Bang & Olufsen Designer David Lewis

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David Lewis was born in London, England in 1939 but has been living in Denmark since the 1960s. He attended London's Central School of Art 1957 - 60 and joined Bang & Olufsen as a freelance designer in the mid 1960s. He was awarded a Royal Society of Arts Bursary, 1960. His main fields of activity are those of industrial design and product development.

He was first employed by two of B&O's former designers, Jacob Jensen and Henning Moldenhawer, designing audio and video equipment for B&O. He then started his own studio in the early seventies.

The distinguished title of "Royal Designer for Industry" (RDI) was bestowed on him in November 2001 by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce. The distinction is conferred upon UK citizens who have attained eminence in creative design for industry. The number of people who may hold this distinction at any one time is limited to 100.

David Lewis, who has his own design studio in Copenhagen, has received innumerable Danish and international prizes and marks of honour - and has a great deal of the credit for the design trend which has made Bang & Olufsen internationally known.

"To me it is great honour to receive this distinction. Having lived more than 35 years in Denmark, it is a recognition from the Royal Society that I am proud of" says David Lewis.

One of the problems which Lewis is constantly working on is that he would prefer TVs to vanish when they are turned off. "A TV without a picture is definitely not a plus when it comes to interior design," says Lewis. As he sees it, when it’s off, a TV is a cross between an aquarium and an eye peering into people’s living rooms.

Once the set is turned off, the design becomes paramount. When the TV is on, what people look at is the quality of the programme being broadcast. Designing and creating a TV which also has a "life" when it’s turned off is the closest you can get today to giving consumers a good alternative to the empty aquarium.

He also would like to 'ban the black boxes': "Our BeoLab range of loudspeakers is a revolt against indifference and heavy wooden boxes humming away in the corners of our homes, dictating the furnishings and the way we live" states David Lewis who still prefers to sketch by hand than working with computers: "Too inhibiting, too complicated to work with" he says

"The Germans introduced matt black in the '60s and made some wonderful stuff, but the industry has been following blindly ever since. Today, you can hardly tell whether you're looking at a toaster or a typewriter. On top of that, people have been led to believe that high quality is synonymous with gadgetry and complexity."

"I believe that the less you complicate things, the more interesting people will find them. Let's clean up and simplify the technological mess. Let's go back to original ideas. Let's do it the Bang & Olufsen way."

"Who says a loudspeaker should be hidden away in the dark, if it sounds better the closer it is to you? BeoLab speakers have been shaped to stand out from your furniture and to blend in with it. That's why we use polished aluminium which takes its colour from its surroundings instead of dictating to them."

"BeoLab 4000, for example, was designed to fit into a bookcase, but it performs equally well on a wall or a window sill. And it's the first BeoLab loudspeaker to be available in an array of colours. Not just to suit your interior decoration, but because life is full of colour. The days of matt black rule are over!"

Inspiration behind new concepts comes from a combination of very different impulses. Sometimes it might be irritation about how modern technology is used. Other times Lewis might work like a sculptor faced with a slab of stone. Before it becomes a finished work of art, the excess stone 'just' has to be chiselled away. "And as soon as I see the solution, I don’t have any doubts," he says.

However, Lewis’ material isn’t stone, but the materials he has to hand for converting ideas into three-dimensional reality. His models can’t be drawn with pencil and pen. Instead, the initial models are created in cardboard. "When I’m pondering over a problem that I can’t get to work, I get restless and don’t know what to do with myself," Lewis says. So then he sits down with his pieces of cardboard and tries to find the shape and form of the new product.

Lewis himself attributes Bang & Olufsen’s development of the anti-glare screen to the fact that he was often irritated by the sun reflecting off his TV screen while watching British football on a Saturday afternoon. That was the beginning of the technology which today is one of Bang & Olufsen’s characteristic TV features.

For David Lewis, the inspiration behind new concepts can also come from a desire to make the technological opportunities they offer available to consumers. For example, a BeoSound 9000 with its six CDs in a row means users don’t have to change CDs so often, and they generally don’t listen to more than five or six CDs in any case. At the same time, it’s also intended to be a "family machine" where each individual member of the family can load his or her favourite CD - and see it too.

As we know, Bang & Olufsen wants people to control technology, not the other way round. Similarly, the development of new products is not governed by the very latest technology. "The problem with new technology is that it opens up so many opportunities. Instead of making life easier, it often makes it more complicated because people have more options than they need," says Lewis. He sees himself as the consumers’ champion.

"So many manufacturers are keen to use all the latest features of modern technology and make everything bigger and faster without necessarily making it better," he says. "I feel that many producers of home electronics and other new technology are too quick to update their products. They improve the product by 1% and re-launch it immediately - in many cases it would make more sense to wait until they had discovered some new features which consumers really need. But there’s this need to keep moving on and the design of the new products doesn’t matter in the least - of course it isn’t worth putting resources into design when something new will be along in six months."

"No-one asks consumers whether they want all these options which they might not even need and which, in fact, often frustrate them," says Lewis.

Another issue which will present a challenge for Bang & Olufsen in the future is that the basic needs of most consumers in terms of technology and tools have already been met.

If we go back a few years, technological innovation was something that changed the way people lived: the refrigerator, the first radios and the first televisions, cars and the first computers.

Today we can see that people are getting bored with new technological developments. There’s always something new being heralded as the best thing since sliced bread, but the manufacturers are just crying wolf.

"What makes Bang & Olufsen something special is that here the concepts must last at least ten years. They wouldn’t be able to do that without content, function and design which lasts the distance," says Lewis.

Today he doesn’t believe it’s possible to change consumer behaviour with new technology.

"We must adapt our products so that they reflect the changes taking place in society," says Lewis. He reminds us of the original tradition of the theatre, where the audience was seeking an experience of which they in a way become part. In his opinion, the tradition where consumers actively choose and select their experiences, possibly together with more than just their close nuclear family, will see a renaissance.

"Form is nothing more than an extension of content. And who says that loudspeakers should hide away in corners, if the closer they get to you, the better they sound?"

David Lewis' first product was Beovision 400. David Lewis has designed all of Bang & Olufsen's video systems: the LX and MX families, Beosystem AV 9000 and Beovision Avant. Among Bang & Olufsen's audio range, he has designed Beosystem 2500, BeoSound Century, the remote controls Beolink 1000 and Beolink 5000, the Red Line speakers and the active loudspeakers BeoLab 8000 and BeoLab 6000.

Three of his creations - the video recorder Beocord VX5000, the Beovox Cona sub-woofer and the active speakers BeoLab 6000 - are included in the permanent collection of design at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.

Among many other products, David Lewis has designed fridge-freezers for the Vestfrost company in Denmark and worked for Voss and Electrolux.

During the 2003 financial year, David Lewis was awarded the Danish Design Council's annual award citing the following reason for its decision: " According to the articles of association, the annual award must be given to a person who has achieved results of a practical or theoretical interest within one or several areas. David Lewis, Chief Designer at Bang & Olufsen since 1980 and responsible for numerous Bang & Olufsen successes over the past 35 years, is, in every single respect, a worthy recipient of the Annual Award 2003."

"Chief designer David Lewis has recently received not one, but two great honours. Firstly, he has been created a Knight of the Order of the Dannebrog. The Order of the Dannebrog is the Danish order of knights conferred on Danes and non-Danes who have made a special contribution to Danish interests. Selections are made by the Master of the Order of the Dannebrog,, Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II of Denmark.

The Order of the Dannebrog was established in 1671 and derives its name from the Danish flag, the Dannebrog - the oldest national flag in the world still in use today. Legend has it that the flag with the white cross on the red background "fell from heaven, sent by God" during a battle in Estonia on 15 June 1219, bringing victory to the Danes.

David Lewis also received the 2003 Danish Design Council Award. The purpose of the Danish Design Council is to work to promote Danish industrial design. It awarded its prestigious prize to David Lewis for his contribution to Bang & Olufsen's many successes over the past 35 years. Moreover, the Director of the Design Council, Steffen Gulmann, observed that David Lewis has also designed refrigerators, laboratory equipment and dental instruments. The prize was awarded at an event at the Danish Design Centre at the beginning of May. Following the award ceremony, the invited audience of just under 200 people had ample opportunity to admire David Lewis' work for Bang & Olufsen whilst viewing a large number of products on display."

(From Beolink Magazine 7, September 2003)

Created: 9th January 2007
Modified: 2nd April 2007

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