Technology | Diary of a Somebody

Yves Behar

The designer mines the past to create the future

Yves Behar

January 26 2012
Yves Behar

Day: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

My day back at the office starts with an earlier-than-usual rise, as I woke up on Baja California time. My body is still on vacation, but my mind is racing towards my busy day. The morning is also an opportunity to spend time with the kids, dressing them and making breakfast for the family gang. This is always the calm before the storm.

My 10-minute drive to the office gives me the opportunity to look back at the first month of the year. My team of 48 at FuseProject has been buzzing; in the first two weeks of January, we’d already presented two new projects. We introduced the One Laptop Per Child tablet version – a project six years in the making, with over 2.5m computers distributed free so far. And we launched a new brand that addresses the Baby Boomers’ need for medicine organisation and transport, while remaining cool and not stigmatising. These two projects were born from specific needs – those of children, and those of the Boomers – yet their appeal is universal.

My first meeting is a Skype call with a Swedish entrepreneur who aims to solve some of our most frustrating smartphone moments. It’s about how technology should be a lot more intuitive when it comes to a user’s needs. This is followed by a meeting and brainstorm about how haptic (touch) technologies are making interactions with our devices much more responsive and human.

I play on a screen that simply displays five guitar strings; the vibration of every string in response to my touch is so compelling that I keep on playing, forgetting this is a screen and not a real guitar. These are tools I want to integrate in our practice in order to respond better to human sensory abilities. Sensory nerves make our hands by far the most sensitive part of our bodies, followed by our lips and mouths. This points to the fact that the tactility of objects provides us humans with our most detailed functional and emotional information.

The next group is led by a Belgian fellow and his team of Nasa engineers who are working on the future of medical diagnosis. Anyone remember the tricorder? In the Star Trek universe, the medical tricorder is a handheld device that doctors use to diagnose diseases. This is possible to envision today through miniaturised hyperspectral cameras, sensors and liquid diagnostics. A lot of these technologies were developed by Nasa for space medicine, but soon we will use them here on Earth.

As I’ve experienced with other visionary entrepreneurs and scientists, we don’t just exchange technology ideas. In this case, we also discuss the psychological impact of perpetual monitoring, privacy, and the incredible potential of diagnostic tools based on algorithms. And this makes me think. The denial of our mortality is what keeps us alive. Why do we work so hard at creating the future when it just brings us closer to our own death?

The conversation actually is not grim at all – there is a lot of joshing. The human condition and its idiosyncrasies fuel laughs and ideas concurrently. Someone says, “We have to do to health maintenance organisations what Apple has done to smartphones”. Another repeats the company’s mantra. “We are the last generation that knows so little about our own health.” No one thinks small. No one says, “it’s impossible”. Actually, the meeting concludes with the idea that a launch in 2013 would be great, because it coincides with both JJ Abrams’s Star Trek sequel and the 50th anniversary of the death of JFK, that great believer in and catalyst of space and science exploration.

One more thing to think on before we leave this topic. The genome project cost close to $3 billion. Now, several companies offer three-day turnaround individual genome analysis for under $999.

The next three meetings follow similar threads, but with slightly less loftiness: working on the next-generation home soda maker machine for the Israeli company Sodastream, figuring out the new line launch at the Milan furniture fair, reviewing the next generation of products with our partner company Jawbone, and moving forward the user interface, iPhone/Android application and brand for a golf-technology company that originated in Ireland.

Then my business partner Mitch Pergola and I meet with the founders of B-Corp, a firm that certifies a whole company’s operations based on social and environmental sustainability criteria. No design firm has undergone the rigorous tests, but we feel that our own little outfit would feature nicely next to pioneers such as Patagonia, 7th Generation and Method.

On my way home, I make a 10-minute stop at a friend’s art gallery, Altman Siegel, to view a painting by an emerging artist from Los Angeles in whom I’m interested.

When I get home from these intense days, I usually am not able to remember much of anything. It’s as if my brain was on pause. No matter; it is time to cook, eat, play and read with the kids. It is also a time reserved for interacting in the most primal and simple ways, with no technology, no screen, no phone, no interruption from the future. Til the kids are asleep, that is, and the laptops are pulled back out of the work bag…

Writing this diary allows me to remember many of the magical moments and ideas that have popped from all around the world – and to reflect on the fact that everything I experienced as a child in sci-fi books and movies is happening during my lifetime. Ok, maybe not interplanetary travel; but everything else seems to be right around the corner, with design as a big part of it.

This in turn makes me think of why I came to San Francisco 20 years ago: to design the future, not the next couch. But that will probably be the subject of another diary.

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