- Photography by Ms Melissa Kaseman | Styling by Ms Kira Curtis
As founder and CEO of the New York- and San Francisco-based design and strategy firm fuseproject, Mr Yves Béhar has staked his place atop the design world at the incredibly fruitful intersection of technological innovation and human experience.
The Swiss-born designer's bold-faced clients include Mini, Prada, Puma, PayPal, Herman Miller, Google and scores of others, but it's likely the human interactions with those products that you're most likely to remember - running your finger along the sinuous curves of his Leaf lamp for Herman Miller to activate the LEDs, marvelling at the wireless sound emanating from a Jambox speaker, tracking your activity with an UP24 wearable for Jawbone, reclining into the suspension bridge-inspired back of a SAYL office chair and the effervescent spurt of a SodaStream.
A restless innovator, Mr Béhar's impact on the design and tech sectors resounds. He's won a prestigious National Design Award, was dubbed one of Time magazine's 25 Style & Design Visionaries, and his work has found a home in the collections of some of the world's leading art and design museums.
Mr Béhar was just about to leave for the Salone del Mobile furniture fair in Milan when MR PORTER visited his studio. We asked him about designing objects that find easy sympathy with the human body, where he sees design's chance to better the world, and what taking the time to go surfing means to him. fuseproject.com
You've been adept at marrying object and technology. How do you think about that intersection?
Design and technology have the greatest potential to change the human experience when combined. Different disciplines of design need to be combined, or "fused" as we say at fuseproject, in order to achieve breakthroughs: user experience, industrial design and brand address the design opportunity at once, looking to solve the idiosyncrasies of modern life. Products and experiences need to have a big idea behind them, one that will set them apart from a cluttered environment. Good designers work like editors: reducing the features, creating a simple yet compelling experience, addressing users with emotional intelligence, making sure that every design element that is left, is to the service of the big idea.
You've worked extensively with Herman Miller and Jawbone. What's the key to a long-term and fruitful collaboration with a client?
The best work is done with people you know, and companies you have fully internalised as a designer. And since design work is never done, companies will always need to evolve, it's a huge asset to have a long-term relationship with a designer.
My passion is to do the best work possible, so very early on I knew that long-term relationships were going to allow me to simply push my work to new places. By being dedicated to one client, I can think both about what the company needs in five to 10 years, and position current and immediate work so we can deliver on the future vision. The work you see emerging now with Herman Miller and Jawbone are visions from five or 10 years ago that together we shared and pursued.
You've done some great furniture design, but can you talk us through what sets the MultipliCITY line for Landscape Forms apart?
MultipliCITY for Landscape Forms is our first outdoor furniture collection, and it wants to be beautiful and place-creating, while at the same time offering other designers flexibility to achieve their own visions. It was designed as a creative canvas. That is why we focused on an environmentally efficient set of legs and supports for the benches, tables and bike racks, and then we let local architects make the call on what best indigenous material to use for the horizontal surfaces (seats and table tops).
Design and technology have the greatest potential to change the human experience when combined
Where does MultipliCITY live within the furniture you've designed?
It fits with our other furniture work as it is graphically simple and strong from afar, yet subtle form transitions make it something people will appreciate when in close contact. We also wanted to acknowledge that today the outdoors are used for both leisure and for work. So the ergonomics of the seats and the functional details of the bike racks take into account that we have technology with us. The bike racks have a counter-height surface that provides a shelf while locking one's bike. Much better than setting your bags and helmet on the asphalt!
How does life in the Bay Area inform your work?
Northern California is an incredible source of calm in my life, which I have to balance with the constant excitement of new creative frontiers. Surfing is a very Zen practice for me, seeing the shore from the water presents a different perspective, something I am used to doing in my work: to look at things from a new angle. San Francisco and the Bay Area are unique in this way, at the same time grounded in beautiful and abundant nature, and propelled into the future by new ideas.
You're strongly interested in social innovation and doing good. Can you tell me about design's opportunity to make real change?
There are so many opportunities for design to make a difference, both in the for-profit world and in the non-profit space. Everything needs to be redesigned, and when one experiences the world, it is pretty clear that much can be improved for the majority of our societies. I honestly don't see a difference between both practices. All I know is that design can look at problems from a human standpoint, and that creates value that is both tangible and intangible.
Can you talk through a couple of these social innovation design projects?
I am particularly involved with education and health projects all around the world. There are now millions of XO laptops and tablets from One Laptop Per Child being used in education systems in 40 countries, and millions of eyeglasses designed for Augen in Mexico and the US that allow kids to see and learn. In health, we are working on future technologies to diagnose and treat endemic diseases such as malaria and on young women's issues in Africa as well. It's all hard work, but it's increasingly important for designers to apply their game-changing craft in the places that we can make the most difference.
How do you think about design and the human body? How do you design for intimate contact?
The hardest things to design are wearables, both technically and from a personal style standpoint. It is not enough to be on-trend, in fact for most wearables we need to create our own trend. I think this is what makes fashion scared of tech, and tech scared of fashion: it's a new language that does not reside in either camp. It needs to be invented.
Words by Mr Aaron Britt