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Benjamin Hubert’s LAYER Design Studio is creating the icons of tomorrow

In the latest of our Designer Q&A series, Effect speaks to LAYER, a London-based strategic design agency with clients from Bang & Olufsen to Deutsche Telekom

You know something is afoot when you hear about a studio from several different sources in the same week. First, their Canopy Chair was a hit at Material Matters at the London Design Festival – as was their Balance speaker for B&O; and then we hear from Phaidon publishers in New York about LAYER’s new eponymously titled book documenting the studio’s rise.

In fact, LAYER has been turning heads for the best part of a decade, picking up clients from airlines to banks and creating designs which not only have the potential to enhance lives, but possess the simplicity, functionality and elegance that gives them a serious stake in being hailed as icons of our era in 50 years’ time. Here’s what the studio’s founder, industrial designer Benjamin Hubert, has to say:

Describe the ethos of LAYER
We create products and services that supersede what came before and make people happier and healthier. Our work is extremely lifestyle driven and innately connected to people’s behaviours. We believe in softening technology and integrating it into our lives, accentuating tactile materiality, and creating products and services that disrupt existing norms and industries to create meaningful change. Whilst we’re introducing new things, it’s important to be conscious of the world around us and be mindful of the impact of newness. We do that by thinking holistically about sustainability – longevity of product, how timeless it is, how reparable and upgradable it is, and how recyclable it can be. We’re very mindful of the fact that we want to improve people’s lives without having a negative impact on the world around us.

You have spoken about ‘experience-driven design’. What do you mean by this?
Experience driven design is focused on creating a really engaging experience through product or service interaction. Ensuring that everyday experiences are as seamless and evocative as possible is one of our mandates at LAYER. The Bang & Olufsen Beosound Balance speaker, for example, is about creating an experience around awesome audio and beautiful, seamless user interactions that are touch activated. The speaker features an extremely appealing, interior-driven series of forms and materials that reflect and accentuate the home.

We create experience-driven design at different scales too – from small-scale tech products to large-scale installations that bring brands to life and immerse visitors in the world of the brand. One of the most recent examples of this is Fractal, which was part of Milan Design Week this year. Deutsche Telekom gave us the opportunity to amplify the concept we had developed around the future of connectivity with an immersive installation that speaks of the current and future state of technology and how Deutsche Telekom is driving that forward.

Phaidon have recently published your book, also called LAYER. What is the thinking behind this?
The LAYER monograph captures the first seven years of LAYER and five years of the studio which was previously under my namesake. It’s a monograph that charts the progress of the studio from both a design and business sense; opens the lid on the design industry and what it means to break in and break through; and it captures lots of evocative design process images to show how the the products we design are created. It’s a moment in time and marks the first chapter of LAYER.

LAYER by Benjamin Hubert published by Phaidon. -Effect Magazine

It was a challenging yet rewarding process producing the book, and looking back on our work has given us the opportunity to consider the way we work now and in the future. It also gave us insights into how our work has evolved and is testament to the talent of the team and our creative partners over the years. LAYER remains a work in progress, but this book is an amazing moment to celebrate how far we have come.

Many of LAYER’s projects reflect a move towards more sustainable design and manufacturing. Does this inform every project at the conceptual stage now?
We work with entrepreneurs, start-ups and large business entities and our agenda at LAYER is not only to conceptualise the best possible experience for people using our products but also to ensure sustainability is really high on the agenda from day one with our partners. That’s something we hold very closely to our hearts and believe passionately in. We introduce our partners to many different ways of reducing carbon footprints and increasing sustainability.

The elegant simplicity of the AXYL chair has the potential to be a future icon. How did the design came about?
The AXYL chair took about two-and-a-half years. We worked with a British manufacturer, Allermuir, and sat with them in the beginning to think about what would be a very new, engaging, sustainable, stackable range of furniture. We quickly found this really clean, identifiable silhouette made from recycled aluminium, then we used a recycled plastic shell to join those elements together. It combines classic cues of Mid-century Modern with very contemporary ideas of form, materiality and sustainability. It’s proven to be very successful in the market and has expanded to a much larger range of products.

AXYL chair by Benjamin Hubert / LAYER
AXYL chair by Benjamin Hubert / LAYER

Working with Bang & Olufsen must be a holy grail for a designer. Please describe the collaboration.
We were tasked with creating two very new formats of speakers and also moving the design language of Bang & Olufsen forward. Working closely with their acoustic experts in Denmark, we created Beosound Balance, an object-driven, 360-degree speaker that combines multiple high-value materials and works seamlessly in the home. Beosound Emerge was about minimum footprint and maximum sound. It fits onto a bookcase and has a very new and exciting form which means you could put it into a small space and immerse yourself in the high-quality Bang & Olufsen audio output..

What gets you up and into the studio in the morning?
New challenges. One of the joys of LAYER is that our work is extremely diverse – we work across everything from the smallest consumer electronics to the largest immersive installation. Every day is different, every challenge is unique, and we have a wealth of diversity in the work we create and it keeps me creatively very stimulated. Our team is also extremely passionate and working with the team every day is a joy.

What was the first thing you designed?
In the professional world, the first thing I designed was a baby pushchair that was created to challenge norms in the market, be lighter, have great ride comfort, be modular, and service the multiple needs and pressures of new parents. For that project, I was immersed in the lives of new parents. At the age of 22, it was really eye opening to understand the challenges and frustrations of someone very different to myself and then translate that into a piece of design work to solve those issues. It was about creating something effortless that could heighten the everyday. New parenthood is incredibly challenging and design is a great tool to make that easier.

Bang & Olufsen is extremely design driven. They believe deeply in LAYER’s approach and our sensibility. It was a very close relationship over many years to find new opportunities for them. There was lots of iteration, lots of back and forth, a lot of trial and error… we’re delighted to see the results out in the world.

What next for you and for LAYER?
At the moment, we’re heavily involved in the future of transport. We’re deeply thinking about hydrogen power and how new sustainable and renewable sources of energy will replace existing fossil fuels and creating an infrastructure around hydrogen power. We’re looking at decentralised currency – creating devices and services to better manage digital currencies and sovereignty. We’re working on these projects from the ground up, so everything from initial conversations, to concepts and prototypes, manufacturing, sourcing factories, and designing the services that will drive them. At LAYER we focus on creating meaningful change across areas that are core to defining and shaping our future. Layer

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