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Designer Yves Behar Profiled

Aired September 2, 2012 - 14:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The best compliments I get on the project are, wow, I wonder why no one's ever thought about it. Then a few seconds later they started using this product as if it had always been there.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN ANCHOR: His mantra is design brings stories to life. He takes those words to heart. After all, executives routinely turn 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 his 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.


YVES BEHAR, FOUNDER, FUSEPROJECT: 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, and to make it exciting.

Over the last 10 years, we've designed this jam box, headsets, the Herman Miller chair, the Herman Miller lights, eyeglasses for children in Mexico, this watch, Swarovski chandeliers, water bolts, the New York City condom, the BM mini-watch, the local bicycle.

GUPTA: So how do you begin? Would you take a bike and say how would I change it to make it work with me?

BEHAR: I think we begin with the idea, this notion of how would we have a locally based form of transportation. I get inspired by how our lives are changing, how 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?

BEHAR: Yes, let's do it.

GUPTA: How long have you lived in San Francisco now?

BEHAR: I've been here almost 20 years.

GUPTA: Where were you before then?

BEHAR: Switzerland. There is such a dynamic 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 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?

BEHAR: Around 2005, the world search engine, design really became very much in focus. Steve Jobs really gave credibility to designers for the return on investment that design represents.

We started to really be considered differently than people who merely provide an aesthetic guidance, but really people who can bring technology, bring lifestyle, bring aesthetics, design, functionality together.

GUPTA: People valued the design more.

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.

For example, the old notion also is, in my opinion, that sustainability makes things more expensive. When you use your resources better, when you useless resources, less materials, it should makes things cheaper. These are things that I want to practice.




GUPTA: So this is Fuseproject.

BEHAR: This is Fuseproject. This is the main floor where the team works. We have a couple conference rooms upstairs. Downstairs we have the secret floor where a lot of the proprietary, 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 under one single roof.

I had heard a lot of companies say that we're doing integrated design. They were practicing this, but I didn't find it myself so I felt I had to go out and create it on my own. The emotional component of our work is essential to how a product, an experience, a company is going to relate to its consumers, to its clients.

Puma came to us to rethink the shoe box and they asked us the simple question -- how can we reduce materials and create even a better more engaging experience for the consumer. So what we came up with is called a clever little bag. It's 65 percent less materials 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. 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 these higher businesses in a new way.

First went to jawbone to establish a great pair of headsets and sort of cornered the market on headsets and then we moved to speakers. This is the most successful speaker in the United States.

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

My name is Hosain Rahman. I'm the CEO and founder of Jawbone. He had a very distinct point of view that was what we considered to be 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 to go inside the company as well as outside.

And that model works really well for us because he can bring in his inspiration from all these different products he works on, whether a chair or shoe or any of these things then take those experiences into what we're doing.

BEHAR: I do see some of our products taking on incredible -- sort of creating kind of worlds unto themselves. GUPTA: How did you become interested in contributing to the non- profit world and even offering some of these products?

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 design, to non- profits. 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, MIT MEDIA LAB: 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 ethnic graphic 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, what they do, the multiple purposes, and it is very cleverly designed. He's the best designer of his vintage by a long shot.

BEHAR: What inspired me to jump into the non-profit 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 think sort of carry it around.

We generate very large amount of hand drawings. We make lots and lots of prototypes, things that 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. 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.

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 so the manufacturing costs 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 allow them to sort of pick their colors.

Their glasses have to be really robust to survive a child's life. So we use a material called "gorilla mint." 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 BERGOLA, YVES BEHAR'S PARTNER, FUSEPROJECT: I admit I had some reservations early on from the cost perspective. My name is Mitch Bergola and I am Yves's partner at Fuseproject.

So in 10 percent of the work that you do, you do for free. It is a tricky balance, but in my view a 110 percent worth it, absolutely.

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

BEHAR: I can't tell you that that's just what made business sense every month, but I can tell you that I've made human sense every month.

I don't think there is 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 interested in putting things together. Two things I loved the most were skiing, and windsurfing. So I built a contraption in my parents' basement, very high speed, very high adrenalin.

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 and thought that was a very bad choice.

It was sort of me out to pursue something that was mine. I worked for a few different firms learning design, but I wanted to do more with that, I wanted to go more 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. In 2001 was the dotcom bubble.

Things started to move in the right direction once we caught the attention of a couple of clients. In these early 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 in to places like shoes and watches.

What these products are doing, they're really bringing the users in to a new era. We specialize on being on that crest with, being on that wave of change. And I think it's tremendously exciting to be riding that way.




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

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

GUPTA: This is brand new, relatively --

BEHAR: Yes. We presented it last week 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, can be used in different places in different ways. This is the solar cover so it can be left outside to charge and then connected back with the laptop for --

GUPTA: You can charge it out. Then if you connect it back, you provide the power source.

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

GUPTA: Kids are kids.

BEHAR: Kids are kids.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yes, I make another sad face! Whoa, whoa, whoa! Yes, I do. I got a hole in the ball.

BEHAR: You got a hole in your soccer ball.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: That's not good.

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 leaflet 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. These are for your every day needs. Particularly every day needs of the boomer generation. These kinds of containers for medicine are so difficult to open, especially if your dexterity is impaired later in life.

You just need to get one pill dispensed at a time. Just flip it over and shake. 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 emotional standpoint then you probably practicing good design.

This is a very early prototype made of foam and cardboard. 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This baby is fully electric.

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

Taking risks is absolutely 100 percent the 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 was incredible energy, an incredible danger attached to it. 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.

Many times in the last 10, 11 years or so we have created products and experiences and brands where others thought it wasn't possible. There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that what people want are sustainable, smart, simple experiences.

Industry isn't just giving it to them yet. Designers are the best positioned 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 is 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.