David Lewis The Designer who makes things happen
By Torsten Valeur
November 9, 2011
of Torsten Valeur
David Lewis The Designer who makes things happenArticle by Pascal Maupas
NewBiz No 21 may 2002
Behind a pair of twinkling eyes and a kindly Santa Claus beard, the uncompromising Englishman David Lewis maintains an iron grip on the Bang & Olufsen brand. Even if it means falling out with all the firm's engineers. Profile of a Shakespearean King Lewis in the land of the mermaids.
The head of a Viking and the hands of a skilled carpenter. A solidly built man, David Lewis greets me surrounded by his designs in Bang & Olufsen's Copenhagen store. For twenty-five years he has headed the company's design department, one of Denmark's industrial treasures. He conceives and designs their instantly recognisable hi-fi systems, televisions and speakers. The beautiful lines of a B&O product, perhaps a little austere, very Scandinavian, are his. The glass covers which open almost before your hand touches them are his as well. As is the TV which turns towards you as you collapse on the sofa. There can be no doubt, over the last twenty-five years David Lewis has become.. BeoMan. A status which he has more than earned. Three of his designs are on display in MoMA in New York (the museum of Modern Art). But he says he doesn't know which ones...
Lewis maintains his status in the venerable Danish company wearing the casual clothes of a freelance. He is both within the firm and without it, working in Copenhagen and living 25 km away on the coast. He journeys regularly to Jutland, site of the company's original headquarters, where he monitors the design process for new products. This free electron is on the lookout, plugged in to the world. Which doesn't mean that he is tempted to travel it. Besides a few Prestige, ConServ and equator refrigerators, David Whitfield Lewis has restricted his gifts to the land of the little Mermaid. As soon as he arrived from his native England in 1961, he joined a design agency which worked for Bang & Olufsen. He worked patiently to win his stripes, and after fifteen years quietly and confidently took over as head of design.
At B&O design dictates technology
He now holds the B&O brand in an iron grip. Beneath his Santa Claus exterior, BeoMan knows how to wield his sword. "Here, innovation starts with a design diktat, which shapes the technology. "Clear evidence: the BeoLab 8000 hi-fi speakers. Designing them in 1990-91, Lewis wanted them to be powerful but discreet to the point of being forgettable. A concept incompatible with an industrial approach which held that the greater the acoustic power, the greater the diameter of the speakers. The engineers had to give in and racked their brains for a solution. In the end, B&O was the first company to meet such a challenge. Result: a slender profile, barely 10 centimeters wide and an incredible power for its size. Lewis's secret? Special amplifiers, linked to the minuscule speakers, fitted like peas in a pod. They provide an acoustic performance comparable to the "wooden boxes" found in an auditorium. Another idea imposed by the designer: upright speakers on conical stands shaped like organ pipes.
David Whitfield Lewis has design in his blood. He always follows his own intuition, even when it means taking on the company's marketing department. His position as an external consultant gives him, when he needs it, an independence which borders on impudence. On more than one occasion, the company has conducted costumer surveys when a new project was still the 3D cardboard model stage, only for Lewis, unshakeable in his convictions, to "decide to ignore the replies". Eventually, the products came on the market and sold very well. His convictions and decrees, are not, however, always well received. Only once has the bear been beaten by the engineers, those guarantors of B&O's expertise in electronics, acoustics and other "hard" sciences. The first MX televisions were released without the special filter with the perfect, sensual curve, which boosted colour and contrast. The master was eventually proved right, but he admits that disputes still occur.