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Designer Yves Béhar: “More Screens” Aren’t The Solution

Andrew Littlefield
A finger pressing an Ori Square controller

World renowned designer Yves Béhar says the answer to improving our homes and lives doesn’t revolve around more screens—but in simplifying interactions. That’s the approach he and his team at Fuseproject took when they were brought in to collaborate with Ori on the design of our first commercial product, the Studio Suite Original, and our ubiquitous user interface, the Ori Square.

Béhar first came to be connected with Ori through his frequent collaborations with MIT, and it was his team’s expert work that helped Ori emerge from an MIT Media Lab engineering project to the growing company it is today.

Read on for more of Béhar’s insights on design, the home, and how his team approached the challenge of creating robotic spaces that effortlessly transform your home.

Early design sketches of an Ori Pocket Studio

How do you approach these types of challenges—where do you start?

For me it’s always about marrying insights with big ideas that will make the company and product stand out. Luckily we had many members of the design team at Fuseproject that lived in small apartments and would be customers of Ori. We also had aspirations for an approach to the product that was more furniture than gadget. It was important that the technology be discreet, even disappear, as the home for me should be free of interruptions and distractions. The Ori unit itself wants to make any space more beautiful, the wood material and proportions are elegant and provides the homeowner with plenty of hidden storage but also open shelves to personalize and display individual taste.

Give us a “tour” of the Ori Square.

Hasier and I agreed that we wanted the interface to be unique and not just a screen. So the Ori interface only lights up when the hand touches the unit, and even then only a few backlit icons appear. We incorporated basic open/close sliding functionality, but also lighting controls. Simple icons showing a couch, bed, closet make it easy for the user to select what environments are best suited for the moment. We felt that a physical object would be both functional, but also a branded element on the Ori surface.

Early design sketches of different options for controlling Ori systems

Why a square?

The pyramid-like shape has a square base, as it gives us a large surface to touch or push against, and activate the Ori and transform the space. The faceted square is meant to clearly indicate the direction of the sliding Studio Suite. By touching the side slope, the unit starts moving in the desired direction. There is a real satisfaction in feeling that a gentle touch transforms the entire space.

Talk to me about your philosophy in designing this type of user interface.

The idea was discretion, and presence. When all apps are on the phone, they feel detached from physical reality: but of course our unit is a large element in the space and a simple control is a more efficient way to just activate the unit rather than look for a phone and use yet another app.

An early design sketch of the Ori Square.

What do people frequently get wrong when designing a user interface?

To me thinking that the phone is the be-all and end-all of controlling our lives and environments is short sighted. And more screens in the home isn’t the solution either. Simplifying interactions can be accomplished when we think of the specific functions a user needs, versus adding more functionality on a screen just because it’s possible.

With so many devices moving towards total app or voice control, why do you think a physical interface still has value?

The sensation of moving an entire furniture set at the touch of the hand is very empowering and Superman-like. Of course we also designed a phone app that can voice-control Ori, but for me the home requires that I can do things easily and in the flow of my life. The value that the Ori interface brings is immediacy and access for anyone in the home.