How Design Can Supercharge Your Business with Yves Behar
Hey everyone what's going on I'm Chase Jarvis, welcome to another episode of Chase Jarvis Live here on Creative Live, this is where I sit down with the worlds top creatives entrepreneurs and thought leaders, and do my best unpack actionable and valuable insights to help you with your dreams and career, and hobby and in life. My guest today is Yves Behar. (upbeat music) Hi buddy.
How are you?
Well, you'd walk from four blocks from--
No, one block.
Were we are on the other side of your building.
Incredible studio space over there.
It's beautiful, yeah.
For contacts here in San Francisco, there's like 50 things happening at once, we're doing this interview here, we're doing a bunch of stuff for Print Magazine, working with Debbie Melman who's a good friend of both of ours.
And the phone's dinging in my pocket, cardinal sin there. So for the people who know you, they probably know everything about you because you've had an illustrious career in design, i...
ndustrial design, but for the folks that are new or new-ish, give a little back story. Give some context, how you got to where you're sitting right here.
Sure, I'm an industrial designer but I also believe in bringing all the different disciplines of the creative field, so branding, which includes graphic design, packaging, digital, which is user experience, on device, UI, Web, apps, etc., all the disciplines of industrial design, and then strategy, and I've always believed that really the best designs are done when you blend all these disciplines together at the service of a big idea. So that's what Fuse is, you know, Fuse Project, my company. It's where we fuse these different disciplines at the service of a big idea.
Great, to kinda give us a little back story, classically trained, Scandinavian descent, give us, give a little context here.
I grew up in Switzerland, and I did about half of my studies in Switzerland, half in Pasadena at the Art Center.
Got it, amazing, amazing. First project out of school that you found really deep meaning in, that sort of set you on the path that you're on now?
First project out of school, I took an internship in the middle of the country. That was a big learning lesson at every level, cultural and design-wise. With the largest manufacturer of furniture in the world. Those were most sort of concepts about the future of working, but I was very early on very interested in that, and eventually that led to me having a sort of lifelong relationship with Herman Miller, designing the sail chair, designing the public office landscape office system and a number of other projects with him.
The fact that design in Europe has been held in very high esteem for a long time and it's been behind, I would say, the U.S. has been behind the European point of view, or even Asian influence, are there some particular milestones or things that have happened culturally, civically, here in the U.S. to bring design -- is it the Web? What's the combination of things that you feel like has put design where it is today in the U.S.?
I've seen a tremendous change. I got here, San Francisco, Silicon Valley in the early/mid '90s. Design was really not a factor in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. There were some good design firms, but when you looked at technology, it wasn't something that people considered to be important at all. It was all about engineering. It was all about the tech.
Yeah, manufacturing and silicon, and literally the --
Oh, yeah, all of this. And design was secondary, if it was anything, really. But that changed tremendously over a period of time that mostly mirrored the incredible success of Apple. As Apple showed that design makes a difference, design allows you to acquire customers, to build a brand, to create great experiences, great products that last, everyone else realized how important it is, to a point where now it's a 360 degree different type of environment we're in where founders of many tech companies are designers themselves, or designers are sought after as parts of the management team, part of the advisory team. If you don't have design at the core of a startup here, people will look at it like you're missing a part of what's going to be important for the business.
Yeah, and to what end do you attribute, so beyond Apple, has there been cultural shifts outside of Silicon Valley, just like the accessibility of creative ideas, help me think a little bit broader. We talked Silicon Valley, in your experience, moving here to San Francisco, but what about as a larger cultural movement? What are some other key factors and how do you think that that plays into the future?
I think the entire United States has become a lot more sophisticated about design in the last 20 years and in a way we've rediscovered the best of American design as well. Charles Eames, Ray Eames, Herman Miller, George Nelson, they -- people weren't, in the mainstream we weren't looking at their work as much. The readdition of their works with the realization that this is probably the best ambassadorship for the United States are these designers. You go anywhere in the world and Charles Eames and Ray Eames are revered. Their work is everywhere, in every company, in every museum, in many homes. We've realized that not only do we have the rich history to be a major force, a leading force in design, but we also practice it every day and that has created a tremendous amount of education. So it went from being a high-end type of practice to seeing it at Target.
That was a huge moment when Target shifted. And that was like bringing it to mass culture.
Exactly, seeing it in mainstream advertising, seeing design within reach everywhere, and when you look at the rise of the creative press, Dwell Magazine and Wired Magazine.
Here we are with Print Magazine.
Hmm? Print Magazine, and all these. It's created awareness and a culture around design which I find very strong, very healthy. In fact we don't take it as much for granted as sometimes it's the case in Europe. So it's very, very vibrant, especially within the business community.
One of the things that I have seen is what, one of things I believe and I've seen through my travels all over the world, you travel a lot, I travel a lot, that what we have been so good at exporting is our culture, and originally it was films and movies and celebrity and now that fact that we have sort of a, not just Silicon Valley but design hubs like Silicon Valley but New York, L.A., incredibly, transformative ways that design has impacted both of those cities and a lot of others, I feel like we're exporting design now versus we had to consume it for some time. Can you talk about that? Do you feel like that is a product for us now?
I often say that the world appreciates our design more than they appreciate our foreign policy. (laughs)
Oh, we shouldn't go there. But I'm tempted.
But it is true. I think everyone recognizes the creativity, the delight in the user experience of these products, the delight in the materials, the manufacturing, the design of them. In many ways it is our best export, in my opinion. I think it's due to the fact that design looks at the world in a universal fashion. We try to solve problems for people. We try to change their lives a little bit in an everyday basis. We try to create surprise moments and moments of delight. And that is a universal feeling. It's very exportable. The ROI on that is both cultural and it's good business.
Seg Metch, he's a friend, he's been on this show. I don't know if you've seen his talk on beauty. He's got these cannons, they're beautifully sculpted killing machines, and to have beauty in places where it seems like we went away from that and there's this horrible era, the '80s, when it was so absent, but to see it coming back, to see the accessibility to learning design, obviously at CreativeLive that's a huge vision for us to teach the world.
Certainly the tools and the access to the tools of design have become much more available to everyone, the learning around design has become more available, designers have become more visible. You go around San Francisco this weekend, the Fog Fair for example, that mixes art and design, and there's a huge interest and appreciation, in many ways because the Web and easy access and obviously CreativeLive is a part of that, is allowing people to know more about it, to educate themselves, to seek what it is about design that they can relate to. What makes it more personal to them. That's a very big part of how people make choices today in their lives.
Speaking about personal, I think the folks at home, we can talk at the 30 thousand foot level about design, but they want to know about you. So let's go a little bit into your background. When did you first acknowledge your own creativity? You talked a little bit about the childhood that you had that formed your career.
I grew up in a wonderful household in a very sort of safe place, country like Switzerland. No one in my family was in the creative fields. There were no designers, artists, or architects. It's something that awoke in me when I was in my early teens. I really decided to be a designer when I was maybe 14 or 15 years old. But at the time, Switzerland didn't really have a great school I could imagine myself going to. My parents didn't know what industrial design was, and the access to knowledge to convince my parents this was a good idea, none of that was there. I really had to learn the basics and submit portfolios and find a school that would accept me, eventually a school outside of the country.
Where'd you go?
Eventually when I got to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, it took a lot more persuasion on my part to prove it to myself that I could do it, to prove it to my entourage that this was something worthwhile pursuing. But I consider myself lucky that I found that direction and pursued it. Probably got my 10,000 hours by my late teens.
There's a, I don't know if this is cultural or where we would couch it, but the concept of oh, you're gonna be a designer or a photographer or a filmmaker, culturally like, oh, good luck with that. How much of that did you face? And you talked about sort of selling in or convincing your entourage or your family, that's the thing that, there's sort of two piles of people that we're talking to with this show and with the work that we're doing here, and that's the people who identify as creative and are going from, say, one or two or three to ten, and that's their aspiration is to get great. And then there's the people who are curious and we're trying to get them to go from zero to one. So the battles that you -- tell me a story about you having to convince your friends, your peers that it was worthwhile.
I finished gymnasium in Switzerland, which is essentially the equivalent of junior college, and the path from there is straight to university, so you can go study economics, be a banker or a lawyer or a doctor, that's the binary choice that I had.
Very Swiss things.
Yes, and to go from there to saying no, I'm gonna step off this path and I'm going to start drawing, I'm going to back to life drawing and things like this was a very strange, scary step because I ended up in a little school in my hometown, mostly with retirees who were going back to drawing and to high school dropouts who -- that was sort of like the one activity that they liked to do. And I was right there in the middle trying to build a portfolio, trying to demonstrate my skills. I wasn't one of these kids who, and I had many of those in my classroom, who were great cartoonists right off the bat, who were -- who had a propensity for drawing and expressing themselves through the creative arts. I just had to learn it. And it was really scary and painful. Suddenly I had no idea where I was going to end up. It took a few years. This initial stage took a few months, but it took a few years until I would say I become very proficient with that. Years later, when I got my first jobs, I was a good draftsman. I could take what's in my head, I could take the creative ideas I could put them on paper, quickly put them in front of a client and immediately convince them that there's a there there. I think that's the force, the power that you have as a designer, the ability to express something that nobody else can see unless you put it on paper for them.
We're at a time in history where I'm professing the idea that it's the first time in history that it's actually more risky to pursue the safe path, to do what your parents want you to do, the concept of going to school, get a good job, and live happily ever after is actually the biggest risk that we have.
So I grew up in Switzerland, which isn't known exactly for change.
At the time, it wasn't known for change. I get here and anyone you speak to, engineers, venture capitalists, business folks, designers, everybody, all they talk about is change. All they talk about is the idea, the next idea, and what you find in a place like this is all the support for your idea or for new ideas. This really kind of unlocked my brain. It really blew my mind the second I arrived here, and I was like, wow, I found a place where there is a sense of possibilities. I'm just starting, but people are listening. And that's incredibly powerful. But if you're not in the change business or if you're not into exchanging ideas about what could be different, what could be better, that's a dangerous place to be here. There's a reversal of, I agree with your assessment. When you hear San Francisco, the Bay Area, Silicon Valley, you can rewire your brain to be about what's next.
Let's go onto a couple personal projects. Or personal/professional. That's one of the things that I love. I also talk about we're all hyphens. We all do so many things. You consider yourself an industrial designer but under there you list four or five other things. You're an entrepreneur, you've built companies, you have partnerships. Talk a little bit about some of your favorite projects. I'll highlight Fuse, maybe One Laptop For Every Child, anything else that you wanna talk about.
Sure. Fuse Project is about 16 years ago I start a design company, and today we're 80, across so many different disciplines. It's a tremendous sandbox and we're very lucky to work on some of the most interesting, the most groundbreaking, a lot of firsts. First --
First wearables, first laptop that's designed for children in developing world, One Laptop Per Child. The first Herman Miller chair that's very affordable from a cost standpoint and really presents a different way to assemble a chair without a framing element around the back for example, and so we're very -- I'm very fortunate that this keeps happening. All the way 'til today Or a couple days ago where we launched two projects for the aging population, an AI and sort of wearable technologies that sort of keep them engaged. Those are things that are unimaginable just months ago.
So there's so many projects, it's hard to pinpoint one or two. I would say the One Laptop Per Child, the jam box, the Herman Miller sail chair, those all demonstrated that you can do breakthroughs in design and these things can really change entire industries.
All right, this might be a challenge because many of the Swiss friends that I have besides you are reluctant to share struggles because the Swiss are very proud people, but between where you started and all of this success with Jawbone and Fuse and One Laptop Per Child, there has to be some grit, there has to be some struggle.
Oh, lots of grit. For me, it's always been a question of survival. All I had, really, when I got here is hopefully the ability to get a job, to start somewhere, to work on things that would be important enough that it supports you doing the next thing. When I first moved to San Francisco I lived in the Tenderloin for a couple of years, on Market Street between Sixth and Seventh. For people who live here, you know this isn't an easy area to live in. For me, it's always been, and I would say even today, it's always been about you have to work hard, you have to enjoy it before your luck runs out. (Chase laughs) In the creative fields, sometimes it feels like you're only as good as your last project. I think what's really so important is that you really put your most, your passions, your level of detailing, the quality into your work, that never stops. It's not that this gets easy at any given point, you know? It's always about making it a little better than anybody else thinks it should be. And so you're constantly pushing, you're constantly struggling, in a way. I mean, you're failing every day as a designer because you try to build this thing or that thing and you go through 20, 30, 100 iterations before it's good enough. So in a way, failure and struggle, you have to embrace that. You have to be able to live with that in order to get to a place where you have something that's going to be really strong.
That's core part of the process. And for the folks who just want the end, the outcome, not willing to put in the hard part, that's a message for you. It's not going to go well. I wanna create a theoretical scenario here. There's someone who's building a company and that company's going in a direction and they need to change that company's direction. And embracing design, companies may be reluctant to do it, but they know conceptually that boy, that's a differentiator, it's a great lever. How do you tell the founder of that company, the president, it doesn't matter if this person's 20 or 70. Sell the idea that design and creativity are foundations to what it is that they're making.
I think what I would say is that design is going to accelerate the adoption of new ideas. This is something that I often say. But if you're a new company and you're trying to reach a new place, you need to be able to internally accept help, accept support, accept designers as partners. So what I would say it that first of all, it takes time. It gets better every time. You can't just do it once, that's why being partners makes so much sense. Because it's not like you're going to just design it once, you're going to keep designing and making it better. There will be subsequent versions. But what's critical is to set this process in the right way. To get it on the right path with the right vision, with the right direction and execute against that and then keep it. I never tell anyone it's easy. I never tell anyone it's something that just happens automatically and in a way that's painless. But in many ways I also tell them I don't know that you have another option. Greatness is the one thing we're given to pursue as human beings, right? And design will be a partner in that.
Let's talk about you personally again. In your pursuit of greatness, are there some habits that you have on a daily basis, whether it's staying healthy, whether it's travel and seeing new things, what are some elements of your life that you feel like have helped translate into -- I'm trying to make this somewhat actionable for some folks at home. And I don't want, it's not like you take two vitamins--
Well, I think it is like a sport. Design is like a sport. You have to be able to sort of able to come back at a problem on a regular basis. You have to let your brain run with it at night, when you're out and about, when you're at work, you have to sort of take these challenges with you, and that means you have to be comfortable with that, you have to be healthy, you have to positive-thinking, that's really important. It's really easy when you don't get to a solution fast enough to beat yourself down. So having some tolerance for yourself and being cognizant of the fact that what you're doing isn't easy. I think it's hard to be a creative. I think you constantly can see the shortcomings. This is what being a creative is, you're an editor, you're a critic, and you do that for yourself as you do it for the rest of the world.
It's hard not to, yeah.
Give yourself some love, give yourself some patience. Find ways to kind of relax while in the background your brain is always churning.
What's an example for you personally?
For me it's easy, it's like surfing, it's like skiing. These activities where, really, your mind can be somewhere else. It's impossible when you're in the water looking at the horizon, looking at waves coming towards you, there's no other thoughts that can enter your mind. The focus is immediate. It's very zen, in a sense. So finding what makes you zen or takes your mind, calms your mind, helps you focus on something else for a bit. It's actually quite useful. I think the brain needs that balance.
Yeah. Advice for young designers? We've had dinner several times before, I've heard talk in other instances being somewhat hesitant to give advice, but how would you -- ?
I don't think I'm hesitant to give advice. What I do recognize is that every designer is quite different, and that's the beauty of our profession. The diversity of the way design is practiced, the diversity of applications of our work is so vast that it means that we are a wide ranging group. The one thing I would say for young designers is there's a lot of pressure to be two things as a designer. There's a lot of pressure to be a generalist, to be somebody who can be good at a lot of different things. Just because people always -- if you tell them about design, they'll tell you about marketing. If you tell them about design, they'll tell you about engineering. If you talk to them about engineering, they'll say, "Well what about your design?" So there's a lot of pressure to know everything and to be everything. At the same time to be a great designer I believe you have to have very core knowledge. You have to be really, really good at one thing. So I would start with that. I would start with being really good at one thing, at one craft, one activity of design, and what you'll see happening is when you're good at one thing, people will start opening up and asking you questions and asking you to participate and be a part of the other parts of design. When you're a generalist, that is harder to make happen. We tend to hire people who are incredible at what they do, and then they love the fact that they are starting to learn from others. They're starting to participate through the entire process because of the environment they're in and because there is a lot of respect for what they bring to the table.
When you focus on learning one thing and putting in, you referenced 10,000 hours or I'll say mastery, when you master one aspect of design, my sense and the sense that we talk about around here at CreativeLive and my personal experience is, if you can become world class at one thing, in part what you're doing is learning how to learn. And once you can deconstruct, oh my gosh, this is how I really went deep here, A you have a different peer set because your peers are the best at their things, at their relative disciplines, you learned what got you to be great at yours and you put those two things together, learning how to learn and the fact that your comrades are the best engineers or the best --
You need to have good comrades to go into battle with, that's for sure.
So true, so true. (laughs) Community is critical. Last question is if you had something written on your wall that you have to look at every day, maybe you wake up, you see it up in your bedroom across from your bed is a phrase or saying or concept. Come at me with what that would be.
There's a few things that I sort of always get inspired by or try to bring back. One of them is about design intent and how design is really the first manifestation of human intent. What is the intent of this company, of this project, of this venture, of this design. How it is that you're putting yourself out in the world, what is the message that comes across this activity that you're doing? I think if you start with intent, it really helps you refine and edit in a way, get rid of the extraneous stuff, edit the why and how you're going to do this design. This is derived from Bill McDonough, who also talks a lot about intent when it comes to the environment and sustainability. The other one is similar, but it's a catch phrase, which is "Be good and work hard." There's no room for so-called talent in my opinion in design. The thing I don't like to hear is people recommending someone by saying he has a lot of talent. I don't know what that means, right? It's like, I wasn't a good draftsman, I had zero talent for it. But I worked hard and I succeeded at being good at that craft. That's important to realize in design. So many people think that you're a designer because you're born with it or you have a talent of some sort that other people don't have. And it's not true for me and it's not true for the incredible team that I have and how successful and how far they've all come in their own careers. They all just work incredibly hard.
Yeah, creativity is inside of every person. And that's the manifestation and the amount of hard work you're putting in to extracting that. Do you want it bad enough that you're willing to pull that creativity, because we have a culture, face it, that sort of represses arts. One of the first things that gets cut in school. We like to think it's changing, but fundamentally we are the ones who either bring out or repress the creativity that's in us. I wanna thank you for being on the show. Your shining example of it. Appreciate it.
Thank you. Pleasure being here.
And I don't wanna get between you and going to Tahoe. Sounds like I might find my way to your suitcase here pretty quick, if I can.
Someday we should.
Appreciate it, buddy.
Thank you. (electronic music)