Yves Béhar is all about solving problems. The industrial designer, entrepreneur, and founder of San Francisco-based multidisciplinary firm Fuseproject believes that design has the power to improve people’s everyday lives. “In the 21st Century we’re focusing on the environment, how people live, and how technology affects us,” he says. “Designers are the ones who listen, have empathy, and can creatively think of solutions.”
Fuseproject, which Béhar founded two decades ago after recognizing a need for a truly integrated design firm that fused everything from strategy to industrial design to user experience under one roof (hence the name), takes that solution-driven approach seriously. Among its work is The Frame TV, a flat screen television designed in 2017 for Samsung that when turned off, transforms into a digital art showcase. “People live in smaller spaces and they don’t want a large black piece of technology on the wall—they want to hide it,” Béhar says. The Happiest Baby SNOO Smart Sleeper—developed in collaboration with pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp using his signature 5 S’s approach to calm infant crying—is a modern-looking smart bassinet that helps babies develop healthy sleep habits, thus in turn, helping new parents get much-needed shut-eye.
“What inspires me isn’t so much the visual landscape around us, it’s more the societal needs and the things that will make our lives better,” Béhar says. “Our approach is to pursue a big idea around a certain product, experience, or need. Whether we’re working with startups or with large established brands, we’re always looking for the opportunity to change perceptions.”
For 14-year-old Béhar, studying industrial design was a far-fetched dream—at the time there were no schools in his native Switzerland offering such a program. As a teen, he says he adhered to the “punk era way of thinking,” and spent much of his time in his basement making furniture and clothes. “The punk movement was a maker’s movement,” he says. “What I found most fun was to create things that I could use or wear.” In 1986, the Pasadena, Calif.-based ArtCenter College of Design opened a now-defunct second campus in Vevey, Switzerland, and Béhar split his time between the two locations, solidifying his design talents.
Since its launch, Fuseproject’s design work has benefited not just those in the design field, but also communities in need around the globe. Its creations for See Better to Learn Better, a program that provides free prescription eyeglasses to children in Mexico, include designing durable, ergonomic, and colorful frames in a variety of styles that the kids would actually want to wear. The firm also joined forces with Berkeley, Calif.-based nonprofit Project Color Corps on a project with children at the Willie Mays Boys & Girls Club at Hunters Point, in which it transformed a building’s humdrum facade with a brilliant mural design based on the kids’ favorite colors and creative insight.
“Design accelerates the adoption of new ideas,” Béhar says. “Designers see technology, materials, and production methodologies as tools to create something that will be right for the time and respond to societal needs.”
Yves Behar is a judge for the 2019 GRAY Awards. To get your tickets to the event, taking place on November 20 at Seattle’s Nordic Museum, visit grayawards.com.