David Lewis The Designer who makes things happen
By Torsten Valeur
November 9, 2011
of Torsten Valeur
The Road to inspiration runs from Copenhagen to StruerBeoLink no.4 1998
Some might say that Struer is far too isolated, but in some cases that can actually be an advantage. At least when it comes to the company's chief designer for the last 30 years - freelancer David Lewis.
Once a week he gets behind the wheel of his Alfa Romeo, shuts the door and locks out the world so that he can let his thoughts run free for the five hours it takes him to drive from Copenhagen to Struer.
"Fly? No thanks!" says Lewis, who uses the journey there and back to prepare himself for the design meetings held every Friday in 'idealand' where concepts take on physical form.
One of the problems which Lewis is constantly working on is that he would prefar 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, who has won praise and awards for his Bang & Olufsen product designs. 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 turned off is the closest you can today to giving consumers a good alternative to the empty aquarium.
Irritation and football
Inspiraion 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 threedimensional 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 to the anti-glare screen to the fact that he was often irritated by the sunreflecting 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.
Man over machine
For David Lewis, the inspiration behind new concepts can also come from a desire to make the technological oppotunities they offer available to consumers. For example, a BeoSound 9000 with it's six CDs in a row means users don't have to change CD's so often, and they generally don't listen to more than five or six CD's in any case. At the same time, it's also intented 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 manufactures 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 couse it isn't worth putting resources into design when something new will be along in six months.'
Bored with electronics
'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 te best thing since sliced bread, but the manufactures are just crying wolf.
'What makes Bang & Olufsen something special is that here the concepts must last 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 posible to change consumer behavior with new technology.
'we must adapt out 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.
That's what he thinks about as he drives to Struer.