Faced with the task to create a highly affordable chair that would incorporate everything Herman Miller is known for- beautiful design, first-class ergonomics, elegant engineering, and respect for the environment, Yves Béhar designed the Sayl chair.
Béhar, who calls San Francisco home, began by looking at designs that deliver the most with the least. And then he took a look at his city's best-known landmark: the Golden Gate Bridge. Béhar wondered, could the engineering principles of a suspension bridge be applied to a chair?
The notion of using a suspension tower to support an unframed suspension back meant that the elastomer material could be stretched in a way that provides the greatest tension at points where support is needed and the least in areas that would allow for the most expansive range of motion.
So why "Sayl", rather than, say, "Bridge"? Take a look at the chair from the side. See the resemblance to a full mainsail? The name reflects the sailing vessels that pass beneath the bridges that inspired the original design. Replacing the "i" in "sail" with a "y" is a nod to the innovative Y-Tower structure of the work chair.
Yves Béhar is a thinker. And one thing he thinks about a lot is the future. "I believe design's purpose is not only to show us the future, but to bring us the future," he states. The founder of fuseproject ("dedicated to the emotional experience of brands through storytelling"), Béhar has been exploring the design world since his childhood in Switzerland. "In Europe, it is double nature to evaluate objects based on how they work and how they look," he explains.
Béhar grew up in a bicultural home, influenced by his East German mother and Turkish father. "One is functional and modernist and the other, expressive and poetic," he says. "I always try to marry the two in my projects."
For a relatively young designer, he has had a remarkable career. A graduate of the Art Center College of Design, he started out working with high tech Silicon Valley clients such as Apple and Hewlett Packard, eventually gravitating into the sport, apparel, technology, and furniture arenas.
One of the countless magazine articles written about Béhar called him "the multi-disciplinary designer of our time." His long list of awards includes the prestigious National Design Award from the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian National Design Museum, where his work is part of their permanent collection.
In 2004 he had two solo exhibitions, one at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the other at the Musee de Design et D'arts Appliques Contemporains in Lausanne, Switzerland.
"When working with clients, my philosophy is to connect emotionally through ideas and content rather than style," says Béhar. "It's less about this or that aesthetic and more about meaningful conversations where people come to agreement in terms of approach and direction."
His collaboration with Herman Miller came about through one such conversation. An admirer of Charles and Ray Eames, Béhar decided he wanted to do something for the company himself. "Design is very much at the center of Herman Miller's culture," he says. "So one day I just picked up the phone, called them, and said, 'Let's work together.'"
Four years later, Herman Miller introduced his two brilliantly innovative lighting products, Leaf and Ardea.
Given the wide range of products he works on, it would seem that Béhar might have a hard time escaping thoughts of design. Not at all, he says. "I have many outside interests that keep me balanced. For example, I love surfing, windsurfing, and snowboarding. So I spend a lot of time in the natural world, too."
As for his future, Béhar says he's very content designing products for companies who are "looking for departure, change, transformation. I'm continually excited working with people who want to move forward into the future and onto the next generation."
From all indications, this is the man who can take them there.