Yves Behar: Why California is the true home of American innovation

Updated 24th May 2017
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Yves Behar: Why California is the true home of American innovation
Written by Yves Behar
Yves Behar is the award-winning CEO and co-founder of Fuseproject, a design and branding firm based in San Francisco and New York. Behar's works are included in the permanent collections of museums worldwide, and he is a frequent speaker on design, sustainability and business topics.
If you live in northern California or San Francisco, you can understand why our culture fosters innovation. "Traditional" is an obscenity. Instead, there is an eagerness to be first: the first to try a new experience, the first to buy from a new company or to test a new piece of technology.
Yves Behar
Yves Behar
People here love new ideas, and they are not shy about discussing them. A positive response to a new idea from an engineer, a venture capitalist, or just anyone listening, is often enough to motivate someone to take that next step. Negative feedback, another important part of dialogue, keeps the wheels of entrepreneurship spinning. It's all about participation and contribution: bring something and learn something.
Having grown up in Lausanne, Switzerland, the Bay Area's progressive spirit came as a shock when I arrived in San Francisco in my early 20s.
As a teen, I was already immersed in the maker's movement -- though at the time, making your own unique clothes, posters and furniture was called "punk." Quality design schools were hard to come by, but I was fortunate that Art Center College of Design, the famed Pasadena design school, had opened a Swiss branch.
Mini Jambox wireless speaker, designed by Fuseproject for Jawbone
Mini Jambox wireless speaker, designed by Fuseproject for Jawbone Credit: Courtesy Fuseproject
After a transferring to and graduating from the California campus, I was fortunate to find employment in my favorite city, San Francisco. I loved that the city thrived in its own weirdness, and it seemed more people saw the world like I did.
In the mid-90s, the worlds of technology and design had not yet collided, and while computers were only beginning to enter the home, it was clearly only a matter of time before technology entered our everyday lives.
While designing computers with the likes of Apple and Hewlett-Packard, I also became versed in technology, software, mass-manufacturing and user-experience. Progressively, my design practice started to integrate every element of design and technology. In 1999 I named my agency Fuseproject, as I believe that to deliver complete experiences, design needs to fuse all the practices of design into a singular and cohesive idea.
Kodak Super 8 camera, designed by Yves Behar
Kodak Super 8 camera, designed by Yves Behar Credit: Courtesy Fuseproject
Flash forward more than 25 years, and we are still only seeing a glimpse of how design can shape our world with technology as a tool. While my studio still works on projects like furniture and fashion, our passion is in creating the firsts that people crave -- like Jambox, the first Bluetooth speakers and Superflex, the first powered clothing line, to name a few.
Our team members, clients and partners originate from around the world. Like us, they see design as a way to accelerate the adoption of new ideas. Whether we are looking for a new product, or transforming an existing industry, our aim is to always solve for a global human experience.
At the end of the day, I don't think of myself as a California designer. Good design is without time or place. Good design improves our lives, no matter who we are and where we live.
Snoo self-rocking crib, designed by Yves Behar
Snoo self-rocking crib, designed by Yves Behar Credit: Courtesy Fuseproject
Today, the multicultural and multidisciplinary approach to creating change is everywhere, from my hometown of Lausanne, with its own thriving start-up scene, to East Africa and South Asia, where Fuseproject's Spring start-up accelerator helps groom new entrepreneurs.
What California offers (aside from better surfing than London or Lausanne) is constant inspiration, a culture of innovation, and a healthy competitive energy to push society to its best future.
"California: Designing Freedom" is on at the Design Museum in London from May 24 to Oct. 15, 2017.