Yves Behar on design and the Internet of Things

By Richard Nieva , written on May 30, 2013

From The News Desk

Yves Behar is the high-profile designer behind products like the Jawbone Jambox and the Ouya gaming console. Yesterday, he unveiled his new project, August, at the D11 conference to much fanfare – a “smart lock” that lets a you lock and unlock a door with your smartphone. 

Like other Behar designs, the August is simple, effective, and easy-to-use. In addition to the lock not requiring keys, a user can control who can enter his home and keep a log of everyone who comes and goes. If you're carrying your phone with you, the lock "senses" you're nearby and opens the lock for you. And judging from the demo, it looks beautiful, too.

Perhaps that shouldn't be surprising. The Swiss-born (but not Swiss) designer has created a number of eye-catching products that combine utility with a simple, modern look and feel. He's the chief industrial designer for One Laptop per Child and has also ginned up everything from eco-friendly underwear to waterproof rechargeable vibrators.

I caught up with Behar today to ask him about the importance of design on the Internet of Things. He told me the biggest reason design is so critical, specifically for connected devices, is that these items need to integrate with their surroundings more than other devices. “These are not things that sit in the corner," he says. "Installation has to be easy. Design has to be personal."

That’s especially true with the August lock, which is probably one of the last things a guest would see as they exit an August-connected home. Part of the challenge is that the August has to match a person's taste, yet there's no way, aside from making it available in a few different colors, for Behar to know how a user has decorated his living space. This is where simplicity and clean lines come in. “It’s very important to me that this not be some heavily branded thing, calling attention to itself as a product,” he says. “It should match with home décor, fit in.”

As such, he designed the lock to feel invisible and disappear into the door, but this rule is not true all across the board of connected devices. For example, Nest, the learning thermostat, is a proud and attention-getting device, hung on your wall at eye level and displaying bright blues and reds. But having different design approaches only means the connected device market is maturing, and that different philosophies will emerge. “We’re going to have so much of these items around," he says. "Not everything needs to be a discussion piece.”

Though Behar has worked on well-known products before, it's worth noting that he is actually a co-founder of August. This came about because he had been brainstorming ideas with August’s other co-founder Jason Johnson, managing partner of Founders Den and chairman of the Internet of Things Consortium, and realized design played such an important role up front. “We were going to make a lot of these decisions together," he says, "and a lot of them were design decisions.”

This isn’t a new idea. Apple -- not exactly an Internet of Things company, but maybe there's an iWatch coming -- puts design high up on the food chain, and has made the idea of integration even more important. “The intersection of software and hardware is really where the magic happens,” he says. “That’s why they put Jony Ive on both.” He’s referring to Apple’s famed lead designer, who until last year only focused on industrial design but now helms software projects, too.

When it comes to ensuring superior design, he says, "I've always thought you needed a cofounder, or at least a really committed partner" with a good design background. And that's where Behar comes in.