Experiences, connection and sustainability: a few thoughts on industrial design from a master

Technology is "the raw future" before design gets to it and makes it useful, reckons Yves Behar.


Design can sometimes equal technology, sure, but technology usually just involves performance: specs, efficiency, features.

“[But] design is about the human experience,” said Behar.

Introduced as “the most influential industrial designer in the world” (as he has been described by Forbes and others), Behar is supremely placed to define the concept.

The keynote speaker at the opening day of Solidworks World 2016 in Dallas, Texas, Behar gave insights into some of the trends he sees in industrial design (a move away from ultra-distracting screen in technology is one), described what it should accomplish, and what should underpin it.

The founder of fuseproject and a collaborator with Herman Miller, GE, Swarovski, Samsung and many other companies, Behar is co-founder of smart home company August, as well as the long-time chief creative officer at wearables company Jawbone.

When Behar got to Silicon Valley in the early 90s, nobody cared about design: tech was a thing enterprises used and it was ideally kept out of eyesight.

Now it is essential, for wearable technology companies as well as for any other firm wanting its products to appeal to the user.

“It’s not just about making things pretty or making them work,” he said.

“It’s about shifting our perception of the world and creating new experiences by pushing the limits of what’s possible.”

At its finest, design creates a strong relationship between the user and the maker.

This was a concept Behar explored for a 1999 project for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (his work is in museums around the world), the Learning Shoe. The work looked at what the future of footwear might be, collecting data via shoes such as weight, pronation and heart rate. This data was used to the create new sneakers with the ultimate “personal fit”.

“This was before blue tooth, before wifi, before the internet of things,” said Behar, who wondered what it might be like if shoes weren’t purely disposable items based on seasonal fashions that created no real connection with the consumer.

“When companies try to expand their brand, and try and connect with customers in a deeper way, I don’t think that the fashion or the style or marketing or advertising is the only way to do so,” he later told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

“So the notion is ‘what about if you make your product something that gets better over time where I can see constant improvement?’”

Products that improve over time are something he sees “some inklings of” in the wearable technology sector nowadays, with products delivering customised, usable insights to consumers.

Besides delivering personal experiences and a broad shift to more multidisciplinary design teams (“if designers love the idea, they do come together to solve problems with greater creativity”) rather than a genius not wanting to dilute his or her vision, Behar sees sustainability as greatly important. This is so now, and will only increase in the future.

And far from being an impediment, it could be an asset in developing products.

“I think that sometimes using sustainability as one of the central tools in your design work can actually lead to more innovative, more differentiated solutions,” offered Behar, who pointed to the Sayl chair he developed for Herman Miller.

“The notion of sustainability in that chair, to take parts away, find new structural ways to hold the body, to hold the back of the chair up: it helped us actually lower the price point of the chair,” he said.

“It is the entry-level, lowest-cost chair in the portfolio of Herman Miller chairs. And that’s because we were able to bring the idea of sustainability together with the idea of attainability; a lower-cost product.”

“So I think for sustainability – there’s many reasons to do it. And one certainly is that’s the critical thing that we all need to think about on every product, every experience we create. But it’s also the way we can design better products that are more compelling in their marketplace.”


Manufacturers’ Monthly is attending Solidworks World 2016 as a guest of Dassault Systemes.

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