Stories By Design

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The cast of characters may have changed, but for 38-year-old Yves Béhar—-the visionary designer who founded the San Francisco-based design and branding studio Fuseproject in 1999, and who recently signed a deal to partner with holding company MDC Partners-—the story remains exactly the same. "When I started Fuseproject, I said, 'Design brings stories to life,' and I announced that products were the true agents of a company's brand," recalls the Swiss-born Béhar, trained as an industrial designer in Europe and at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. "These were the 'everything virtual' days, and most U.S.-based design agencies were focused only on technology and medical products, two areas that never understood the value of connecting to consumers emotionally and building brands people love—-with the exception of Apple, of course."

After years spent shaping the product identities of several such technology giants in Silicon Valley, Béhar set out to revolutionize the American design mentality with Fuseproject, applying brash ideas and technical expertise to a range of A-list brands that cut a wide swath across the consumer spectrum—from automotive (Mini) to sports (Nike) to fashion (Birkenstock). The central strategy? Make each product a vessel for communicating a story to the consumer by infusing the personality of each brand directly into the products themselves.

The results were nothing short of groundbreaking, as Béhar took the design world by storm with innovations that disregarded the normal rules to reach consumers in new ways. "For Mini, that meant bringing the element of motion to every part of the product line," says Béhar, who delivered a line of Mini_motion accessories that included a wristwatch with a display that rotates for easy viewing while driving, and a jacket that comes complete with its own car seat extension. "And for Birkenstock, it meant using new biodegradable materials for an urban and sophisticated customer." Béhar further solidified his reputation as corporate America's go-to "product reviving" guy with eye-opening work like the Red Transformer laptop for Toshiba, which features a collapsible flatscreen that opens like an envelope.

In the current branding era, Béhar's vision is looking all the more prescient, as agencies have realized that marketing in the 21st century doesn't stop at the art director and copywriter's door. "Business hasn't looked at design in a strategic way in a long time, and has forgotten that design is a tool for communication," says Béhar. "But we're at the start of a resurgence of the product as the true experience of brands, and products themselves as the marketing message."

To bring this message to life, Béhar found a kindred spirit in the form of MDC Partners, holding company partner to Crispin Porter + Bogusky. Last month, MDC acquired a 20 percent stake in Fuseproject, paving the way for Béhar's work to reach more clients than ever before. "Yves has very much the same sort of feel toward creating brand momentum as we do," says CP+B chairman Chuck Porter. "When we talk to him about brands, we're all talking the same language. It's not as though he's coming at it purely from a product design or package design perspective, and we're coming at it purely from an advertising perspective. We both cross over that line."

For Béhar, the admiration is mutual. "We've been working with the agency for years, on Mini and more recently on Burger King," he says. "Throughout the collaboration, CP+B's creative and unconventional approach has empowered us to do our best work. It makes sense to continue this partnership."

Béhar also plans to explore an entire industry teeming with potential partners. "We will explore projects with MDC Partners, as well as other agencies outside of the MDC network," he says. "We have new projects in the area of consumer electronics, skate and snowboard lines, food packaging, over-the-counter drugs, furniture and lighting, baby products—and lots of shoes. We also have a new Mini_motion line launching this fall that will include watches, luggage and apparel."

Even Béhar's upcoming vacation has a multinational, visionary ring to it. "I'll be heli-boarding in the south of Turkey in the Taurus mountains, close to Syria," he says. "My family is from Turkey, and my cousin will be leading the expedition with Swiss guides from Verbier. It's a discovery trip, so I'm very excited to explore uncharted mountain territory."

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