Reflections on Innovation Past and Present, From SF Designer Yves Behar

on Wednesday, Feb. 26th

When San Francisco designer Yves Behar was 14 years old and living in his native Switzerland, he had a design epiphany, thanks to the Sony Walkman.

An aunt had sent the device to Behar, who’s now the Chief Creative officer of Jawbone, as a gift. He told the crowd at this week’s Launch Festival that for a teenager, being able to carry his music around was revelatory enough, but there was more — the ability to plug in a second headset, allowing him and a girlfriend to create an intimate world, free from adult intervention.

This seeded his philosophy that if you’re treating customers well — emotionally, ergonomically then you’re probably practicing good design.

He was also taken, he said, with the small orange button that served as a two-way mic, allowing the user to speak to person who’d plugged in the second pair of headphones. “They spent another $5 to add a feature that was just about a very simple gesture,” Behar pointed out to the packed room.

Behar’s observations about changes in design culture date from his move to California in the early 90s, to work for large consulting firms. “I saw the whole area of technology, and it really needed a different approach. These (products) weren’t designed for your home; it wasn’t about how you were going to use these things in your everyday life.”

Now, of course, design is paramount, and integral to product development, Behar said. He told Launch founder Jason Calacanis that when he moved to the States, friends in design hotspots like Milan wondered, “Why are you going there? There’s no design in America.”

In his three decades here, he said he’s witnessed “the transformation of the American consumer at every level” — and that San Francisco and the Bay Area are now one of the design capitals of the world.

As to his advice for startup founders, a common theme of Calacanis’ interviews with boldface name guests, Behar kept it simple – “There’s no beta in hardware.”

He advised that hardware-focused startups continue perfecting the product and only ship “when it’s ready for prime time.”


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