Super Designer Yves Behar



Yves Behar enjoys a kind of celebrity sex appeal that no other industrial designer can claim (who else has thrown condoms at the TED audience?). He's bestowed his aesthetics on the One Laptop Per Child, Herman Miller lighting, a line of green underwear, the Jawbone Bluetooth headset, and the Mission One electric motorcycle. But he and his firm, Fuseproject, go beyond the wrapping to make products that are Earth-friendly from the bottom up.

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(Full text after the jump)TreeHugger: You have a special approach to your relationship with clients, you call it a "design venture." What does that look like?

Behar: For me, what was important when I created Fuseproject, which was about 10 years ago, was to try to redefine the relationship between designer and client. My aim was really to create something that lasts longer, that's more long term than just designing a product that's on the market for three months, six months, or a couple of years.

And typically, those relationships mean you work with a client for three to six months and then it's over. I think about the legacy of our work; how, when we work in partnership with companies, when we work long term with them and help them build their brand and their name, your impact goes much further than just the product or just the design of a product. And the brand, its ethos, its relationship to the rest of the world continues in the way that you set it up.

So, basically, 50 percent of our work is design ventures, because we work with startups, and we help them build a brand, get a name. We created the Slingbox,. We created a lot of the names of the products and the companies we've worked with.

TreeHugger: A lot of your products are ecologically innovative. But do you think of yourself as a green designer?

Behar: I don't think there's such a thing. There shouldn't be such a thing as a green designer. Sustainability, low energy consumption, all these are tools in the very large toolbox that designers have. And to me, it's just one of the most important tools we use every day on the many projects we work on, whether it's reinventing the shoe box for Puma, creating a new brand of underwear such as PACT, working with Mission Motors, or simply working on all the projects we currently work on. Even Jawbone, where we have just launched a packaging that has reduced 75 percent of the materials and plastics in it.

So, I think sustainability very much should be at the core of every design. I find that to convince large companies--like Puma, for example--to rethink an entire distribution system, or to rethink how they do things on a fundamental level, you'd better have a good reason. And there's no better reason than creating a new, exciting design that is reducing resource and energy use, etc.

TreeHugger: What do you feel like is the hardest thing when it comes to really designing something that meets your standards?

Behar: I truly believe in following through all the way, meaning we're very involved at the very beginning, brainstorming at the business-creation level. But we're also very involved all the way through to the end, because it is through those final details--material selection, how exactly things are made, built, and put together--that you can really create something that you have envisioned and that will follow through on all of the original ideas.

But I think the biggest challenge is attainability: making products that are available, attainable, to lots of people. Especially when we work for projects like the One Laptop per Child or the eyeglasses for Mexico, the See Better to Learn Better project.

When we work on those kinds of projects the challenge is that when people think of low cost, they think of making things cheaply. They don't want to invest a lot in tooling or manufacturing. When making something low cost, a lot of companies assume, "Oh, well, that means we don't have a lot of money. We're not going to spend a lot."

But it's just the reverse. In order to make the $100 laptop, or to make the glasses for Mexico, and to make them at a very low cost, we have to use the most efficient and the most advanced techniques, and we have to partner with some of the most sophisticated manufacturers.

It's sometimes counterintuitive to businesses that, to make a successful low-cost product, you actually have to invest more. But obviously the rewards are that much larger when you do.

TreeHugger: The third generation of the One Laptop per Child is now on the horizon. Can you talk about the Laptop from a designer's perspective?

Behar: As you know, we started this with Nicholas Negroponte about five or five and a half years ago. It's really been about building a completely new type of approach on every level, whether it's the way the business is conceived, the way we work with manufactures, the way we show the product in development. We expose our plans, for example, we tell people what we are going to do, which people obviously aren't doing in the for-profit word.

But for us, revealing and sharing our plans is a way to move the world to new places, which the first One Laptop per Child really did. It was highly criticized in the beginning by all kinds of very prominent people and companies in the IT world. They said, "Oh, people want a full-functioning laptop. They want a DVD drive in there. They want full graphics capabilities, etc, etc."

So it was derided in that sense. But what has happened is exactly what the One Laptop per Child predicted, and almost ushered. Which is, things got simpler, products became lighter, and they started to deliver just what people needed, not what the computer industry wanted you to consume.

In that spirit we are sharing the next two versions, actually. There is a version which you mentioned, which is slated for seven months from now. And then there is a version which we showed in December of 2009, which is the thin tablet with the plastic display.

We are working on both of these versions, and on a solution for the Consumer Electronics Show. This one is going to be a glass display, not plastic. But we are trying to integrate the most practical and advanced technologies into a really low cost way of thinking, while delivering exactly what children in education systems would need.

The current success of the XO is such that we need a couple more offerings in the space for our kids in different cultures and different countries.

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