Yves Béhar Is The Most Influential Industrial Designer In The World
Yves Béhar is an unusually busy executive, even by Silicon Valley standards. He is the founder and principal designer of fuseproject, an award-winning industrial design and brand development firm. Béhar is also Chief Creative Officer of the wearable technology company Jawbone, and Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of August, creators of the first Smart Lock. He is perhaps the most decorated industrial designer of the past 15 years, and his clients (past and present) include Apple, Google, GE, Samsung, Herman Miller, and Prada. Since 2005, Béhar has also been the chief industrial designer of One Laptop per Child, and he is also the Creative Co-Founder of OUYA, an open sourced gaming platform. Additionally, he has long-term partnerships with various other companies.
When I met Béhar in his office in San Francisco, I wondered how he found the time to be involved in so many meaningful projects and enterprises. He indicated that it is a combination of having wonderful partners across all of his work streams coupled with a joyful feeling of always being open to inspiration that can fuel his creative process. He indicates that it is his life experiences, and being in the milieu of creative people wherever he goes that allows him to be involved in so many creative ventures without feeling either overburdened or tapped of good ideas.
(To listen to an unabridged audio version of this interview, please click this link. This is the eighth article in the “IT Influencers” series. To read the prior seven, featuring the likes of Salman Khan, Jim Goodnight, Walt Mossberg, and David Pogue, please click this link. To read future articles in the series, please click the “Follow” link above.)
Peter High: I thought we’d begin on a bit of the chronology of your development professionally. Who has influenced you in your career?
Yves Béhar: As a designer, there were influences that came very early on. So when I started studying design, maybe I was probably 19 years old, there were certainly people who were so impressive and who had really changed culture in some ways –you looked at Charles Eames, for example, and when you looked at people in Italy, like Joe Colombo and others, you really saw that intersection of design and culture change and those were people I was very impressed with.
Additional topics covered in the article include:
- So much of what you do one might typify as art. Was your intention always to seek commercial ends through the way in which you were doing design work?
- When companies engage you, part of what they’re engaging is your taste, your ideas, your vision. When did you realize that your taste was influential?
- Early on you worked at Apple, which is quite famous for its product design. Was it intimidating to work for them?
- How do you challenge yourself and your team to not replicate what has been done before, and to consider context in design?
- You also have your own points of reference—your own taste. How do you imbue yourself in the values of companies like Herman Miller and GE?
- When you are engaged by a company you’re not familiar with, what is your process? How do you develop a perspective on the aforementioned unique attributes?
- Part of the power of fuseproject is that you operate at the nexus of design, business, and engineering. The companies you work with have more traditional silos and don’t collaborate the way fuseproject does. As you implement your design, is it ever necessary to foster a new type of collaboration with a client?
- What is the breakdown of time spent working at clients’ offices versus time spent in your own offices?
- How do you think about user experience and engage your customers’ customers?
- You mentioned that fuseproject brings together people from diverse disciplines in your work, and that the same diversity is reflected in your customers, with the many functions that are represented on their end. Traditional companies are almost militaristic in how they organize their silos, but now so many companies are thinking about things differently. How do you see companies evolving in terms of their organization?
- You are of Turkish descent. You were raised in Switzerland. You’re based in the U.S. now. I’m sure you’re very sensitive to different cultures and different tastes that are reflected in those different cultures. Almost all of the, if not all, of the companies that you’ve spoken about operate globally. To what extent do you factor in culture and geography in your work?
- What are your sources of inspiration and new creative ideas?
- So your sources of inspiration can pop up at any point during your day, in conversation, etc?
- It’s been very interesting to see universities develop programs combining design, engineering, and business disciplines. What role do you see universities playing in developing the sort of talent to think the way you do?
- I’m sure you have no typical day. But how do you organize your time?
- What are you working on now?
- You are involved in so many different companies and teams. How do you split up your time?