The Art of Impossible: The Bang & Olufsen Design Story is published by Thames & Hudson and marks the company’s 90th anniversary. Founded by Peter Bang and Svend Olufsen in Denmark in 1925, it is now one of the world’s best-known consumer electronics brands and its designs have been cited as an influence on creatives from Johnny Ives to Steve Jobs.
Wiper‘s new book charts the company’s history, from its beginnings in the attic of a manor house in Struer to the way it works today. Divided into four chapters: The Creative Process, The History, Discovering and Making and Eleven Designs That Have Shaped B&O, it offers a look at key innovations as well as Bang & Olufsen’s approach to design and manufacturing. It’s a comprehensive look at the brand, featuring interviews with designers, engineers, project managers, collectors and Bang & Olufsen’s historian and museum curator.
Where the book really stands out, however, is in its use of imagery. Wiper has taken over 300 shots of products, prototypes and people to beautifully illustrate Bang & Olufsen’s inventions and processes. From images showing the complex interiors of subwoofers and speakers, to ones of employees at work on the factory floor, it’s an intimate behind-the-scenes look at the company.
Beomaster 1200, designed by Jacob Jensen, 1968. Lead image (top): assembly of Bang & Olufsen’s BeoLab 5 © Alastair Philip Wiper
Wiper says he pitched the idea for the book to Bang & Olufsen around two-and-a-half years ago. “I remember B&O products from my childhood, they were always special, always different to everything else,” he explains. “I moved to Denmark 10 years ago, and Danes are very proud of B&O so I became more aware of the brand, and it went without saying that it was a company I would like to work with and explore.”
“I never thought they would go for it. But they did, they rolled with it all the way and were very open about letting me do the book the way I wanted to. The final book is pretty much exactly the book I pitched back then,” he adds.
Anodizing Aluminium in Factory 5, Struer © Alastair Philip Wiper
Wiper visited the company’s headquarters in Struer (around four hours from Copenhagen) five times while working on the book. He also visited its factory in the Czech Republic and offices in Lyngby, just outside of Copenhagen.
“B&O is a very high end, highly polished brand, and I wanted to get under the skin and show how those products come about,” he says. “I wanted the book to be very ‘real’, to show where these products come from, how they are made and who made them, and I wanted it to be interesting for people who are not necessarily fans of B&O, but just think it is interesting to see inside a company like this and how it works, the processes that go on.
The user interface for the system setup of BeoVision Avant is designed on a blackboard © Alastair Philip Wiper
“As I worked on the book I got to know a lot of the people who have been working there for a long, long time, and I realised that the care and quality that has gone in to the products over the years, and the pride they took in making them was very special, something that is on the way out in this day and age, so I wanted to try and get some of that across,” he adds. “The last thing I wanted was to make a dry, boring design book.”
Designed by Claus Due/Designbolaget, the book is neither dry nor boring and it’s great to see early prototypes and formulas scrawled on blackboards alongside images of sleek CD-changers, gramophones and remotes. Wiper says he was keen to make sure the book wasn’t just a promotional exercise – “That was why it was really important to get a good publisher on board, so the book didn’t just become a straight up marketing thing but had a value beyond that,” he says – and has used only a handful of product shots.
“People are used to seeing the finished products, and the lavish advertising and marketing materials that go along with them, and I love to see how some of these started out, made out of bits of cardboard haphazardly taped together. I think some designers might find the process interesting to see, but personally I just loved the contrast of these dusty old things compared to the final product.”
BeoLab 14 subwoofer © Alastair Philip Wiper
Acoustic models of BeoCom 6000 cordless telephone © Alastair Philip Wiper
The Bang & Olufsen logo was designed by a sixteen-year-old painter’s apprentice called Henning Dahl Mikkelsen (Mik) © Alastair Philip Wiper
Assembly of BeoLab 18, 2013 © Alastair Philip Wiper
The Art of Impossible by Alastair Philip Wiper and Bang & Olufsen is published by Thames & Hudson on the 17th November and costs £34.95.