Yves Behar on his design for good


Yves Behar founded Fuseproject in San Francisco 22 years ago. Since then, the Swiss designer has been closely associated with rapidly evolving technological products and services. His journey from Swiss punk to design guru has effectively mirrored Silicon Valley’s own evolution from a chaotic, DIY-infused alternative cultural ecosystem to the engine room of the global economy. Along the way, Fuseproject has seen triumphs and missteps, dead ends and diversions, but every project is imbued with the utopian ethic that technology – done right – is a powerful force for good.

Yves Behar: Conceiving ideas

Detail of the webbed backrest of the ‘Sayl’ office chair by Yves Behar for Herman Miller

A new design book, Yves Behar: Conceiving ideas, traces the process behind his work and is full of images of prototypes and conceptual sketches. “Designing Ideas is not about a marketing solution – the final glossy image – but shows the slow, winding road, the journey of design,” Behar explains. Rather than presenting Fuseproject’s results chronologically, the book groups them into six sections: Reduce, Detect, Transform, Give, Humanize, and Scale. Each section captures Behar’s unmatched ability to shape and guide how a product or service can best be streamlined for our new era of algorithm-driven, digitally-driven consumption.

“Designing Ideas is not a marketing solution – the final glossy image – but shows the slow winding road, the journey of design” – Yves Behar

“The strength of Fuseproject comes from the original concept: to merge disciplines in the service of an idea,” says Behar. “Being multidisciplinary is what creates these full-fledged solutions. The other thing that has always defined the studio is how we marry this approach to the start-up world, where everything has to be created from scratch. ‘

Yves Behar and the transformative power of design

The One Laptop Per Child project used as a teaching aid in an Afghan school

Although the turn of the century was a fertile time for start-up culture, a lot of “visionary” ideas never made it into physical form. “Design has undergone tremendous evolution over the past 30 years,” says Behar.
“I came to Silicon Valley in the mid-90s and design was not on the radar. Having studied in the tradition of modern European design, I was interested in the opportunity to show how design could add value to what were for the most part engineered products. The design was seen as a last-minute decorative coat of paint.

So what has changed? The bursting of the first dot-com bubble was about the over-supply and overvaluation of services and platforms, rather than tangible material things. Ultimately, it was studios like Behar’s that shaped the emerging genre of smart devices. “Design in the broad sense has become central to the success of many companies,” he says. “We saw how it went from being an option to being an integral part of building a business. “

A sketch of the $ 100 laptop from the One Laptop Per Child project

As the sections of the book suggest, Behar is a firm believer in the transformative power of design. “There are essential 21st century ideas such as sustainability, accessibility and diversity, all of which can be accelerated by design,” he says. As a designer, “you are able to influence new ideas and new behaviors. I think design is about accelerating the adoption of new ideas. ‘ Some of Fuseproject’s most prominent work has addressed these issues. The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, which ran from 2005 to 2014, aimed to create hundreds of millions of learning machines for children in developing countries, at $ 100 each. He was fueled by optimism: “This project has shown that design is for people who are not approached by the industry,” says Behar, calling the challenge “a true first-rate design adventure.” in the book. Although the program did not have the global impact originally predicted by OLPC, 3.5 million devices were built. “I think this has shown that education and the digital divide are still a world-changing issue,” Behar recalls. “The actual device was a cascade of decisions towards simplicity. “

Other projects have similar pioneering components. The “Sayl” office chair for Herman Miller showed that low-carbon design can have a global audience, Behar notes, and the book’s “Reduce” chapter chronicles many different approaches to packaging, production, and packaging. of presentation, and the ways in which can help less be more. “Design is not a linear path. You have to let the ideas, ideas and discoveries inform the original premise, ”Behar explains.

Design the technological experience

Designs for the August Keyless Home Access System, which includes a smart lock, keypad and doorbell camera

Over the decades, the designer has also become an entrepreneur, not only shaping products but creating entire businesses, such as August, a home security systems maker that he co-founded with Jason Johnson in 2012. manufacturing and distribution have helped form this new ecosystem of small manufacturers. “As a designer, getting your concept accepted globally is an incredible thing,” he admits.

Fuseproject flourished at a time when the stupid physical object was transcended by application-driven “smart” devices, a product universe of tangentially linked “things”. Behar does not repent of the transition, while insisting that it is in the service of the user experience. “I always thought technology just had to go. The experience should only be what someone sees and not what is behind it, ”he says.

New products, like the ‘Snoo’ Responsive Crib, embody this belief in technology as an enabler. “It’s wonderful to see how design can intersect with key moments in life,” enthuses Behar. “The baby cot shows how technology can meet the needs of parents and babies. Although Snoo was not designed to be a robot to take care of your baby, I would use this image as a provocative idea, because ultimately our design is the opposite – it looks like a beautiful object. The technology is not obvious.

The reactive baby bed ‘Snoo’, created in collaboration by Yves Behar and pediatrician Dr Harvey Karp

From 2015 to 2019, Fuseproject was a partner of the Spring Technology Accelerator Program, which supported entrepreneurs in East Africa and South Asia seeking to improve the lives of adolescent girls, and was developed with the Nike Foundation and the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office of the United Kingdom. . Behar explains how the ethics of social enterprise involves reversing the traditional aid model in favor of funding and the emergence of local ideas. In Spring’s case, the design of these support systems mattered more than the physical appearance of the objects.

A meeting for the Spring technology accelerator program, with which Fuseproject has partnered

That said, the object – whether understated, elegant, elaborate or connected – is here to stay. “The idea that software will kill the physicality of things has been around for some time. The truth is, it just didn’t happen, ”says Behar. “Software is in everything – even in [something as apparently simple as] our “Leaf” lamp for Herman Miller (2006). I see technology and software as an ingredient, a tool, not the essential. Of course, there are some things that we are less and less inclined to own physically. But we will always be very excited about the new form factors. I want to be a designer who puts the human connection at the very center of people’s lives – this belief has always driven my work. ‘ §

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