Designer Yves Behar: Wearable devices are the hardest to design

Yves Behar chatting about watch design. Image courtesy of Gigaom, Om Malik.

Whether it is the award winning Sayl, a chair designed for Herman Miller, or the Kickstarter sensation Ouya, an open source game console, it is easy to see that Yves Behar has figured out how to create unique and new experiences that marry the physical with digital. “I believe design’s purpose is not only to show us the future, but to bring us the future,” he told an interviewer for Herman Miller.

These days Behar, who spent his childhood in Switzerland, is obsessed with wearable devices, including watches and wrist computing devices such as Up created by Jawbone. Behar, who is chief creative officer at San Francisco-based Jawbone, the company behind Up, says, that wearable devices are particularly hard to design.

During a recent visit to the offices of fuseproject, a design company he started, we ended up talking about two things we both love the most: bags and watches. It was a conversation that started right after my onstage conversation with him at Loic Le Meur’s Le Web 2011. Behar who is a recipient of  the National Design Award from the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian National Design Museum is looking to create a new line of bags and is working on a brand new watch, though he wouldn’t go into great detail on his new projects. He has previously collaborated with Japanese designer Issey Miyake on a watch.

Behar in a conversation said that, “Watches are a great way to think about how products should be designed to last.” He pointed out that things we wear on a daily basis have to meet a very high threshold of design because they “have to withstand constraints of life – water, dust, scratches.” Behar points out that with wearable computing has to over come that challenge.

Behar is one of the key speakers at our 2nd annual GigaOM RoadMap conference on November 5 in San Francisco. Our focus for this year’s conference is on how design, and user interfaces will help us navigate this age of constant connectedness and a world of increasing complexity. Other speakers at our RoadMap event include Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, Tumblr founder and CEO David Karp, Instagram CEO and co-founder Kevin Systrom, Tony Fadell, CEO and co-founder of Nest, Scott Wilson, designer and founder of Minimal, and Ben Silbermann, CEO of Pinterest.

Behar told me that he is excited that design has finally become core to a whole generation of Silicon Valley companies. He pointed out that in the 1990s, design was seen as a vanity project and the notion of experience was very limited or non-existent. The success of Apple and its many products has changed things radically. “Apple has proved that design makes a difference,” he said. “I am looking around and seeing that guys like AirBnB are doing what Apple is doing and that is what makes a fundamental difference.” His points to companies like Nest and AirBnB as startup leaders embracing design.

But he is not satisfied with the state of the web and web design. From the T-shirts we wear to the sneakers we buy, in the physical world we have infinite choices to create unique experiences. It confounds him how little choice we have in the digital space. “The experiences need to fit to us,” he said during a lunch conversation a few months ago and added “We are pretty far from there. The data is all based on algorithms and it is not emotionally associated to us.”

Behar believes that the constant state of connectedness means that there are opportunities to create unique experiences. The increasing popularity of touch-based interfaces offers an opportunity to humanize the computing experience, especially on tablets and smartphones. He feels that the web has to become more visual as humans understand visual communication better than written words. Just look at the movie posters, he added.

I am looking forward to chatting with him at our RoadMap event where we will explore how design will influence our digital experiences in the future.

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