Torsten Valeur interview

Born 1966 - Graduated from Royal Academy of Architecture, Department of Industrial Design, Copenhagen, 1993 During and after his graduation Torsten Valeur spend time traveling in his beloved northeastern Asia. When not travelling, he worked in Denmark for pyrotechnist Lars Hoffmann Barfod making handcrafted fireworks for Tivoli, Copenhagen’s world famous amusement park, until he joined David Lewis Designers in 1996. 
Torsten Valeur’s first design at David Lewis Designers was BeoCom 2 for Bang & Olufsen in 1997. He has continued designing audio systems, telephones and multimedia products for Bang & Olufsen and has also designed products for other clients such as Asus, Elica and Scholtes (kitchen appliances). As a Dane Torsten Valeur has known Bang & Olufsen most of his life. When he was a child, he once made a Bang & Olufsen turntable out of Lego bricks – at that time he never imagined that one day he would design Bang & Olufsen products for real.
Torsten Valeur’s design approach is to pursue original and new ideas – making his design accessible to the user and at the same time ensuring an optimal purpose for the product. His aim is to find solutions that are surprising at first glance and then accepted as natural and easy to use.
Over the years at David Lewis Designers, Torsten Valeur has gradually worked more and more independently, from idea generation to design implementation. In 2007, he became partner of the company, and appointed Head of David Lewis Designers Studio.


1. What is the DNA of Bang & Olufsen design? It is timeless design with an enduring appeal. Attractive products that you would like to keep forever. A user must continue to adore it every day and it should be a joy to own and to use. The design should stay visually fresh regardless of time and that is why I try to stay away from fashion or trends. Timeless design cannot be made by copying classic designs or by taking styles from the past. Instead you have to focus on creating the unique identity of the object itself.
Common to the Bang & Olufsen products is that they all have a very strong iconic identity which does not refer to the time it was created, but to its own identity. The identity of the Bang & Olufsen design is easy to recognize and remember. It is about giving the design attention and to create a stance. At the same time,  Bang & Olufsen products often blend into the surroundings in an unobtrusive way when you do not focus on the object. They adopt to their surroundings like a chameleon. They mentally disappear.
Every new Bang & Olufsen product must be new and original in design and trigger your emotions, by offering some little enduring magic. One should not be able to foresee the next design before it is there.  But the new design must also be logic and understandable and fit into the existing product portfolio. When you look at the object, it should be immediately understood, so obvious that you should think “why has nobody thought about that before”.
There is a high level of diligence put into the creation of each product by us, the designers and the engineers from Bang & Olufsen. All aspects must be solved to a level where the product seems completely finished/perfect. We want to achieve the pure, simple and wholly completed though yet unseen. And the user should feel the effort put into the creation of the product and value this serious attention to the detail that everyone involved in the product creation have.
When sculpturing products for Bang & Olufsen, I keep testing what strengthens and what weakens the overall identity. There is a hierarchy of elements in the composition, otherwise the object will not get a strong identity. Typically one element of the form is the king and all other elements are related to that king and support the king. I often play with contradictions and clashes of two form elements, either by the form element itself or by the color and surface. If there are more than two elements, it tends to be messy and unclear.
To let the idea stand out, our design are often very minimalistic. Not done in the cold schematic way as when minimalism is a style, but because we reduce and reduce the shape until the essential idea is obviously expressed. This also add’s to the timelessness because the shapes then are related to the idea and not to the time of creation. You can only do that if your idea is strong.
2. Wich colour or material would you like to add to the Bang & Olufsen world? I would really love to use white metal, but that does not exist yet. Imagine completely matte white surfaces but with a depth that cannot be achieved by the use of paint. We have definitely not finished exploring the use of aluminum; it is an incredible versatile material.
Colors have to be subtle and somewhat integrated with the material. This gives the color a sense of trueness and genuineness. At the same time I do have a dream of finding a color that does not exist yet.
3. What kind of music do you like? Music is a fundamental joy for me. I listen to music to put me in happy mood or for relaxation and to reload my mental batteries. I value many kinds of music but especially the music that has a deep level of details that you have to discover over time. Then you do not get bored quickly. I tend to favor music that can evoke my dreams.
Right now I am listening a lot to Jazz and musicians like Niels Lan Doky or Thomas Koppel and Benjamin Koppel. An artist like Ryuichi Sakamoto is one I never get tired of listening to. Sometimes a pop tune can get my attention like one from Panamah, or Zhou Xun.
Particular sounds can be like music. I have a very strong sound memory. I can close my eyes and remember rather clearly the sound landscape for instance of Shanghai lanes 25 years ago, or the engine sound from a Douglas C54 propeller plane that I as a boy travelled to Greenland on.
4. If you could start again - would you become a designer / architect again? I haven’t regretted being a designer. The luck designers like me have, is that you create new objects. Working creativly is a fundamental joy for people (though it can be very frustrating at the same time). I guess it is related to the wish of making traces.
If not a designer, I would like to be a teacher. I am quite inspired by the job teachers have of bringing up kids to become real people, giving them knowledge and exploring their potentials. Or I could be a pilot seeing the landscape from above every day…
5. Where do you get your inspiration from? My sources of inspiration evolve from the search of the real identity of the actual object I am designing. When I am in a middle of a work process, I am focused on the problem and all the senses are open and searching for answers to the problem, and I know what to look for. I believe design is a problem driven process and not leaning back in the shadow of a tree waiting for inspirations coming to you like a leave falling down on your head. That said, the lucky inspirational moments do happen, mainly when I am comfortable and relax. So good music and a nice cup of green tea makes you brain take the jump.
I use movies to collect inspirations from, or different environments or people that I meet. Also conversations with colleagues and people in general are quite useful and it has not to be on a specific topic. Sometimes just a sentence or word can be the trigger.
6. Why are you working as a designer and not as an architect? Well it happened that way. It is easier to get an overview and control of all aspects when designing objects. The objects are going to be produced in a large numbers where architecture is a one-piece work.
7. What do you think about contemporary architecture? Contemporary architecture is quite strong in the concept scale and storytelling. There is a wonderful fresh approach to how architecture and urban planning can be. Some later solutions are genius. However I do lack a little more attention to creating space and rooms that are wonderful to live in.
Once I was in staying in a house in Mallorca created by Jørn Utzon and it was such a joy to be there. There was this aura of authenticity and natural space which made me feel like I was inside the outcome of 1000 years of understanding accumulated space. This kind of logic you also sense when visiting some original towns around the world.
When I travel around, I notice that the most important job for an architect is to create buildings that are a pleasure to be in and spaces that welcome you, not so much to create just for the sake of being aligned with the latest trend. It is easy to feel the difference.
8. Working for Bang & Olufsen - can you described it? What I enjoy most is the fact that we are a group of specialist that strives for creating the best result. Your job as a designer is not just to deliver a suggestion, but you are deeply involved in all aspects of the design, from idea creation and the product development until it reaches the marked. Therefore you share a strong responsibility with all stakeholders and have to think of all the aspects. You have to understand the problems the engineers are facing for instance, but use that to challenge and solve.
9. What is in your opinion, the major contrast between international and Scandinavian design? Normally I do not distinguish between different regional or national design characteristics. I don’t know for instance if what I do is especially scandinavian, of course the surrounding environment – nature and society - are influencing me a lot, but I am also influenced a lot by the East Asian culture.
I guess there is a kind of mild and honest minimalism in Scandinavian design; it is human and warm, not cold. There is a bit of unpretentious coziness that expresses relaxed comfort and human openness. It is a bit more authentic. Maybe it is just the more long lasting non fashion approach that does it. There is also the fact that most people in Scandinavia have grown up with modern design and are surrounded by it every day. There is a high sense of quality understanding.
10. Traveling around the world - which city wowed you in design term, which is aspiring - your hot spot? When I travel I tend to look more at the culture, the architecture and urban structure than design. Design is in many ways today a world phenomenon where culture and urban structure is more locally based with unique characteristics. Instead of looking at design I look at people a lot.
I am inspired by places that make me feel at ease and comfortable. Therefore a hotspot for me would be Berlin and Shanghai as well as Takayama, Icelandic landscape or the rough groves in northern part of Denmark. The mix of dynamic cities like Seoul and timeless places like Fontain Saorges suits me very well.
11. Do you miss anything? More time and more free time.
12. Do you read design-blogs? I try not to be so centered on my profession, but more on keeping a very broad input of information and inspiration.
13. Would you tell us your favorite one and why you would recommend it? I do not have a particular favorite as such. It changes from time to time, depending on my curiosity and the element of randomness.
14. What do you like about Designspotter? A site that you could spend a lot of time in, especially if you do not take care, as there is a lot of good content.

Thank you Torsten for this interview. ( by Markus Gogolin )

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