“It’s been so interesting to me that a lot of our portfolio, people identify as industrial design”, says Fuseproject founder and creative CEO Yves Béhar of his multidisciplinary studio, following the announcement of its new digital division, Fusedigital.
“But really, Samsung The Frame”, he says – gesturing to the picture-frame-cum-TV that hovers behind him in the fake Zoom background – “which is now one of the top best-selling TVs in the world, was really a digital experience project. The entire concept of bringing art that is digitised, from great institutions into the living room, in a way that integrates with the room and disappears because of the light sensors… that was really a digital experience”.
“We’re not foreign at all to digital innovation; we just feel we can go deeper into it and can have it drive some of our projects”, he adds.
Fusedigital looks to enhance Fuseproject’s ability to design digital experiences through the delivery of UI, UX and front-end development. The project was made possible following the strategic acquisition of Lisbon-based digital agency, Mindshaker.
According to the studio, Fuseproject’s leadership team felt Mindshaker the best fit after meeting with several digital design firms throughout Portugal and Spain.
Béhar says that design education and abilities in Portugal are very high “across the board from industrial design to digital”, but that it was also a matter of cultural fit.
He describes how the region’s “creative spirit” and “open mindset” leads to innovative ideas, and of Mindshaker itself, he says: “We have been working together for a while, the quality of their work, and the quality of their culture was very attractive to us.
“We really felt a strong connection with that team”, he says. “The two founders, João Almeida and Luís Correia, are great partners”.
Meanwhile its beach-side location in Lisbon-adjacent Caparica provides another parallel between the West Coast of the US and the “West coast of Europe”. “Their office, when you come in, is filled with all the staff’s surfboards. They go surfing after work every day”, he says.
The second aspect of the expansion is to provide a headquarters in Europe – Fuseproject’s first outside the United States.
“Traditionally we have done about 50% of our work outside of the United States and we’ve had long-term relationships with companies in Europe”, Béhar says. He refers to his own Swiss heritage, and explains that Thomas Moeller, director of experience design for the Fusedigital division, is already based in London.
Having a base in Europe underlines the studio’s “global outlook”, while also speaking to some of the areas important to Fuseproject, such as healthcare.
“In Europe the context can be quite different”, Béhar says. “Obviously with national healthcare”, and the fact that “health and healthcare and wellbeing is quite differently embedded in European culture”, he says, “I feel in some ways it allows Europe to move faster in those fields of innovation and care, and in developing better and more well-designed ways to take care of people”.
On the question of what Fusedigital can bring to the sector, Béhar is unequivocal. “A lot of the bigger players in the digital space tend to really come from technology, and tend to be large, outsourced groups that are more driven by back end and tech mindsets”, he says. “For us, what we feel is we need to be design driven, we need to be user-experience driven, in a humanistic fashion, and we are innovation driven. And I think those qualities are rarely at the core of those practices.”
“We have practiced digital design, UI, UX, for fifteen-plus years”, he says – highlighting the August smart lock app and platform, as well as Samsung The Frame’s platform and interface – “but we never had the ability to go into full execution with content development and capabilities.”
Projects already underway are spread across transport; healthcare; “a cultural project celebrating museums, art and artists in a digital environment”; a sustainability engagement platform that “provides, reinforcement and data and rewards for sustainable behaviour”; as well as a project involving “solar deployment and robotics”.
“We will continue to work on new-to-the-world and sometimes world-firsts, together with this group”, he says. “Everything we do tends to have a very strong innovation bend, a very strong, first-to-the-world opportunity, and we feel that the quality of the design thinking and the innovation we bring is really unique in the field”.
In terms of long-term goals, Béhar says that Fuseproject has always been about “the ability for design to be the glue between new technologies, new possibilities, and the incredible needs that we have out there in the world”.
“We have over the years really focused on areas that we felt design had a really big role to play in”. Discussing its interest concerning the environment and sustainability, he says, “it’s not like we haven’t screamed that over the rooftops for the last fifteen years, but I think it will accelerate dramatically in the next ten years. And we have seen a lot more interest in areas such as consumer engagement, sustainability, carbon capture, solar and electric and deployment.”
Béhar will split his time between Lisbon and San Francisco, just for longer stints than he has in the many years previous.
As for the wider team, there is also a digital team with UX and UI capabilities in San Francisco. “That team is daily in communication on the projects that we’re sharing, but there is a strong desire for for the California team to also spend time in Portugal, and vice versa. We have direct flights now between Lisbon and San Francisco, so it actually makes it very easy”.
All images courtesy of Fuseproject.