The designer behind the One Laptop Per Child Project, Yves Behar is truly a world-class designer, balancing aesthetics, function, and socially-based initiatives. Founder and principal designer of FuseProject, he also happens to be the Chair of the Industrial Design Department at San Francisco’s California College of the Arts. Recently, he facilitated a design studio in which Industrial Design students partnered with South Korean cell phone manufacturer Pantech to design new cell-phone models, taking on the future of mobile communications and addressing the idea of emotional networking. I had a chance to speak to Yves about the studio, sustainability, and more…

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Yves Behar, Seth Murray, Flirt Phone, Pantech Prototype, Pantech cell phone, CCA, California College of Arts, CCA Industrial Design Seth Murray’s Flirt phone for Pantech, whose graphics play on the sensory aspects of flirting

Piper: We’ve heard you approach the design of objects as if “telling a story”, what is the story behind CCA’s recent studiowork with Pantech?

Yves: My approach at fuseproject fuses products and storytelling, and it is about our need for more than just products: we look for experiences. That said, it is an individual designer’s responsibility, or in this case the design student’s, to create a story around their product. The Pantech assignment was about looking for the cellphone beyond the one on one connection: about how we will connect to multiple people, a personal community or a global community.

Piper: How have you addressed sustainability in this studio, and, as head of CCA’s ID Dept., how are you addressing the environmental impact of consumer products?

Yves: At CCA, sustainability has been part of the curriculum for many years. Whether it is about material and processes selection in Material and Methods classes, assignments about material re-use (trash to cash), or how design is a part of new green business (we are defining a new course in Green Entrepreneurship). In studio design classes, sustainability is a tool in the designer toolbox: better products are simply healthier to individuals and the planet too.

Piper: With your Leaf LED lamp design and The One Laptop Per Child project you’ve clearly expressed an interest in socially responsibility and “giving back to the planet”. However, these themes don’t run through all your work, but rather seem particular to each individual project. Based on your experiences with these two designs – one dealing specifically with social responsibility and the other with environmental responsibility – how do you view the emerging “sustainable design” movement?

Yves: Every single project we currently work on has an element of sustainability and/or social responsibility, this is very different from even 2-3 years ago. What has been very interesting is that traditionally a green message was easier to build into smaller start-up style projects, but today we are working on large corporate efforts where design and sustainability are central to the problem at hand. Some of the changes we can make as designers on mainstream consumption products have a great impact because of the shear scale these products are manufactured in.

I do think that design has many creative answers to current challenges, and many different tools exist to sustainability. So the key is for designers to use the many different avenues to affect true change.

Piper: You seem to have a sensitivity to the human emotion with each of your designs- do you see any connections between user experience and the growing consumer concern for environmental impact?

Yves: Absolutely, as I often say “if it is not ethical, it cannot be beautiful”, the idea extends to emotion and an environmental mindset.

Piper: How do you choose the materials you use with each product?

Yves: As designers we always have one foot in our client’s culture, and the other as consumer advocate: the criteria for materials is about consumer health and the environment, as well as practical concerns. We always have an eye on the latest materials, whether it is using less of it, or introducing new formulations.

Piper: What would make it easier for you as a designer and innovator, to make things more sustainable?

Yves: The biggest challenge is existing facilities, standards and processes: all this legacy is expensive to change. So convincing clients of investing in new technologies and production methods is where a lot of the work is. + CCA Industrial Design + FuseProject