and back again
As a kid he dreamed about changing the world with spectacular inventions.
Today the dream is the same. Meet Jakob Wagner. Engineer, designer and the man behind the new BeoPlay A6 sound system.
It was November 11, 2011. The time was 11 AM - and perhaps even 11 minutes past. On Jakob Wagner’s voicemail was a message. If he would be interested in designing a pair of headphones for B&O PLAY?
“It was almost the call of my life and I thought “this can’t be true.” For hours I was discussing with myself how long I should wait until I called back. I wouldn’t act too desperate.”
The call, however, was not a direct invitation to become a B&O PLAY designer, but a request to enter a contest with a few others to create a new pair of headphones. Jakob Wagner’s contribution was the now iconic BeoPlay H6 and of course he won.
“I gave them all I had because I really wanted to win. But in a way I had been practicing my whole life. It’s all about carefulness, thoroughness and experience. The timing was perfect because I wanted to make products to people I can identify with. I can really identify with B&O PLAY and I love the fact that I have been able to be along on this journey, building up the brand.”
Now it’s all about the new BeoPlay A6. A flexible, sexy and easy to handle
music system, which can be just as discrete as it can be powerful and open-mouthed. For several months Jakob Wagner, concept manager Jakob Kristoffersen and the engineers in Struer were playing with ideas, and Wagner was struck by how much is possible nowadays when creating sound.
“It were very productive discussions between a visionary sound engineer (Lars Goller, ed.) and a designer, who wanted to create a sound provider for a cosmopolitan, creative audience. When I got the brief I thought “Yes, I want one of those”, and it’s great to feel like the target audience. It makes the work much more fun,” he says about the flexible music system that can be placed almost everywhere.
“They are almost wizards over there (in Struer, ed.) Forget about stereo, they said. Today we can make sound which can fill a room in whole new ways,” Jakob Wagner says about the digital systems that are now more advanced than ever. Where bigger used to be better, the digital technologies today have made it possible to make small units play powerful, while clever re-engineering of acoustic principles has changed the way we perceive sound.
"Excellent, I Thought, that opens up a path to a radical new form factor"
Another important notion to Jakob Wagner’s work is the fact that the way people use music has changed radically. Today smartphones, tablets, Spotify and portable speakers define the way we listen to music and we share our music with each other in ways we haven’t done before.
That’s why the A6 is almost like a piece of furniture you move around in your house wherever you need it.
“When I design a product like this I spend a lot of time placing it everywhere in my house, looking at it from all possible angles and sometimes forgetting about it and all of a sudden discovering it again. I also bring it to friends’ houses to see how it looks in other environments and I take pictures to investigate how it behaves. I can’t explain why, but a photograph always reveals hidden mysteries,” he says about the light, slick and simple construction with power enough for a small party.
“In many ways I have designed the A6 the same way I would have designed a piece of furniture. The way it is supposed to interact with the room is the same. When I design I always think in context and about how and by whom the piece is going to be used. The A6 has the size between the smallest and the biggest objects in your home. And because of its playful nature you will get a much more intimate relation to it than you normally would with a “conventional” music system. It will become the centre of social interaction,” he explains and stresses the importance that customers by time grow more and more fond of a product.
“Too much design makes promises it can’t keep. Especially a lot of furniture look nice but is almost impossible to sit in. I see myself as a conductor of the relationship between an object and its user. The quality of that relation is the designer’s responsibility and I see a lot of parallels to human interactions where credibility, honesty and appearance are important. But design also need to be playful and poetic because the world would be very sad without poetry and seduction,” he says.
But Jakob Wagner didn’t even start out as a designer. He was more drawn by technology and invention and enrolled in engineering school at the Technical University of Denmark.
“Since childhood I knew that I wanted to invent stuff but I wasn’t aware that such thing as a designer even existed. I was just this suburban kid brother, and only because my sister’s boyfriend was an engineer I though that that would be a good place to start.”
But in engineering school he came across the fields of industrial design, which changed his perspectives on how to create objects.
“An engineer is taught how to think from the inside and out whereas a designer thinks about context, human beings and how to understand and work from the outside and in. Now I have the best from those two worlds.”
Jakob Wagner was later admitted to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen where he studied industrial design for two years, following one year at Art Center in Switzerland. After all those years in school Jakob Wagner wanted to start out for himself and he set up a design studio in his own two bedroom apartment. His first assignment was for the diving company Uwatec and with Wagner himself being an avid diver it was a perfect match.
“It was a dream come true. My graduation project from Art Center was this futuristic diving mask and my first real assignment was from my favourite diving company. Since then, every time I have wanted to change the fields I work within a new customer has appeared. From furniture to music systems. It feels like magic,” he says about customers like Alessi, Cappellini and of course B&O PLAY.
“I have always heard people talking about their lifelong fascination with Bang & Olufsen but I can’t recall having felt the same. But when I was able to afford it I bought a BeoSound Century and thought “wow” and when I later I got my hands on a Beovision MX I remember being astonished by the fact that the remote control could control both. But as always with me I was just as fascinated by the technological aspects as with the design.”
Current city: Copenhagen, Denmark
Education: Industrial Designer, MDD, Art Centre Europe, Switzerland, 1992
Has designed for brands like Muuto, Stelton, Cappellini, B&B Italia and Moroso. He has received numerous Red Dot and iF awards for his furniture and his work is included in the permanent exhibition at MoMA New York.