Yves Béhar and Medical Device Design that Excites
My name is Patrick and I have a serious man-crush on Yves Béhar.
For those who don't know, he's the founder and Chief of Design for the award-winning design firm fuseproject. I often refer to him as a King Midas of sorts - everything he and his firm touches turns to gold. He may not be as well known as Jony Ive, but like Apple's universally recognized CDO, Béhar is an unwavering ambassador of design who routinely proves that design has a place in every facet of industry. He's also easy on the eyes - but his portfolio is far more aesthetically breathtaking.
In 2012 Fuseproject began working with Fluidigm in the medical device design space to develop a product with powerful implications on the world of genomic research. Two years later, the result was not only the groundbreaking Fluidigm Juno, but a glorious brand refresh for Fluidigm.
The purpose of Juno - in layman's terms - is that it lets researchers analyze a semi-truck full of genomic data in a day, versus what might fit in a small car’s glovebox using other systems. While I can appreciate what Juno does - provides teams a crucial tool for unlocking the mysteries of genomics, fighting disease, and improving the human condition - this isn't what I'm here to talk about. Frankly, I'm not qualified to. I'm here to wax on how the design of Juno serves the product, user, and brand to perfection.
Let's get the obvious out of the way first: Juno is not a boring beige box. The past decade has seen great evolution of medical and lab devices from antiquated plastic monoliths to sculpted objects that actually look cool. The Juno pushes the aesthetic boundary even further, though - it's far more sci-fi, more F1 car than the closest of its brethren. Anyway, this divergence from the field is important - the work being performed with these devices is important. It's hard to get excited about using a boring box, but like a supercar, Juno compels you to interact with it with intense enthusiasm. I think researchers have a right to work with objects that stir that kind of excitement within. This stuff may change the world, after all.
Another neat attribute of the Juno is the use of texture. Fusing simplified form factors with exhilarating textures is kind of Fuseproject's thing - you can see this approach throughout their portfolio, especially in their work for audio products company Jawbone. The texture treatment executed on the exterior of Juno is what takes a relatively simple sculpted mass and turns it into a visual feast. It simply can't be ignored. Organic undulations peaking in sharp vertices run parallel before splitting into strands that dart off at various angles and distances - This is the perfect analogy to DNA, an array of data that is highly ordered, perfected, yet seemingly chaotic and infinitely complex in its structure and permutations. This is just the design at face value though - the real magic of this aesthetic is in how it is created, and unless you have a machinist’s background you probably don't recognize it.
CNC milling is the go-to manufacturing method for the mid-volume, high precision manufacture of metal products. Typically, the mill must make many passes on a surface to achieve a smooth finish, hiding the artifacts of the process with repetition. In the Juno's case however, the artifacts are in plain sight - the texture is the rough cut, the traditionally undesirable mess of tooling marks you see before the "finish pass." Only the tool paths on Juno’s exterior have been carefully mapped to create the intended mosaic of linework. The term Industrial Design - a historically confusing bit of nomenclature as “Product Design” generally resonates more - speaks to the idea that mass-produced products have to be designed with industrial process in mind. Béhar is doing what every industrial designer who aspires to embody the true definition of their industry should: elevate the process to art. Written on the surface of Juno is the very language of the machine that created it, a poem of carefully dialed computer code etched into solid metal.
The last reason I find this design so successful is that design is so universally applied to the features of the product - hard and soft. Béhar and the Fuseproject team worked with Fluidigm to develop the user interface design concurrently with the industrial design of the enclosure. Nothing ruins a gorgeous product more than stuffing it with a terrible UI - after all, that is the element of the product the user actually uses. Yves and company crafted a powerful yet intuitive interface that let technicians using Juno to execute their research efficiently and understandably with concise, guided instructional menus and readouts. By taking responsibility for the design of the hardware and software, Fuseproject proves that treating the development of a medical device (or any product, for that matter) holistically yields an end result that is greater than the sum of it’s parts - a seamless product experience that engages the user with alluring looks, and rewards them with intuitive functionality to boot.
I think it’s important to have idols in your field - inspirational figures whose works challenge your thinking, serve as a standard for what success is, and push yourself to grow. I have several designers that do this for me, but Yves Béhar and his firm’s portfolio are routinely a muse for my own process - and images of Juno have and continue to find their way onto most of the inspiration boards for Trig design projects.