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TED2008: Yves Behar – Design from the inside out

Yves B̩har is an unusual sort of designer Рhis goal is not to make bad products prettier, but to create new, beautiful products from scratch. His work includes the Leaf Lamp and the One Laptop Per Child XO laptop.

Behar is Swiss, with a Turkish father, and he tells us that his earliest memories involve looking at scenes on the carpets from his father’s homeland. Warriors kill mythical monsters, there are battle scenes and love scenes. He tells us, “objects tell stories.”

As a teenager, he tried to combine two things he loved, skiing and sailing. His creation was incredibly fast and very dangerous, allowing him to skid around on frozen lakes. “I realized I had to go to design school – look at those graphics!”

Design school and his early career led him to ask hard questions of the people he works with: “What’s this caps lock – do people really use it?” It led him to believe that “advertising is a price companies pay for being unoriginal.”

To be truly original, you can’t just “work on the skins” – you need to design from the inside out. This philosophy has led him to build

– A watch for Mini Cooper, which changes orientation when you move your arm
– A light fixture that changes in shape based on movements on a tablet
– The Leaf Lamp, which can be adjusted in terms of brightness and coloration of light

We look at length at the Jawbone headset, a beautiful bluetooth headset which looks like a piece of abstract art. It was designed by a team, in a single room, which included people building the circuit boards as well as the outer design. It has some amazing functionality, filtering out ambient noise and focusing only on your voice. And it’s very pretty: “If it isn’t beautiful, it doesn’t belong on your face.”

We see some very clever and fun projects, like Y water – it’s a drink designed to be better for kids than soda, and it has a bottle that can be connected almost like legos. Behar prefers projects that are value driven, like this one, and like OLPC. Negroponte seduced him to work on the project with his passionate vision that “design would be why kids were going to love the product”… and by promising him to remove the caps lock and number lock key. He reminds us that building OLPC required thinking from the inside out, and fighting with suppliers and the industry to see waht was possible.

Behar lent his nephew a prototype of the OLPC – it was painful to take it back after an afternoon. His nephew ended up building his own OLPC from paper and carboard.

His most recent project involved figuring out how to distribute 36 million condoms in New York City. The answer – a beautiful, functional dispenser, and a lively commercial with the tagline, “Get some!”

Behar urges us to design using our values – “together maybe we can change the world.”