“What appeals to me as a creative is to work in a more democratic fashion… it always improves the end result, the experience and the products you're delivering.” We sat down and spoke with the designer Benjamin Hubert in his East London studio and discussed creative process, musical inspiration, and creating the Beosound Balance speaker.
On shared design values with Bang & Olufsen
At LAYER and as a designer, we believe the product should be timeless. Have a super high perceived value, be appropriate for use every day and it be a delight. People would say something is extremely experience driven and we feel that this resonates extremely well with Bang & Olufsen’s values of timelessness of products that people live with for a long time, and making things that really put a smile on people's faces.
Human experience before tech
The work we do at LAYER is extremely diverse. We work on everything from mobility products like wheelchairs to tech products to fashion apparel, and in all of those projects we're thinking about who's using it, how they're using it, why they're using it, where they're using it. And that experience really helps to drive the products and the design process. That's no different if we're creating an audio product. You have to really put the person first. And in our discussions and in our collaboration with Bang & Olufsen there was a meeting of minds from that perspective – that we were analyzing and thinking about the interaction of the person to help drive the form formats and functionality of the products.
Together with Bang & Olufsen, we were thinking about how people are now, how they're going be living in the future, where they're living, their needs and wants when they're in that space. All of those macro and micro trends, behaviors and rituals really fed into how we shaped the form, format and functionality of the Beosound Balance.
Our collaboration has been very much focused on human experience and how to soften technology, how to make it feel like an extension of the person using it and the place they live in.
Designer of Beosound Balance
The creative process in designing the Beosound Balance
The creative process behind the Beosound Balance happened over a period of about 18 months. It was a very collaborative process of talking, thinking about audio, thinking about performance of audio, about domestic interiors and how people live with furniture. We really focused on three things: One is how a person feels and interacts with an object that creates audio. Secondly, where to where they live and the environment and the design of the furniture they live with. And then lastly, the performance of the audio: how can that sound be directed? How can it be amplified to the highest possible performance in any situation?
The first sketches.
From design to finish product
On Beosound Balance materials
We discussed the idea that an audio product like the Beosound Balance speaker doesn't have to be about the technology – you don't have to look at it and think this is a technology product… It's really about considering an audio product to be like a beautiful piece of ceramic or a really well crafted piece of timber, and in a way in balance bringing those things together.
Here we have the idea through iteration, through shape and form and format of a beautiful object that sits on your mantelpiece or on your bay window or on your coffee table. It's a collection of very simple pieces of geometry that are informed by audio, and emphasize the audio capabilities and qualities of the product – but also reference objects that you would have in your home anyway, like a textile from a beautiful sofa, or timber from a finely crafted piece of furniture, or beautiful metal details from something valuable and precise that you might keep on your mantelpiece. It's a collection, a collage of these materials that bring an audio product closer to being a beautiful object.
Design as a team effort
There’s a lot of my personal style in what I do, but the way I think about design is also around working in a team. At LAYER there's a more democratic approach to design, and the name points to understanding the layers of value, the layers of how people interact with the product. And also, it's quite an open word.
LAYER is a team of about 25 creatives – a collaboration between researchers, industrial designers, engineers, digital people, brand focused creators. And then the other piece of that puzzle is the partners we work with. And we very much think about them as partners because we want to have an extremely collaborative process here. Obviously an internal collaboration between those teams, but also a very, very tight collaboration with the brands we work with. That was one of the things that really attracted us to Bang & Olufsen – the way they iterate and how they interact with the designers and creatives is like an extension of our team and vice versa. We would have such regular conversations and meetings that it was it was a super agile and very effective way to iterate and improve a product to make it the best it can possibly be.
“It was an epiphany where I thought, actually, this is about collaboration. It's about democracy. It's about really taking the views of everybody working on the projects, bring in everybody's expertise to deliver something that is more democratic as a design process and so hopefully more beneficial as an end result.”
“As a creative, I have a strong opinion as to what makes good design. But at LAYER, we also have a very talented team here that pulls in expertise from lots of different spaces. And what appeals to me as a creative is to use that in a more democratic fashion where we're listening to everybody. We're also listening to the partners we work with. And ultimately, if you can build that in a way that pulls in all those expertise, it always improves the end result, the experience and the products you're delivering.”
Beosound Balance with the Google Assistant
On the role of designers in the world
As designers and creators of things, we're very mindful that we have to work extremely hard to earn our place in the world and in people's lives. On the whole, I think designers should be focusing on this more, rather than on just making more things they would like to have. I think designers should be making things you need to have, things that will meaningfully change your life. It's actually about being very focused on problems, on how we're living. Very focused on how the world is changing and to ensure the products that we are introducing are beneficial, better than what came before and are actually going be used and delight people on an everyday basis.