Sound meets form in the digital age
“Create a new form of loudspeaker for playing music digitally. Explore your own creative vision that expresses your unique relationship to architecture and the environment.”
This, in a nutshell, is the purposely open design brief given to Masters’ students in Collaborative and Industrial Design Programme for a project undertaken together with premium Danish audio-visual brand Bang & Olufsen.
“The aim of this form exploration project was to get students to find new solutions for digital music in the home environment, while also gaining a deeper understanding of contemporary design and aesthetics that can withstand the test of time,” says lecturer and industrial designer Simo Puintila, who led the course.
“Each of the 12 students – who came from Canada, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Korea, Portugal and Russia – brought a very different relationship to the world. So the diversity of the end designs is incredible.”
Finnish form meets Danish sound
For the project Puintila wanted to find a partner who would give the students as much freedom as possible, so they could truly explore their creativity.
“Design has become very much related to processes, systemic thinking and teamwork,” says Puintila.
“While this is good – because students need to be prepared to make a living – for this course I wanted us to work with a company where traditional notions of the designer as an artist could also be explored. I wanted the students to be able to focus almost purely on form giving and artistic expression.”
It was with this in mind that Puintila approached Bang & Olufsen’s design lead, Christian Thams, with a proposal for the joint project. Thams fell in love with the idea immediately.
“When Simo contacted me and proposed the LOUD project I was very intrigued,” says Thams.
“What would happen if we unleashed 12 students from all over the world to give their interpretations of what beautiful sound is in the modern home? What would their focus be? What do they find relevant?”
Diverse definitions of luxury
The course was divided into two seven-week modules, the first of which the students spent collecting information and submitting ideas. During the second module they built the physical prototypes using components and materials provided by Bang & Olufsen.
“I was trying to get the students to do something a bit different for Bang & Olufsen,” says Puintila.
“Traditionally, the company has used a lot of oak, rosewood, aluminum and glass; prestigious materials that match the premium nature of the brand. But we were interested in redefining what luxury aesthetics could be. You don’t necessarily need to use prestigious materials; it’s also about you treat the materials and the context in which they’re used.”
The end result is a striking diversity of designs that range from small, free standing units to tall, wall-mounted products. While the original brief had only required the creation of physical mockups with no working sound, many of the students went above and beyond to add working Bluetooth audio connections too.
“At least once in your career as a designer you need to be able to work on something like LOUD,” says Puintila.
“To freely express your artistic vision, and to experience how much of the form giving process happens while you’re actually working on the material. It’s incredibly rewarding, and I’m extremely proud of how the students rose to the challenge. This is really beautiful work.”
Master’s Programme in Collaborative and Industrial Design focuses on design innovation. It’s about in-depth understanding of design’s role in society and the emerging fields where design activities can protect the environment and enhance the quality of people’s lives.
The programme teaches the empathic, critical, strategic and technological skills needed in design innovation processes, and encourages students to explore different roles within the field of design.
This article is originally published in the Aalto University Magazine 18 (issuu.com).