Torpe recalls.

The creative director calls the engineer the company "link" and emphasizes the synergy between creativity and engineering. Torpe has the vision and engineers make it a reality.

This creation will likely hit the market in the near future.

"If you go to a company like Sony or Panasonic, you just get the impression that this is a big company. But here at Bang & Olufsen, when I walked in for the first time, I was touched because I found everything here was done by hand," Torpe says.

Torpe likens his job to being a designer at a brand like Hermes or Louis Vuitton, where designers produce only a limited amount of products. "For me, as a little boy in Charlie's big factory, I have to do something very special," he says.

Contact the writer at gantian@chinadaily.com.cn