of design projects that consistently redefine genres. With innovative designs
such as Puma’s “Clever Little Bag” shoebox, One Laptop Per Child, and the PACT
underwear brand, Béhar and co. are relentlessly rethinking our everyday lives,
transforming mundane objects into experiences that spark delight and
imagination. Sustainability is integral to the fuseproject design ethos, and
Béhar is impassioned and ambitious about what designers can and should do in
this realm. He aims not merely to design inspiring projects for companies but
to redesign their very systems of logistics, production, and distribution
You’ve been doing pioneering, avant-garde work in sustainability. Why? Why is sustainability important?
In the long term, it’s pretty obvious why sustainability is important—because of the environmental implications. But in the short term, it’s important, because that’s what people want. They don’t want sustainability by sacrificing anything, and they don’t want it by having something that’s “less” than the original or the “pre-sustainability” experience.
And what’s the significance of sustainability to the design world?
If sustainability involves redesigning the whole manufacturing and distribution system, how do designers establish legitimacy for themselves in that aspect of design?
Designers are very good at establishing legitimacy for themselves in fields that are new, such as strategy or branding, for example. The way we establish legitimacy for ourselves in that particular field is by bringing creative solutions to the table that are all-encompassing rather than just about changing a material or two. We do that by inserting ourselves within all aspects of production and distribution our clients are involved with. By visiting factories in China, visiting distribution centers around the world, and meeting with retailers, we’re able to have a full picture of what the opportunities may be, which, typically, designers don’t have. When we use that knowledge to influence our design, a lot of innovation can happen.
In addition to the work you do for a big brand like Puma, you’ve helped launch the company PACT, a sustainable fashion underwear brand.
Through all this work for different companies, what have you found to be some of the key points about sustainable design?
The second point is what I call “don’t apologize”—which means that we don’t create designs that are apologies of the original. There’s this idea that because they’re green, they’re less than the original: Less exciting, less beautiful, less of a consumer experience than the original version. There are many examples of products that tend to deliver less and charge more for being green. Design can change that.
How do you determine the most sustainable approach for a particular project?
Also, it’s important to acknowledge that these solutions we’re working on now are very important steps, but belong in a continuum of progress. They’re big improvements, but at this stage of sustainability design, they’re not the final solution.
The connection between design and narrative is a core component of your work. What do you do to get consumers really excited about that narrative about sustainability and sustainable design in particular?
It’s crucial for us to design in such a way that we’re continuing the same kind of excitement that people have when purchasing a new product. When people get our line of underwear, they’re excited because they’re getting something colorful and they’re getting a great fit. They’re also getting a great story and packaging, and it happens that all of it has been thought about and executed most deeply around sustainability principles. That tends to surprise and further delight people—but it isn’t the central premise upon which the product is presented.
The Puma project has a lot of subtle design aspects—you didn’t use any laminated printing on the box, and the cardboard is die-cut from one flat piece of material, an elegant way of reducing waste. How have you become so knowledgeable about working in this way?
We don’t start just from a 2-D approach, we start with a full 3-D approach. We know that the heavy red printing on the original shoebox is certainly an environmental burden, and then we look at it and say, “Well, the choice is that Puma is going to ship brown boxes.” From a branding standpoint, that’s not really acceptable when you’ve had 10 years of everybody seeing your bright red shoeboxes in the stores. So we have to realize that those two elements are very important, and we have to examine how we can reconcile them. And we find that that the 3-D element helps us in doing so.
Can you talk about other specific innovations involved in the box?
In your TED talk a couple years ago, you spoke about how a designer can influence the social values of an organization. This again is another complete rethinking of the designer’s role. How can designers be effective in that?
Now we live in a time when people are directly reviewing and judging products as a part of the social media revolution that we live in. They’re also discussing a company’s overall impact—not just how good their products are, which is the critical issue that we’re being brought on as designers to solve—but also what is the sum positive and negative of a company’s output. We’re in the eye of that storm as well, because a lot of the choices we make give us the opportunity to reassess the way some things are done. We have a lot of power now both in the strategy and execution of what we work on. We influence the values that are becoming an important part of how consumers evaluate a company.
You designed the Y Water bottle so that it can be reused as a toy, and you made the Canal Plus cable electronics box so that it can be refurbished. What are a designer’s responsibilities in helping create this more expansive notion of eliminating waste entirely?
Can you give a specific example?
You’ve said if a design isn’t ethical, it can’t be beautiful. How does that apply to sustainability?
The second part of the sentence is that “if it isn’t beautiful, then it shouldn’t be at all.” So if you look at the entirety of the statement, you realize that we are ready to take on that very complex equation—which is that our design needs to be beautiful, it needs to delight, and it needs to be sustainable at the same time. We take the challenge straight on.
You’ve described the contemporary period of design as “a radical time of change.” As a designer, how do you navigate that?
So this is a time of revolution—and we have to continue that role of having one foot in our clients’ meeting rooms and the other foot in the world. We have to understand what people are expecting and know how to execute on those expectations. People now have a direct way to communicate, evaluate, and make decisions about products—a company’s values are being discussed peer-to-peer. I believe we’re being put back in the driver’s seat—or we will be put back in the driver’s seat—when it comes to the shepherding of brands.
What’s your sense of how design storytelling has been evolving in recent years?