The Australian - Wish Magazine - - PROFILE - WORDS MI­LANDA ROUT

Ø ivind Slaatto had noth­ing to lose the day he boarded a train to Struer, a small town three hours north­west of Copen­hagen. The in­dus­trial de­signer had hit rock bot­tom. He had no money, no cus­tomers, no prod­ucts on the mar­ket. He wore a shirt he had just bought and dragged his mate Do­minic Balm­forth along for the ride. It turned out to be the best de­ci­sion he ever made. For that small town is not your av­er­age small town in Den­mark, but the home of Bang & Olufsen.

“Start­ing as an in­de­pen­dent de­signer isn’t as fancy as some might think,” he tells WISH. “The con­ven­tional way up to my dreams seemed far too long and haz­ardous, so I de­cided to aim di­rectly for the best and the best I could imag­ine at that time was Bang & Olufsen.” Slaatto and Balm­forth con­vinced those at the top of the iconic Dan­ish elec­tron­ics brand to meet with them, and pitched their ideas for sound prod­ucts. Balm­forth did the busi­ness mod­el­ling and Slaatto did the de­signs. Af­ter the pitch, the pair didn’t think they had made much of an im­pres­sion, but they were wrong.

“Four­teen days later they called and

“The con­ven­tional way up to my dreams seemed far too long and haz­ardous, so I de­cided to aim di­rectly for the best.”

asked me to sub­mit a pro­posal for what ended up be­ing the Beo­play A9,” Slaatto re­calls. The Beo­play A9 is a wire­less speaker sys­tem that looks like a piece of fur­ni­ture or even art. It was launched in 2012. “The days of want­ing to hide your bulky black stereo are over,” was the mar­ket­ing tag of the prod­uct.

Slaatto says he en­joyed ev­ery as­pect of the de­sign process of work­ing with Bang & Olufsen. The only is­sue was that Slaatto had told them he had a stu­dio with a team. He didn’t. He had a stu­dio but it con­tained only him. “I got help from fam­ily and friends when cre­at­ing the full size mock-ups of the prod­ucts,” he says. “My girl­friend made the fab­ric and my mother even helped cook for my rather un­usual stu­dio team. It was my very first de­sign to come into pro­duc­tion, and it was a sig­nif­i­cant suc­cess.”

Slaatto em­barked on de­sign­ing a num­ber of other prod­ucts for dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies af­ter the Beo­play A9 launch, from light shades for Louis Poulsen Light­ing to wooden stools in col­lab­o­ra­tion with fel­low Dan­ish de­signer Signe Hytte. Dur­ing that pe­riod, he no­ticed how bad the acous­tics were in his stu­dio (which by

then was pop­u­lated by a few more peo­ple). The lo­ca­tion and light were fab­u­lous but the sound was hor­ri­ble.

“It was clear that we needed to cover the hard walls with some kind of sound-ab­sorb­ing ma­te­rial and a ge­om­e­try that re­flects the sound in a way which helps to im­prove the acous­tics,” Slaatto says. “Since I had been work­ing with Bang and Olufsen, I sug­gested they should of­fer an ‘au­di­tory in­door cli­mate’ rather than ‘just’ speak­ers, which they are re­ally good at al­ready. I wanted to not only im­prove the sound but also the si­lence.”

At the same time that he was pitch­ing his idea, Slaatto was ski­ing in the Nor­we­gian moun­tains and be­came fas­ci­nated with the way the light re­flected in the snow and how gen­tle the sound was in this en­vi­ron­ment. This was the start­ing point for the de­sign of what would be­come the BeoSound Shape. Un­like any­thing else of­fered by Bang & Olufsen, it is a se­ries of hexagon-shaped fab­ric-cov­ered tiles that are wall-mounted and cre­ate a wire­less speaker sys­tem. Each BeoSound Shape in­cludes tiles that are speak­ers, an am­pli­fier, sound-ab­sorb­ing acous­tic dampers and a smart hub (where all the mu­sic gets trans­mit­ted). You can have as many of the tiles as you want, start­ing from as few as six, and they come in a va­ri­ety of colours to suit dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ments (from lounge rooms to ho­tel lob­bies).

“It can be cus­tom-de­signed and turn high-qual­ity mu­sic into an in­te­rior art form,” says Slaatto of his prod­uct. The BeoSound Shape was launched at the de­sign mecca that is the Mi­lan Salone del Mo­bile in April this year and has been lauded as a marked de­par­ture from the “au­dio­phile look­ing for a one-chair, no-friends lis­ten­ing ex­pe­ri­ence”, ac­cord­ing to Bang & Olufsen vice pres­i­dent of brand, de­sign and mar­ket­ing, Marie Kris­tine Sch­midt. She rec­om­mends that those seek­ing such “im­mer­sive high-end sound” seek out other prod­ucts from their range. “This is re­ally a prod­uct for peo­ple who want mu­sic in the back­ground, who want mu­sic as a mood-set­ter,” she told Wired in Mi­lan. “This is far more con­cerned with life­style and in­te­ri­ors than [any­thing] you have ever seen from Bang & Olufsen be­fore.”

It is the per­fect in­ter­sec­tion of form and func­tion for Slaatto, and that is some­thing he strives to achieve in all his de­sign work. “I never think about whether what I do is art or not,” he says. “My fo­cus is just to do my best, no mat­ter what I do, search­ing for ob­vi­ous and hon­est de­sign so­lu­tions.”

Slaatto has come a long way since he took that train to Struer. But per­haps he should have had more con­fi­dence on that par­tic­u­lar day, given his back­ground. Af­ter all, Slaatto played the tuba and stud­ied mu­sic be­fore go­ing to de­sign school, and who bet­ter than a mu­si­cian to dream up prod­ucts for one of the most fa­mous au­dio com­pa­nies in the world?

“I was raised in a fam­ily of mu­si­cians where there were no screens – not even a tele­vi­sion. When we were bored my sib­lings and I would play foot­ball, play our in­stru­ments, draw or in­vent stuff,” he says. “My older brother played cello, my younger brother was drum­ming or dig­ging a tun­nel in the gar­den to China (he didn’t fin­ish it). I fo­cused on play­ing my tuba, in­vent­ing air­planes, rub­ber guns and an eter­nity ma­chine (I haven’t fin­ished it ei­ther) ... today I only play de­sign.”

In­dus­trial de­signer Øivind Slaatto

– de­signed by Slaatto

Two ar­rays of Bang & Olufsen’s BeoSound Shapes – a wire­less sys­tem of speak­ers, am­pli­fier, acous­tic dampers and smart hub

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