All About Yves

Fast Company - - Contents - BY AUSTIN CARR PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY CHLOE AFTEL IL­LUS­TRA­TIONS BY HU­BERT TERESZKIEWICZ

Some think he’s a ge­nius. Oth­ers say he’s coast­ing on past suc­cesses. Why Fuse­pro­ject’s Yves Béhar is the most po­lar­iz­ing de­signer in tech.

HE HELPED LEAD A DE­SIGN REV­O­LU­TION IN BUSI­NESS, BUT HE HASN’T SHARED IN THE SPOILS LIKE HIS RI­VALS. AS THE DE­SIGNER HIM­SELF JOKES: “WHAT­EVER HAP­PENED TO YVES BÉHAR?”

in the liv­ing room, as his wife, the art con­sul­tant Sab­rina Buell, wraps up din­ner. As Miles Davis’s As­censeur pour l’échafaud purrs on vinyl, Béhar ex­pounds on his unique ap­proach to de­sign af­ter giv­ing me the house tour. He calls the place “a liv­ing ex­per­i­ment,” one that treats tech­nol­ogy like fab­ric and val­ues “the things you love” over gaudy gad­getry. Yet the house, while a stun­ning ex­er­cise in min­i­mal­ism, is also full of giz­mos, a re­flec­tion of his two decades of work at his de­sign firm, Fuse­pro­ject. “I can con­trol the whole house with an app,” he beams. The front doors are wired with Au­gust Home, the smart-lock com­pany he co­founded. In the kitchen, a tele­vi­sion is at­tached to a mo­tor, so at the click of a but­ton from Béhar’s iphone X, it low­ers and dis­ap­pears into a stylish di­vid­ing wall that sep­a­rates the kitchen from the stairs to the base­ment, like a cas­ket sink­ing into a grave. (He’ll soon re­place it with a Sam­sung Frame, the new mon­i­tor he fash­ioned for the elec­tron­ics gi­ant to re­sem­ble a gallery por­trait.) Up­stairs, he’s lined part of the ceil­ing with what he de­scribes as a de­con­structed disco ball, a strip of LED lights he is work­ing to con­nect to sound sen­sors so that the col­ored lights will au­to­mat­i­cally ad­just to the mu­sic. “Tech­nol­ogy [can be used] in cre­at­ing and hid­ing sur­prise . . . it’s about learn­ing technique and in­tent and lim­i­ta­tions,” Béhar ex­plains. “That’s the prod­uct de­signer in me.” Then there’s the elec­tronic trap­door. Grin­ning, he picks up a re­mote con­trol, taps it with his thumb, and a thick slab of wood—stand­ing up­right next to the end of the stairs—be­gins to fold down to hide the open­ing in the floor. The slab de­scends painfully slowly . . . then the wood starts to snap as the trap­door bends. Béhar’s smile turns to a gri­mace. “It cracks a lit­tle, but it’s still pretty solid,” he says. The break­ing sounds grow louder, like the crackle of a bon­fire. A long splin­ter lands near my feet. “Uh-oh,” Béhar says. “That’s not so good.” When Béhar launched his stu­dio al­most 20 years ago, he was try­ing to get the busi­ness world to un­der­stand the value of de­sign. He ad­vo­cated that en­ter­prises should em­power de­sign­ers to be in­volved in every as­pect of their op­er­a­tions. In­deed, de­sign has since been em­braced by all cor­ners of the cor­po­rate world, so much so that global strat­egy firms are gob­bling up de­sign shops, in­clud­ing Fuse, as Béhar and his em­ploy­ees call the firm: The Chi­nese con­glom­er­ate Blue­fo­cus bought 75% of Fuse in 2014 for a re­ported $46.7 mil­lion and as of De­cem­ber 2017 owns it out­right. Mean­while, Silicon Val­ley has ges­tated a gen­er­a­tion of user-ex­pe­ri­ence-fo­cused uni­corns. Airbnb (two co­founders at­tended RISD), Pin­ter­est, and Wework, to name just a few, are on the verge of go­ing pub­lic, prov­ing that de­sign has be­come a cru­cial com­po­nent in cre­at­ing sta­tus quo–shat­ter­ing pri­vate en­ter­prises. Béhar, de­spite both his evan­ge­lism and his fame—he’s ar­guably the best­known work­ing de­signer with the ex­cep­tion of Ap­ple’s Jony Ive—has been as­so­ci­ated with few suc­cess sto­ries with this kind of cul­tural oomph. There’s Au­gust, which was ac­quired for an es­ti­mated $150 mil­lion last year, and 3-D prin­ter Desk­top Metal, which has been val­ued at $1 bil­lion. Fuse has also done notable cor­po­rate work for So­dastream, Mo­vado, Nivea, and Western Dig­i­tal. He touts his work on the Snoo, a bassinet us­ing AI and ro­bot­ics. But Béhar has also con­trib­uted to some of tech’s no­to­ri­ous flops, from Juicero to Jaw­bone; he even de­signed the sheet-metal cas­ing of Ther­a­nos’s Edi­son. Busi­ness fully em­braces de­sign in the way that Béhar had long es­poused, but Béhar has be­come an in­creas­ingly con­tro­ver­sial fig­ure in the de­sign com­mu­nity. His de­trac­tors are tired of the glossy press pro­files (Béhar is too, jok­ing that “they’re all the same”), and crit­i­cize him as a celebrity will­ing to slap his name on any­thing: robots, smart turnta­bles, body sen­sors—prod­ucts that look sexy but rarely live up to the hype. “Yves cer­tainly has raised the pro­file of de­sign in San Fran­cisco, but when I look at his body of work, I don’t see any­thing that’s moved the nee­dle,” says one ri­val big-name de­signer, who is friendly with Béhar and asked not to be named so as not to of­fend him. This per­son stresses that de­sign firms “have to go beyond help­ing [star­tups] develop, brand, and pack­age [prod­ucts], and get into, What the fuck is this thing and why do peo­ple need it?” The same cri­tique, nat­u­rally, could be lev­eled at much of what comes out of Silicon Val­ley: so-called dis­rup­tive prod­ucts, which, like a num­ber that Béhar is known for, are mar­keted as in­no­va­tions but more of­ten than not prove to be noth­ing more than over­wrought con­ve­niences. Béhar is sen­si­tive to crit­i­cism. (Dur­ing Fast Com­pany’s typ­i­cal fact-check­ing process for this story, he hired a strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions firm to ad­vo­cate on his be­half.) He sug­gests any carp­ing is an in­evitable con­se­quence when you’re op­er­at­ing on the bleed­ing edge of in­no­va­tion. Like the lead­ers of to­day’s tech jug­ger­nauts, it’s where he al­ways wants to be—pur­su­ing break­throughs to “ful­fill crit­i­cal hu­man needs”—even if it cre­ates a few cracks in his rep­u­ta­tion. “When it works, it’s amaz­ing,” he says of his “su­per risky” ap­proach at Fuse. “When it doesn’t, it’s heart­break­ing.”

I AM SHAD­OW­ING BÉHAR AT

Fuse­pro­ject’s head­quar­ters, an airy of­fice in San Fran­cisco’s de­sign district with vaulted ceil­ings that was once home to a cof­fin fac­tory. It is dif­fi­cult to ex­plain ex­actly what Béhar, the com­pany’s CEO, does all day. He’s an artist adrift in his own gallery, roam­ing, fre­quently eat­ing a ba­nana, stop­ping here to flat­ten out a crease in the seat of the elec­tric mo­tor­cy­cle he de­signed for now-de­funct Mis­sion Mo­tors (“It’s go­ing into the per­ma­nent col­lec­tion at SFMOMA,” he tells me mat­ter-of-factly), or there to chat with a de­signer who catches his ear to ask for his opin­ion on a tex­tile pat­tern. He doesn’t mind crash­ing a closed-door meet­ing sim­ply to show me the Sam­sung Frame hang­ing in the con­fer­ence room or skip­ping out at lunchtime to watch the World Cup. He op­er­ates at his own rhythm; af­ter wait­ing for Béhar at one point for about 40 min­utes, his PR per­son tells me, “We’re on Yves time for sure.” Mitch Per­gola, who worked closely with Béhar as a man­ag­ing part­ner at Fuse be­fore de­part­ing last year, says, “Yves is a guy who is not go­ing to do a damn thing in his day he doesn’t want to.” At one point, when Béhar is giv­ing me a per­sonal pre­sen­ta­tion of one of his prod­ucts, Fuse’s strat­egy di­rec­tor, Lo­gan Ray, pops his head in to tell Béhar that they have an im­por­tant call with Revlon, a client. “I don’t need to be on it,” Béhar says. Even af­ter Ray hisses earnestly that “it’s with Deb­bie”— as in De­bra Perel­man, CEO of the multi­bil­lion­dol­lar cos­met­ics be­he­moth—béhar brushes him off and con­tin­ues on about his de­sign process. Béhar tells me he’s not in charge of hir­ing, that he lets his team shape Fuse’s cul­ture, and CFO/ COO Mary Kate Fis­cher ac­knowl­edges that he isn’t in­volved in over­see­ing op­er­a­tions and doesn’t par­tic­i­pate in monthly meet­ings with their in­ter­na­tional par­ent com­pany. In­stead, Béhar says, “The thing I do all day is de­sign: re­view­ing ideas and strate­gies, sketch­ing, driv­ing things for­ward.” De­sign VP Qin Li says that Béhar was “re­ally hands on” years ago but that his time is in­creas­ingly “very limited. He re­ally en­joys sit­ting down and sketch­ing [with us] but that’s hap­pen­ing less and less be­cause he over­sees every­thing.” Béhar seems to be jug­gling a num­ber of side projects while also to­tally free to pur­sue what­ever he pleases. He’s co­founded a high-end Wework com­peti­tor called Canopy (which is also a Fuse client) as well as a new high-tech well­ness startup; he says he’s also de­sign­ing an RV. Mean­while, he has just re­turned from a fam­ily va­ca­tion in Costa Rica and will head to Spain in a few days for a friend’s wed­ding. He will also take much of Au­gust off for his an­nual surf­ing ex­cur­sion to Bali. (A spokesper­son clar­i­fies: “No mat­ter where Yves may be trav­el­ing, he works every day.”) When he shows me his phone, it has 75 missed calls and 238 un­read text mes­sages. Asked how he has time for all his en­deav­ors while run­ning Fuse, Béhar chuck­les. “Peo­ple al­ways ask me that ques­tion. To me, it’s like, I’m just in the flow.” Li de­scribes Béhar’s in­volve­ment as be­ing “the fi­nal gate,” a bul­wark for qual­ity as­sur­ance. “When we put the stuff in front of him, it’s al­ready pretty baked.” Dur­ing my visit, I wit­ness Béhar’s gate­keep­ing on a hand­ful of oc­ca­sions, and it’s gen­uinely im­pres­sive. His feed­back is in­ci­sive, and he has a vir­tu­oso-level aes­thetic sense. Béhar also speaks in a se­duc­tive whis­per, a sort of ver­bal va­por­ware that ori­ents you to be­lieve the next ver­sion will be even more amaz­ing. In this sense, Béhar acts less like a chief ex­ec­u­tive or de­signer than what his for­mer col­league Per­gola loosely de­fines as “the cre­ative force.” Clients pay for the priv­i­lege of be­ing in the vicin­ity of his de­sign ge­nius. Even if they, too, must live on Yves time. Béhar once kept a C-level exec from Co­cacola wait­ing in a con­fer­ence room, fum­ing, for nearly an hour. “Yves blows in wear­ing a scarf and talking on his phone, but in less than 15 min­utes, he com­pletely rights the ship and the client is charmed and be­guiled,” Per­gola re­mem­bers. “That’s the magic of Yves—i don’t know how he does it.”

BÉHAR IS NOW A BONA FIDE

celebrity, a Bay Area states­man who sits on the board at SFMOMA and hosted a lo­cal fundraiser for Hil­lary Clin­ton dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign. He ca­su­ally men­tions to me that he once went on a two-hour mid­cen­tury house tour with Ama­zon CEO Jeff Be­zos, and he counts Kanye West as a dear friend. “We talk about ideas and cre­ativ­ity, some­times for, like, three to four hours,” Béhar says. The Lau­sanne, Switzer­land, na­tive has been pur­su­ing cre­ativ­ity pro­fes­sion­ally for three decades, at­tend­ing the Art Cen­ter Col­lege of De­sign and later land­ing prize jobs at de­sign con­sul­tan­cies Lu­nar and Frog in the 1990s. “He was very pas­sion­ate about de­sign,” re­calls his friend Dan Har­den, who hired Béhar at Frog where he loved sketch­ing with him and was im­pressed by his am­bi­tion. “I re­mem­ber him say­ing things like, ‘I want to work on this pro­ject, we’re go­ing to en­ter awards, and I want my name on the awards.’ I was like, ‘Take it easy, man— it’s your first week!’ ” says Har­den, who now runs a de­sign firm called Whip­saw. Astro Stu­dios founder Brett Love­lady, who over­lapped with Béhar at Lu­nar, says, “Yves cat­a­pulted to lead­er­ship quite quickly in his ca­reer. He’s a mas­ter self-pro­moter. I don’t mean that in a bad way—it’s good for de­sign, and for him. Whereas other Val­ley firms were more about build­ing de­sign brands—frog, Ideo, [and later] Astro, Whip­saw, Am­mu­ni­tion—yves said, ‘Wait a minute, let me jump in front rather than be the founder be­hind the brand name.’ ” Béhar launched Fuse­pro­ject in 1999, and the joke in the de­sign com­mu­nity was that he must have hired as many pub­li­cists as he did de­sign­ers—only this could ex­plain the press’s fas­ci­na­tion

in the early aughts with such cu­riosi­ties as an up­scale line of Birken­stocks. Fast Com­pany put Béhar on its cover in late 2007, prais­ing him for pi­o­neer­ing a “zig­gu­rat-like” busi­ness struc­ture that en­com­passed strate­gic part­ner­ships with the likes of John­son & John­son, eq­uity deals with fast­grow­ing star­tups such as Jaw­bone, and civic works in­clud­ing One Lap­top Per Child. He was a reporter’s dream, provoca­tively con­tend­ing that just 1% of Amer­i­can com­pa­nies had any de­sign DNA. (To­day, Béhar fig­ures it’s just 15%, and 0% in the home of Ten­cent, Xiaomi, and Fuse’s par­ent com­pany, Blue­fo­cus. “China doesn’t un­der­stand the value of de­sign,” he says.) His per­sona has earned him fawn­ing write-ups in Van­ity Fair and The Verge, and his port­fo­lio has scored him a TED Talk and a gag­gle of in­dus­try awards and recog­ni­tion, in­clud­ing from Fast Com­pany, for such prod­ucts as a Coca-cola re­cy­cling bin and the So­dastream Source. At Fuse, this at­ten­tion also raised eye­brows. Talk to de­sign­ers who have worked with Béhar over the years, and they’ll say he’s un­doubt­edly a vi­sion­ary artist who de­mands the best from his staff. Béhar was “al­ways chal­leng­ing us to do some­thing new and cool. He trusted me and other team mem­bers,” says for­mer senior in­dus­trial de­sign lead Naoya Edahiro, who worked at Fuse for more than a decade. “[Yves] is pretty tough. A lot of pres­sure.” But some for­mer Fusers will also tell you that he can act im­pul­sively and cap­tures the lion’s share of credit for his team’s out­put. (“It is false to say that Yves takes un­de­served credit for projects,” says his spokesper­son. “This is con­trary to Yves’s own be­liefs, and Fuse­pro­ject’s poli­cies and prac­tices pre­vent this.”) Béhar isn’t afraid to tear ag­gres­sively into peo­ple’s work in de­sign re­views or blow up a pre­sen­ta­tion the night be­fore a client meet­ing— ac­tions the press has ro­man­ti­cized as Job­sian, but which, in per­son, feel more like the Book of Job. “They were the most stress­ful mo­ments of my ca­reer,” says one top for­mer Fuse de­signer. “Yves was so un­pre­dictable and di­rect. He doesn’t re­ally yell, but he would be re­ally cold and painful in his ques­tion­ing, like, ‘Why did you make this ugly?’ ” Some Fuse em­ploy­ees used to muse that they had two cus­tomers: the client and Béhar, who is spo­ken of at times like Fuse­pro­ject’s God (or “Godzilla,” as an­other for­mer Fuse de­signer jok­ingly puts it). Once, dur­ing the de­vel­op­ment of his ac­claimed Sayl chair, Béhar was at log­ger­heads with Her­man Miller ex­ec­u­tives, who wanted to in­crease the height of his frame de­sign by an inch. Ac­cord­ing to two sources fa­mil­iar with the sit­u­a­tion, when they tried to com­pro­mise at 6 mil­lime­ters—roughly two-tenths of an inch—béhar wouldn’t budge, ar­gu­ing that that “half inch” would de­stroy the chair’s ideal di­men­sions. His team tried to cor­rect his con­ver­sion rate, but Béhar ended the meet­ing and later scolded his em­ploy­ees. “When I tell you 6 mil­lime­ters is a half inch, it’s a half inch!” he said. When I later ask Her­man Miller CEO Brian Walker about work­ing with Béhar on the chair, he tells me, “Look, I’d say this if he was stand­ing in the room, be­cause I con­sider him a re­ally good friend: Yves, like all great de­sign­ers, is a very chal­leng­ing guy . . . . Ul­ti­mately, as Charles Eames of­ten said about how con­straints are what makes great de­sign, I think Yves re­sponds re­ally well to chal­lenges and con­straints.”

EAR­LIER LAST SPRING, I MEET

up with Béhar at the Wall Street Jour­nal’s Fu­ture of Every­thing con­fer­ence in New York City, hours be­fore he jumps on a flight to Cal­i­for­nia to present at the in­vite-only Near Fu­ture sum­mit. Béhar is al­ways in-de­mand on the con­fer­ence cir­cuit—“i could be speak­ing three times a week, 52 weeks in a row,” he says—and on this sunny May morn­ing, he’s on stage au­gur­ing about the new Uv-de­tect­ing wear­able sen­sor that Fuse de­signed for L’oréal. Béhar says he has been ob­sessed with the fu­ture ever since he was a kid writ­ing sci-fi sto­ries. Later, he stud­ied Syd Mead’s neo-fu­tur­ist work in de­sign school where he code-named his con­cepts af­ter his fa­vorite films, in­clud­ing Me­trop­o­lis. His ear­li­est prod­ucts at Fuse were a nod to this fan­tas­ti­cal world­view and im­bued with a tech­no­log­i­cal soul, such as the so-called learn­ing shoe he pro­to­typed in 1999 be­fore wear­ables were even a thing. Béhar’s out­put has con­tin­ued to ex­ist in the world of to­mor­row in his ef­fort to ac­cel­er­ate “good for hu­man­ity” ideas. “When I look at my projects,” he says, “I’m like, Oh my God! Th­ese are all firsts! The first ro­bot that takes care of your baby in a crib!” To hear Béhar talk about his work, it is clear he is will­ing to take on any pro­ject. In a chat af­ter his talk, Béhar ca­su­ally cat­a­logs all the things he’s think­ing about de­sign­ing or re­design­ing: trans­porta­tion, health­care, hous­ing, 3-D print­ing, some­thing he calls “mus­cle 2.0,” AI for the el­derly, ther­apy for chil­dren on the autism spec­trum, aug­mented re­al­ity for the makeup in­dus­try, and a so­lu­tion to fake news. Béhar’s com­mit­ment to fu­tur­ism seems to ex­plain sev­eral projects he has taken on in re­cent years, sev­eral of which nei­ther ad­dress a crit­i­cal hu­man need nor pass muster for what might rea­son­ably be con­sid­ered good de­sign. There’s Ae­sir’s AE+Y 18-carat gold mo­bile phone that cost al­most $60,000 but could not do email. There’s the orig­i­nal Ves­syl smart cup, which used sen­sors to ID the liq­uids poured into it. (As Stephen Col­bert sat­i­rized it: “Is there any as­pect of be­ing a cup this cup can’t do?” The $199 de­vice was never re­leased.) Then there’s the in­ter­net-con­nected gar­den sen­sor that Fuse de­vel­oped for upstart Edyn, which one Homede­pot.com cus­tomer called a “use­less” and “gim­micky” gad­get you’d find at a “school sci­ence fair.”

Since Béhar sold Fuse in 2014 to Blue­fo­cus, with a three-year buy­out, some ob­servers have won­dered whether pres­sures from the deal com­pelled him to pur­sue all kinds of ques­tion­able part­ner­ships in or­der to meet the am­bi­tious prof­itabil­ity goals Blue­fo­cus set for Fuse. “The first year was def­i­nitely the most chal­leng­ing be­cause we were al­ready one full quar­ter into the year when I came on board and things hadn’t re­ally been done cor­rectly,” says Fis­cher, the CFO/COO who joined the com­pany in 2015. “So it’s, like, mid­dle of May and I’m go­ing to Mitch and Yves: ‘You’re al­ready al­most half­way through the year and this is where you’re at.’ It was a lit­tle sur­pris­ing to them. It wasn’t as good as they were ex­pect­ing.” When asked if Fuse was less pre­cious about the work it chose, she agreed, say­ing, “We would be like, What can we start that’s a six-week quick sprint?” Béhar de­nies that the sale to Blue­fo­cus is push­ing him to ac­cept as­sign­ments, and Fis­cher later told Fast Com­pany through a spokesper­son, “I’ve never seen Fuse­pro­ject take a client to meet any num­bers goals. That’s not how we work.” Fuse still main­tains its mul­ti­fac­eted busi­ness model, but Fis­cher says it cur­rently makes its rev­enue mostly from pro­ject-based fees and prod­uct roy­al­ties rather than on risky eq­uity deals in com­pa­nies that may or may not pan out. Now, when Béhar pur­sues a ven­ture he’s per­son­ally pas­sion­ate about but that might not im­prove Fuse’s P&L, “I’m just like, ‘Yves, you’re killing me here,’ ” Fis­cher says with a laugh. “Usu­ally we’ll have a lit­tle ne­go­ti­a­tion.”

YVES BÉHAR IS LOCKED OUT OF

his smart door-lock com­pany. It’s a cloud­less Tues­day af­ter­noon, and he and Au­gust Home co­founder Ja­son John­son are stuck out­side the red door of Au­gust’s South of Mar­ket head­quar­ters. Béhar’s head—crowned by his black trucker’s hat, his curls shoot­ing out the back like gray-blond so­lar flares—is buried in his iphone, but John­son, per­haps sens­ing that this is an awk­ward mo­ment, tries to ex­plain why their door sen­sor isn’t func­tion­ing prop­erly, ra­tio­nal­iz­ing that the lock failed be­cause we “crossed the ge­ofence” in our walk here. Nearly 45 sec­onds later, fol­low­ing a few cor­rec­tive clicks on the door lock’s key­pad, we’re in­side. This is not how Béhar had scripted our visit. “Treat it like: You went to Au­gust, it was cool, blah blah blah,” he told me the day be­fore, out­lin­ing

how he’d en­vi­sioned the scene play­ing out in this nar­ra­tive. “Yves ran it for five to six years, Yves is still do­ing stuff with Au­gust, [and you’ll] see nextgen Au­gust locks I’m work­ing on.” Béhar and John­son teamed up in 2012 hop­ing to take ad­van­tage of the craze for smart-home de­vices. The en­gi­neer­ing-minded John­son tells me that he and Béhar jammed to­gether like “Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds” af­ter getting to know each other bet­ter at TEDXSF, which John­son or­ga­nized. They cre­ated a door sen­sor that could be un­locked via mo­bile de­vice and de­tect a near­ing home­owner’s smart­phone in or­der to auto-open the en­trance­way. Fuse did the de­sign work, in ex­change for a stake in the com­pany. Béhar helped pi­o­neer this eq­uity model in the de­sign in­dus­try. His peers fol­lowed suit, of­ten guiding such part­ner­ships to­ward multi­bil­lion-dol­lar ac­qui­si­tions or IPOS: see Robert Brun­ner’s Am­mu­ni­tion Group with Beats by Dre, Gadi Amit’s Newdealde­sign with Fit­bit, and Fred Bould’s epony­mous de­sign firm, which worked on Nest. Such block­buster ex­its have so far proved elusive for Fuse. (When asked by phone what the equiv­a­lent of Beats, Fit­bit, or Nest would be for Béhar, a Fuse­pro­ject spokesper­son was un­able to pro­vide an an­swer.) Nor has Béhar been as­so­ci­ated with prod­ucts as cul­tur­ally im­pact­ful as Jony Ive’s ipod, ipad, and iphone. When later asked by email what prod­ucts should be iden­ti­fied with Béhar in the way that Ive is of­ten iden­ti­fied with Ap­ple’s port­fo­lio, a spokesper­son an­swers, “Yves would say there are sev­eral: the [Her­man Miller] Sayl chair, the Snoo [ro­botic baby crib], the Frame TV for Sam­sung, and Au­gust.” The first-gen Au­gust lock was met with mixed re­views from me­dia out­lets in­clud­ing Wired and The New York Times, which cited the pricey de­vice’s poor re­li­a­bil­ity—it only needs to fail once, as it did for us out­side Au­gust’s head­quar­ters, to raise ques­tions as to why door open­ing re­quired rein­ven­tion in the first place—and rec­om­mended stick­ing with “dumb keys.” Sub­se­quent it­er­a­tions grew more de­pend­able and cost-ef­fi­cient. Af­ter it raised $73 mil­lion, Au­gust was ac­quired last year by Swedish lock con­glom­er­ate Assa Abloy, re­port­edly for $150 mil­lion. Over lunch, I ask Béhar why he sold the com­pany, es­pe­cially if Au­gust’s sales were as strong as he and John­son sug­gested. Af­ter all, just months ago, Ama­zon ac­quired a sim­i­lar smarthome se­cu­rity startup, Ring, for $1 bil­lion. Béhar says it was “a great exit—all the in­vestors made money” and that Assa Abloy’s scale would en­able Au­gust to blos­som into a global brand, a “di­a­mond” in the port­fo­lio. “The money is not im­por­tant,” he says. “It’s about the legacy. What’s the legacy of this beau­ti­ful Au­gust ex­pe­ri­ence?” (John­son later shows me next-gen Assa Abloy prod­ucts that are in­te­grat­ing Au­gust’s tech­nol­ogy but not its de­signs.) It some­times feels as if Béhar is chas­ing that his­toric exit. He es­ti­mates that he gets roughly 15 pitches per month from en­trepreneurs. While he says he ag­o­nizes over po­ten­tial in­vest­ments and can only co­found one startup every five years due to time con­straints, dur­ing our brief rounds, I vis­ited three star­tups he co­founded in that time­frame, one of which he joined af­ter an ini­tial 40-minute meet­ing with its cre­ator. “It’s like speed dat­ing,” he says. In a way, Béhar has staked his rep­u­ta­tion on be­ing the guy you go to when de­sign is not baked into your startup’s recipe. While a co­hort of young, al­ready-iconic brands such as Warby Parker and Square count de­sign as an es­sen­tial in­gre­di­ent in their growth and have hired tal­ent ac­cord­ingly, Fuse’s part­ners tend to be the ones who view de­sign more as ic­ing. John­son says that every ex­per­tise at Au­gust, where he’s still CEO, “is in­house now ex­cept prod­uct de­sign. I don’t need it in-house be­cause my [de­sign] part­ner is a mile away.” ONE CHILLY EVENING, OVER dev­iled eggs at Oc­tavia, a so­phis­ti­cated Amer­i­can restau­rant in Lower Pa­cific Heights, Béhar seems to be open­ing up about fail­ure. It’s a sub­ject he’s been pre­oc­cu­pied with of late, per­haps be­cause he rec­og­nizes the cat­a­log of crashes he’s been as­so­ci­ated with in re­cent years. Sev­eral are so no­to­ri­ous that they’ve even been de­picted cra­ter­ing in the ti­tle se­quence of HBO’S Silicon Val­ley, which Béhar says he can’t watch. “It hits too close for com­fort,” he says. Béhar is re­laxed at Oc­tavia, a reg­u­lar date spot for him and his wife, where the wait­ress re­mem­bers his di­etary pref­er­ences (no dairy) and we bump into his friend, Word­press cre­ator Matt Mul­len­weg, at the door. So it sur­prises me when he vol­un­tar­ily shifts the con­ver­sa­tion to the un­com­fort­able sub­ject of his many f lops. Be­tween sips of Kölsch, he talks about his “busi­ness ad­ven­tures,” as if they were fun, ed­i­fy­ing ex­per­i­ments, rather than dis­as­trous en­ter­prises that have cost in­vestors more than $1.5 bil­lion, to tally just a few of the duds we touched on dur­ing din­ner. “As de­sign­ers, we fail every sin­gle day, and every fail­ure is a way to learn,” he says. The busi­ness adventure that made Béhar most fa­mous was Jaw­bone. The con­sumer elec­tron­ics com­pany part­nered with Fuse in 2002, and Béhar served as the com­pany’s cre­ative di­rec­tor start­ing in 2006. Wire­less head­sets and au­dio ac­ces­sories made Jaw­bone a hot startup, po­si­tion­ing it well to en­ter the nascent wear­ables mar­ket in 2011. Al­though Jaw­bone helped set the stan­dard for what a beau­ti­ful wrist-worn tracker could look like, dura­bil­ity prob­lems prompted a re­call and per­sis­tent user com­plaints. In­creased com­pe­ti­tion from Ap­ple, Fit­bit, and oth­ers even­tu­ally led to erod­ing sales, and ul­ti­mately, Jaw­bone, which had raised more than $900 mil­lion in fund­ing, was liq­ui­dated last year. Fusers are adamant that they aren’t to blame. “It’s sad. There’s a limit to our in­flu­ence,” says Lo­gan Ray, Fuse’s

strat­egy di­rec­tor. “We can feed them the great­est ideas in the world, but if the team run­ning the busi­ness isn’t op­er­at­ing in an ef­fec­tive way, the busi­ness won’t suc­ceed.” He adds that Jaw­bone “got a bit lazy.” Béhar, who still wears an Up2 wear­able tracker on his wrist and says he re­mains friends with Jaw­bone CEO Ho­sain Rah­man, says, “There are many rea­sons for fail­ures in new en­ter­prises, ex­ist­ing busi­nesses,” he tells me. “And a few of them, I can now iden­tify in ad­vance. What makes you di­verge from the orig­i­nal vi­sion are things like out­side pres­sures . . . to launch fast . . . to show rev­enue . . . from in­vestors be­cause you’ve raised so much money that they don’t let you scale over three to five years. They want to see re­sults within a year. Ideas die from you not hav­ing con­trol over your des­tiny.” I ask specif­i­cally if th­ese lessons ap­ply to Jaw­bone, and Béhar replies, “Yes, every­thing. Jaw­bone, Juicero, even more ob­scure ones peo­ple don’t know about.” Béhar’s ver­sion of events doesn’t ac­knowl­edge any role Fuse might have played in Jaw­bone’s down­fall. One knowl­edge­able source close to Jaw­bone says Fuse’s team of de­sign­ers was im­pres­sive, but that Béhar “didn’t have a clue tech­ni­cally.” This per­son re­calls how sev­eral Jaw­bone form fac­tors orig­i­nally de­signed by Béhar were “vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble” to build, in­clud­ing one early con­cept for a Mini Jam­box speaker that re­quired more than an hour to man­u­fac­ture the pat­terned ex­te­rior on a sin­gle unit, an “im­pos­si­bly ex­pen­sive” process that took “for­ever.” (Jaw­bone later man­aged to re­duce this process to just min­utes.) When reached for com­ment, Rah­man says, “Yves tried to push the bound­aries of what is pos­si­ble, and that’s a push-and-pull thing, and some­times you push things too far.” He stresses that he’s proud of their “cat­e­gory defin­ing” work to­gether, and al­though he gen­er­ally agrees with Béhar’s view that in­vestor “im­pa­tience” dis­tracted from “fo­cus on pure prod­uct” ad­vance­ments, Rah­man heat­edly takes is­sue with Ray’s as­sess­ment, telling me, “Lo­gan is com­pletely wrong and full of shit and I’m go­ing to call Lo­gan and tell him to shut the fuck up.” (In a state­ment pro­vided later by email, Rah­man clar­i­fies that it’s “un­equiv­o­cally false that Yves’s de­sign work had any­thing to do with the fail­ure of Jaw­bone” and adds that “Yves has a deep tech­ni­cal un­der­stand­ing.”) Dur­ing my din­ner with Béhar, it be­comes ap­par­ent that he rarely sees him­self as part of the prob­lem. When I in­quire more about his de­sign of Juicero, the Wi-fi–con­nected juicer re­leased in 2016 that was lam­basted as a cau­tion­ary tale of Val­ley ex­cess—the com­pany shut­tered in the fall of 2017 shortly af­ter peo­ple re­al­ized hand-squeez­ing the juice pack­ets was nearly as ef­fec­tive as the $700 ma­chine—béhar smiles and says, “No­body ever com­plained about the in­dus­trial de­sign.” In the case of Juicero, he con­tin­ues, “the les­son for me is that the orig­i­nal vi­sion when I was in a restau­rant in New York with [founder] Doug [Evans] was a $200 to $300 ma­chine. But sud­denly you raise $120 mil­lion to $150 mil­lion, great fundrais­ers, and then you get big­ger teams that have re­ally dif­fer­ent opin­ions.” When reached for com­ment, Evans says, “Yves’s de­sign was beau­ti­ful and it brought juic­ing to a new level. He turned [my orig­i­nal de­sign] into a ma­chine that Oprah Win­frey bought 365 of [for gifts] and that [Goop’s] Gwyneth Pal­trow called ‘the coolest in­ven­tion of 2016.’ I love Yves, and we’re in the very early stages of dis­cussing an­other food-tech­nol­ogy hard­ware prod­uct.” More re­cently, Béhar says his friends have been “giv­ing me shit” for hav­ing helped Ther­a­nos CEO El­iz­a­beth Holmes de­sign the sheet-metal cas­ing for its blood-test­ing prod­uct, Edi­son. (Béhar’s work for the com­pany first be­came widely known with the May 2018 pub­li­ca­tion of Bad Blood, John Car­rey­rou’s book chron­i­cling the medtech com­pany’s rise and fall.) His con­tri­bu­tion was purely aes­thetic: “I saw all the ca­bles and tubes and every­thing in­side,” Béhar re­calls. “How do I know whether it works?” He tells me that Ther­a­nos is an ex­am­ple of a startup that “didn’t have the sci­ence and was too early.” I counter that Holmes was ac­tu­ally a scam artist who mis­led the pub­lic. Béhar, who ad­mits he hasn’t yet read Bad Blood, clar­i­fies: “I mean, she sold the vi­sion with­out hav­ing the goods.” When I press fur­ther, calling this an un­der­state­ment, Béhar al­most sheep­ishly says, “I don’t know if she be­lieved she’d never have the goods. She just thought it didn’t mat­ter if she didn’t have the goods in 10 years or 20 years; if she kept try­ing, she would have the goods. She never did. She sold peo­ple as though she had them, which is a fraud.” Later, he adds, “It was hubris, which is pretty much par for the course in Silicon Val­ley.” THE NIGHT AF­TER OUR DIN­NER, I join Béhar and his wife at an op­u­lent home in Rus­sian Hill for a catered farewell party for Max Hollein, the di­rec­tor of the de Young fine arts mu­seum, who is leav­ing for New York to run the Met. The scene is Old Money San Fran­cisco, blaz­ered oc­to­ge­nar­i­ans and Stan­ley Tucci look-alikes. “The per­son who moved in next door to us paid $9 mil­lion [for his house],” one white-haired guest tells me over white wine. “He founded Slack. What in God’s name is Slack!?” Béhar, who is friends with Hollein, floats around the light-filled space, telling friends that I’m shad­ow­ing him for a mag­a­zine pro­file. “Ten years ago, I was on the cover, and now they’re do­ing that story of, ‘What­ever hap­pened to Yves Béhar?’ ” he jokes. Béhar, who re­cently turned 51 and says he took up surf­ing af­ter hav­ing a midlife cri­sis, has been talking more and more about how his work will be re­mem­bered. He men­tions var­i­ous mu­se­ums that have dis­played his tech­nol­ogy prod­ucts, which he says are be­com­ing “ar­ti­facts, the mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ences of our age.” At his home of­fice, he has a cher­ished photo col­lage from the stu­dio of Charles Eames, his de­sign idol and the in­spi­ra­tion for his own mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary stu­dio, of it­er­a­tion af­ter it­er­a­tion of one of his fur­ni­ture pieces. It’s a re­minder of the ef­fort re­quired to cre­ate last­ing work. Where does Béhar fit in the pan­theon of de­sign­ers? His in­dus­try friends and com­peti­tors aren’t so sure. They mostly tell me he’s a net-pos­i­tive for the de­sign world and that his sig­na­ture style is beau­ti­ful (his port­fo­lio with Her­man Miller re­ceives more praise than his tech work). But they also de­cry his over­sat­u­rated celebrity and the projects where his work de­tracts from the prod­ucts’ per­for­mance. One well-re­garded de­signer CEO who com­petes against Béhar finds it ironic that he idol­izes Eames, who was “ab­so­lutely grounded in the bet­ter­ment of the mid­dle class. All the greats of the golden age of Amer­i­can de­sign were.” Eames fa­mously once said that “ideas are cheap” and that de­sign­ers must only “in­no­vate as a last re­sort,” es­chew­ing in­ven­tive­ness for the sake of in­ven­tive­ness. Given Béhar’s pen­chant for high-priced gad­getry—$229 smart locks, $700 in­ter­net juicers, $1,160 ro­botic cribs—this de­signer agrees that Béhar isn’t as­crib­ing to Eames’s leg­endary mantra, “The most for the least,” but rather “The most for the most,” an elit­ist ap­proach in­creas­ingly at odds with main­stream so­ci­ety and one that makes Béhar the “op­po­site of Eames.” If Béhar truly feels that de­sign ought to ac­cel­er­ate good-for-hu­man­ity ideas, then per­haps it should de­cel­er­ate bad ones, too. “You can cre­ate a par­al­lel be­tween the out-of-touch tech bub­ble and the phe­nom­e­non of Yves,” the de­signer says. There’s a “brash, fuck-ev­ery­body type” that rep­re­sents “[Béhar’s] ap­proach to de­sign and the Val­ley’s ap­proach to so­ci­etal is­sues.” Through a spokesper­son, Béhar cites his de­sign of low-cost eye­glasses for chil­dren in Mex­ico as “the most mean­ing­ful work” he’s done. “I aspire to cre­ate mean­ing­ful de­signs for many dif­fer­ent clients and have worked hard to de­sign life-chang­ing projects for those with­out re­sources. My record re­flects that.” Dan Har­den, the Whip­saw founder who has been close with Béhar for three decades, has more em­pa­thy for his work. As a de­signer of tech prod­ucts him­self, he knows they “end up be­com­ing nov­elty items in com­puter-his­tory mu­se­ums, like, ‘Oh, I re­mem­ber that phone!’ ” In Har­den’s view, a de­signer’s ca­reer should be judged by “many dif­fer­ent prod­uct so­lu­tions, new ways of look­ing at prob­lems that have col­lec­tively touched your life in a man­ner that’s pos­i­tive.” Put an­other way, it’s about cre­at­ing not just “firsts,” but “lasts,” ad­vance­ments that im­prove an in­dus­try, or even the world as a whole. Béhar is cur­rently fin­ish­ing up de­sign­ing a per­ma­nent space for Hollein at the de Young. Dur­ing one of my vis­its to his of­fice, Béhar re­veals that a num­ber of world-class mu­se­ums have re­cently in­quired about his $2,000 Sam­sung Frame, the TV mod­eled to look like a work of art. In a con­fer­ence room, star­ing at a Sam­sung Frame dis­play­ing a photo of him­self star­ing at an­other Sam­sung Frame hung at the Lou­vre for the prod­uct’s launch, Béhar tells me that even “peo­ple from the Charles Eames col­lec­tion [are] reach­ing out. They are like, ‘This is very, very in­ter­est­ing.’ ”

BIG DREAMER Béhar as­pires to cre­ate a port­fo­lio like his idol, Charles Eames. “I have an­other 40 years to be re­mem­bered,” he says.

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