Johannes Torpe: rock star of holistic design


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.

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Update 2: Savannah Generate winners


Our first group of winners crossed the finish line. Tired and fueled mostly by leftover Twizzlers, the teams gathered to hear who won the challenges. 


1st Team Dennis: sisters Anna and Faith Zeng, animation and visual effects
2nd Team Red Universe: Morgan Bouttier, illustration
3rd Team Hatstall House: Brittany Venable, fashion, Kathleen Friedlander, sequential art, and Kaitlyn Nagle, film and television

Third place Twizzlers entry, the Twizzard
Third place Twizzlers' entry, the Twizzard

Urban design concepts

1st Team Flexus: Alex Otterbein, architecture, Taylor Manley, architecture, and Max Robinson, industrial design
2nd Team Minions: Jerome Elder, design for sustainability, Jonathan Kalinowski, service design and Khaled Riad, architecture
3rd Team 3456: Jorie Ballum, design for sustainability and Latoya Campbell, architecture
Honorable Mention: Team Blue Curve, Farid Sadeghi, design management, Azadeh Abrishami, design management and Elaheh Abrishami, animation


Saturday, 6 a.m.

Update 1: Atlanta midway

20 plus hours in, Jake the Snake still standing tall
20 plus hours in, Jake the Snake Roberts still standing tall


Friday, 10 a.m.

Generate: Fit for reality TV

24-hour art and design challenge under way in Atlanta and Savannah

The euphoria and disbelief I felt upon completing the Georgia Half Marathon moved me to hang the race poster in my cubicle, a toast to my momentary glory.

Come to find out, this stunning paper trophy was the result of a different marathon: Generate, SCAD’s 24-hour art and design competition. Currently under way in Atlanta and Savannah, Generate is really a sprint that pushes students to complete projects for corporate sponsors that would usually take months or longer to produce.

Students get Generate challenge details in Atlanta

Imagine the scene, hundreds of students getting briefs from companies and then letting their talent loose, racing against the clock to deliver a complete work of art, like that official marathon poster. Don’t you think these challenges, happening now, have more intrigue, say, than watching bakers vie for Cupcake King?

Pay attention Ovation TV, these art and design students have 24 hours to:

  • Create a WWE-themed animated series starring Jake the Snake Roberts
  • Craft a 24-page print-ready comic from scratch
  • Sketch Twizzler-inspired artwork to be featured in Hershey’s digital gallery
  • Propose urban design concepts for some of the world’s biggest cities

I’d rather run another marathon than attempt any of these. And there’s more from where those came from.

Generate’s industry partners – think of them as the panel from “The Voice” – have included giants like Cartoon Network, IDW Publishing, Blizzard Entertainment, Adobe and more. They issue the challenges and then watch the best and brightest slay their real world objectives in the arena of SCAD’s studios.

For students, the event is tantamount to auditioning for future jobs or internships. Winners take prizes including cash, valuable software licenses, and portfolio reviews by masters of their crafts.

We’ll post updates on kick-off, mid-point reviews and final presentations. Visit SCAD Atlanta’s Generate blog for minute-by-minute action.

Pat Quinn, associate dean of academic services for the SCAD
Atlanta, officially kicks off Generate in Atlanta and reminds folks
that this is where it all started seven years ago.

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