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Yves Behar's "Designs for Good"

Aired February 26, 2012 - 14:00   ET



YVES BEHAR, INDUSTRIAL DESIGNER: The best compliment I get on a project is, "Wow, I wonder why no one's ever thought of that?" But then, a few seconds later, they start using this product as if it had always been there.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: His mantra is design brings stories to life, and Yves Behar takes those words to heart. After all, executives will tune and turn (ph) to him to bring their products to life. He is one of the elite designers of the world known for radically innovating products for industry giants like BMW and GE.

The sheer scope and diversity of the stuff he designs is staggering - eyeglasses, furniture, lighting, watches, motorcycles and laptops, even the official condom of New York City. But perhaps Yves' greatest innovation is his ability to push these state of the art designs into the non-profit arena, providing high quality and cool to the masses.

I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta in San Francisco. Welcome to THE NEXT LIST.

Y. BEHAR: I found through design a way to tell stories, a way to bring people to new places, a way to get them to adopt new ideas. For me, design is very much a form of communication, a form of writing. The intent to tell a story is probably behind every single one of our products.

My name is Yves Behar. I'm a designer, founder of fuseproject, father, surfer.

I think the most common thread I would find is the desire to humanize a product, a desire to make it more approachable, to make it more magical, to make it exciting.

Over the last 10 years, we've designed the Jawbone Jambox, Jawbone Headsets, the Herman Miller SAYL Chair, the Herman Miller lights, the Verbien Eyeglasses for children in Mexico, the Issey Miyake Watch, the Swarovski Chandeliers, the Y Water Bottles, the New York City Condom, the BMW MINI Watch, the Local Bicycle.

GUPTA: So, how do you begin? Do you - do you literally take a bike and say what would I - how would I change it to make it work for me?

Y. BEHAR: I think we begin with the idea. You know, this notion of how would we have a locally based form of transportation? I get inspired by how our lives are changing; how, you know, in this 21st century people have new ideas about how they want to live, how they want to relate to others.

GUPTA: Should we take it for a spin?

Y. BEHAR: Yes.

GUPTA: Let's do it.

Y. BEHAR: Let's do it.

GUPTA: So how long have you lived in San Francisco now?

Y. BEHAR: I've been here almost 20 years.

GUPTA: And where - and where were you before then?

Y. BEHAR: Switzerland.

There's such a dynamic, you know, culture here. You know, the kind of personality of people that come here is the same, which is people who want to take risks, breaking new ground.

All the people I knew in the design field were wondering what I was doing in Silicon Valley. It's so far away. The design capitals of the world are considered to be Milan, London, Paris, and I really felt there was something that was brewing here on the West Coast, something that was going to become very, very critical in the world of design, and I wanted to stay here.

GUPTA: Did you have anybody or any point where you said OK, this is going to work for me?

Y. BEHAR: Around 2005, the world started changing. You know, design really became very much in focus. Steve Jobs really gave credibility to designers for, you know, for the return on investments that design represent. We started to really be considered differently than people who, you know, merely provide aesthetic guidance, but really people who can bring technology, bring lifestyle, bring aesthetics, design, functionality together.

GUPTA: People valued the design more?

Y. BEHAR: People started to value design more, started to see and recognize its role in everything from for profit to non-profit places. And it really changed my life. There's no reason why design can't be attainable, why a great design can't be something that everybody can have. I mean, that's something that I truly believe.

The old notion was that design made things more expensive. Well, for example, the old notion also is, in my opinion, that sustainability makes things more expensive. When you use your resources better, when you use less resources, less materials, it should make things cheaper.

These are things that I want to practice. (END VIDEOTAPE)



GUPTA: So this is fuseproject?

Y. BEHAR: This is fuseproject. This is the - the main floor, where the team works. We have a couple of conference rooms upstairs, and then downstairs we have the secret floor.

GUPTA: Where -- ?

Y. BEHAR: A lot of the -

GUPTA: Proprietary things -

Y. BEHAR: Proprietary, you know, confidential work is taking place.

What inspired me to start fuseproject was this idea of fusing different disciplines together, technology, design for technology, design for every day goods, furniture design, to bring it all together into - under one single roof. I had heard a lot of companies say they were doing integrated design, they were - they were practicing those, but I didn't find it myself. So I felt I had to go out and - and create it on my own.

The emotional component of our work is essential to how a product and experience, a company is going to relate to its consumers, to its clients.

Puma came to us to rethink the shoebox and they asked us a question, a simple question, how can we reduce materials and create even a better, more engaging experience with the consumer? So what we came up with is called the Clever Little Bag, and it's 65 percent less material to package and ship.

So this was just introduced a few months ago. We partnered with General Electric, built a street version as well as a residential version of a charging station for an electric car. And these are really going to be everywhere. This is definitely the way of the future.

For me, there is really one way to create great design work, is through partnerships. We have a continued relationship with these companies. We make one product and we're already thinking about the next one. We're working on positioning the entire business in a new way.

First, we worked with Jawbone in establishing a great brand on headsets, and we really sort of conquered the market of - with headsets. And then, we moved into speakers. This is the most successful speaker in the United States.

HOSAIN RAHMAN, CEO AND FOUNDER, JAWBONE: The design of this product has had a huge impact on its - its ability to capture the imagination of the consumer.

My name is Hosain Rahman. I'm the CEO and founder of Jawbone.

We've had a very distinct point of view that was what we considered to be kind of what's next in the whole design industry in terms of fusing this whole brand narrative and thinking about how the product experience and the ability sort of inside the company as well as outside. And our models worked really well for us because he can bring in inspiration from all these different types of products that he works on, whether it be a chair or a shoe or any of these things and take along those experiences and then bring them into what we're - what we're doing.

Y. BEHAR: I do see some of our products taking on incredible - sort of creating kind of worlds onto themselves.

GUPTA: So how did you become interested in contributing to the non- profit world and - and, you know, offering some of these products?

Y. BEHAR: Non-profits usually don't have access to great design. It's too expensive. It seems out of reach. For me, it was an obvious move to just say, well, let's provide what we do, how we designed, through non-profits. And it's a way to make a difference.




GUPTA: I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Welcome back to THE NEXT LIST.

Some told him he couldn't do it, that he couldn't make an affordable, unbreakable and good-looking laptop for kids. They said it was impossible to make. But Yves had something no other designer brought to the table.

NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE, FOUNDER AND CHAIRMAN, ONE LAPTOP PER CHILD NONPROFIT ASSOCIATION: It was clear that Yves had just taken off and he wasn't hitting any walls.

My name is Nicholas Negroponte. I'm the founder of the MIT Media Lab and more recently founded One Laptop Per Child.

Other designers were preoccupied with ethnographic issues and sort of almost the anthropological point of view. There really was a need to look at this as a design problem that ended up being the object that it is, but just look at the antennas and what they do, the multiple purposes. And it's very cleverly designed.

He's the best designer of his vintage by a long shot.

Y. BEHAR: What inspired me to jump into the nonprofit world was really Nicholas Negroponte. When he came here, at this exact table here and he described to me his vision of education, his vision for technology being available to all, I got very inspired for the first time in the field of technology.

When we started designing the $100 laptop, our work initially was very - very basic. We were just looking at how do you protect the keyboard and the screen, how do children sort of carry it around.

We generate a very large amount of hand drawings. We make lots and lots of prototypes, things that can be quickly, you know, we can get quickly an impression of the size and the feel of it. But it's very rough. I mean, I love actually those early stages because things are rough and they have a lot of promise.

NEGROPONTE: There are 2.5 million of them in the world and they have extraordinary properties and there's a lot of magic in those laptops. It is in some sense more integral than food and water. With education, you actually can solve the water problem and the energy problems and, you know, the health problems.

Y. BEHAR: Right after we finished the $100 laptop, we got a call from an organization in Mexico called See Better to Learn Better and they were inspired by the One Laptop Per Child to design eyeglasses that would be given away for free to kids in school. And then so the manufacturing cost had to be extremely low. And at the same time, they had to be really engaging.

Children in Mexico and most of South America really see wearing eyeglasses as a stigma and so we allowed them to sort of pick their colors. The glasses have to be really robust to survive a child's life, so we used a material called grilamid. It's - it has a very, very high distortion ratio, which means that you can take any of these and you can actually distort them and they will be perfectly fine. There's hundreds of thousands of kids with these.

MITCH PERGOLA, BUSINESS STRATEGIST, FUSEPROJECT: I admit I had some reservations early on from the cost perspective.

My name is Mitch Pergola and I'm Yves partner at Fuseproject. When 10 percent of the work that you do you do for free it's a tricky balance but in my view 100 percent worth it - 110 percent worth it, absolutely.

Even before I got here, Yves was very interested in pushing forward the notion that design can make the world a better place.

Y. BEHAR: I can tell you that that's just what made business sense every month but I can tell you that's what made human sense every month.

I don't think there's any indication from when I was a child that I was going to be particularly successful at anything. I think my parents were a little worried that I was a bit of a misfit.

When I was 15 years old, I really started to get interesting in putting things together. The two things I love the most were skiing and wind surfing. And so I built a contraption in my parents' basement, very high speed, very high adrenaline. I went to trade school where I spent a few months essentially learning how to draw. And a lot of people sort of looked at that and thought that was a very bad choice. It was sort of me out to pursue something that was - that was mine.

I worked for a few different firms, Lunar Design, Frog Design, but I wanted to do more with that. I wanted to go beyond just picking shapes and colors for computers. I felt that design should be done from the inside out.

When I started Fuseproject, that was my opportunity to set up the right kind of structure, the right kind of team, the right kind of vision. We had a few tough years, 2001 was the dot-com bubble. Things started to move in the right direction once we caught the attention of a couple of clients.

And these early, you know, projects were really for me an exercise in taking everything I had learned from technology, from how you manufacture things, how you bring new materials into places like shoes and watches. What these products are doing, they're really bringing the users into - into a new era. We specialize on being on that quest, on that wave of change and I think it's tremendously exciting to be riding that board (ph).




GUPTA: So this is a - this is a sign of growth, I guess, you're expanding.

Y. BEHAR: It's exciting to have - to be in our own house. We have 22,000 square feet, so it's going to be a place where we manufacture and prototype things.

GUPTA: And this is brand new I mean relatively.

Y. BEHAR: This is - yes, we presented it last week in - at CES in Las Vegas. And the tablet is a refinement of the laptop. It's much smaller. It's much lighter. It uses less energy, less materials. It can be even more cost effective and the covers can be customized in different ways. It can be used the different places in different ways.

This is the solar cover. So it can be left outside to charge and then connected back with a laptop for -

GUPTA: So you can charge it up and if you connect it back, you provide the power source.

Y. BEHAR: Exactly. So it needs to be protected. Kids have a very active life.

GUPTA: Kids are kids, yes. Y. BEHAR: Kids are kids.

SKY BEHAR, YVES BEHAR'S CHILD: Yes. I made another sad face. Oh, oh, oh. Yes, I did. Uh-oh. Got a hole in the ball.

Y. BEHAR: You got a hole in your soccer ball.

S. BEHAR: That's not good.

Y. BEHAR: Having children sort of gave me a completely new look on the world and on my work.

We're working on an application for a reading program on the $100 laptop. Looking at how we could lay out text and images to be really so simple and easy for children to read. And when I would share the Leaf lamp with Sky when he was 2 years old or when I would show him the $100 laptop, his reactions were so intuitive about how to use it and confirmed so many of the theories that sort of aren't always obvious to adults, to more mature customers.

This is a line of products called Sabi and these are about your every day needs and in particular the everyday needs of the boomer generation. And, you know, these kinds of containers for medicine are so difficult to open especially if your dexterity is - is impaired later in life.

GUPTA: Right.

Y. BEHAR: You just need to get one pill dispensed at a time, you just flip it over and shake it.

I often say that design is really how you treat people. If you treat them well from an ergonomic standpoint, if you treat them well from an emotional standpoint, then you probably are practicing good design.

This is a very early prototype made of foam and card board. The electric motorcycle for Mission Motors was a very exciting look at how we could create the same experience that somebody would have on a gasoline motorcycle.

This baby is fully electric.

But what happened is, we presented this new product in 2008 right at the beginning of financial crisis. The motorcycle wasn't manufactured, but we went on and rode this at incredible speeds and broke world speed record at the time for an electric motorcycle.

Taking risks is absolutely 100 percent central of what we do, trying new ideas or making prototypes or investing in new ventures. Risk is my daily life.

Since I was a child, the water was always incredibly attractive to me. It has incredible energy and incredible danger attached to it. And I have thought about how important it is to my work and to design in some ways. My goal is to continue for us to continue to evolve at the pace or faster than the rest of the environment that we're surrounded by. For me, design is also the real agent for change. I think many times in the last 10, 11 years or so, we have - we have created products and experiences and built brands where others didn't think it was possible.

There's absolutely no doubt in my - in my mind that what people want are sustainable, smart, simple experiences. We just - the industry isn't just giving it to them yet. Designers are the best position ones to lead that transformation.

GUPTA: At his core, Yves is a bit of a romantic, consumed with the emotional experience of everyone who comes into contact with his products. He is one of a rare group of people determined to do more with what they love doing. Sometimes they find that passion by accident. And other times, it's as if they were born to do nothing else.

In the end, Yves is merging the world of technology and humanity making him an agent of change and earning him a spot on THE NEXT LIST.

For more on all of our Next Listers, go to Also join us on Facebook and Twitter or on my live stream You can see my blogs, tweets and photos there.

Thanks so much for tuning in. See you next Sunday on THE NEXT LIST.