From food to music to fashion, Copenhagen, Beijing and Padova, the practice of Danish designer Johannes Torpe is without borders. Or, as he says, holistic. It’s an approach rooted in his upbringing by an artist mother and musician father. He arrived at design by way of music, leaving home at 15 to become a professional drummer. Along the way, he produced the hit song Calabria 2007 and became CEO of Johannes Torpe Studios and creative director of Bang & Olufsen. Not only is his career unconventional but — as with Bang & Olufsen’s BeoVision Avant television — it’s like magic.
He commutes from continent to continent, managing a global team and leaving enchanting restaurants, retail stores and furniture in his wake. But it’s not just magic. Hard work, guided by core principles, allows Torpe to achieve his potential.
Here are 10 of these principles for building a holistic design practice, gleaned from Torpe during his recent visit to Savannah College of Art and Design for SCADstyle.
1. Start with a story. Design has less to do with process and more to do with the influences shaping it. Exploring everything surrounding design yields something more interesting, relevant and intuitive.
It doesn’t matter what we touch, the story behind it is very important. - Johannes Torpe
2. Reach beyond design. A designer’s work isn’t necessarily done when the project is complete. It extends, for instance, to marketing the product so the consumer experiences or perceives it as the designer intended.
3. Look at the past to get to the future. In 2012, Bang & Olufsen's CEO chose Torpe to be the company’s first-ever creative director and asked him to reinvigorate the 90-year-old brand. To do this, Torpe had to study its history. So he created a book of rules about the brand to inform new products. He also took classic models that captured Bang & Olufsen’s identity and revived them with modern twists.
4. Concept is everything. Design can’t begin without broad thinking. We prevent disruptive design from taking place when we approach a project without a well-developed concept and become distracted by doing.
5. If it feels like work you’re doing it wrong. Torpe transitioned from lighting design to graphic design to cinematography to nightclub design and even designing men’s suits. His zigzaggy path, and success, justifies his conviction that we produce our best work when we pursue things that move us.
6. Engage with retail. Extraordinary design shouldn’t be showcased in passive environments. Torpe’s studio redesigned all of Bang & Olufsen’s stores to enhance how consumers experience the products. Introducing furniture that’s easily replicated anywhere in the world ensured practicality didn’t have to be sacrificed for interactivity.
7. Use music as fuel. Of course music would inspire a drummer. But blessed with musical talents or not, Torpe believes there are few muses that evoke memories or emotions in us like music. Reach for your iPod and see what happens the next time you feel stuck.
8. Believe in magic. Bang & Olufsen customers, interviewed for insight into why certain products attracted them, repeatedly named magic as the factor that drew them to their purchases. It’s both a tangible and intangible variable Torpe tries to include in all of his projects and, inevitably, the one that makes the difference.
If you do something that’s magical in any way, something that’s simple and clear, you will reach people’s hearts. – Johannes Torpe
9. Pursue relationships. Tying together his far-flung interests are people who propelled Torpe from one job to the next. His connection to others and his effort to reach out and understand them fast tracked his evolution as a designer and the growth of his practice.
10. Think globally. From Italian to German and Japanese, it seems Torpe can do spot-on impressions of every client with whom he has worked. It’s a sign he’s truly listening, and a testament to the power of a place to shape us. By doing restaurants in Taiwan, resorts in China and retail stores in Europe, Torpe’s practice has achieved a universality that speaks for itself.