design for life (BBC series with philippe starck)

I have asked many questions of myself in the last year about whether I am on the right course for me, in the right field of art & design, and if I honestly think I’m any good.  It’s relatively easy to see that I’m not going to become the next big thing to break into the world of design, however, I might help myself by learning from the greats and try to absorb their pearls of wisdom.

A few years ago, the BBC produced a reality TV series called ‘Design for Life’ with the French designer Philippe Starck and his Paris studio at the centre of the show.  Over a 6 week period, he challenged 12 hand-picked Brits to take on board his ideas of great design, to rise to his ethical expectations and eventually to fashion one budding designer to join his team in a 6 month work placement.  In Starck’s head, British design needs help.  “Nobody [from England] has really arrived on the market…French culture is very highly critical and pushes a desire for better quality”.  I agree with this observation in many ways and most of the French I know are more discerning about their possessions and incredibly protective of various aspects of their individual lives.

Each competitor was chosen for their innovative idea and its communication through drawings to Starck and his design team.  “Design is a force with the power to change society”, he says.  His unconventional approach to design in order to “create beautiful, useful and sustainable objects to be enjoyed by everyone” has been of interest to me since I saw his Alessi juicy salif/conversation starter.  Now that I am scrutinising my own approaches with similar intentions, I’d like to challenge myself and carry out the same tasks given to the chosen 12.  I have no judge or jury to deny me or let me through to the next stage of the competition, but just want to put myself in their place and see how I get on.

The first task was to find 2 objects with opposite meanings in one of 3 categories:

  • gender (1 male, 1 female)
  • ecology (environmentally sound and not)
  • function (1 useful, 1 useless)

The candidates were set loose in an enormous supermarket with a budget of 100 euros.  Guiding words came afterwards for them but helped me greatly when finding my 2 shop finds.  “Try to speak as least as possible about design, and the most about everything around that’s more important than design”…”this is not a school of design, but more a school of creativity”.

Philippe Starck quickly dismissed some offerings as being too easy or too lazy.  By this he meant that the individuals had focused on the obvious functions rather than the possible meanings of/behind the objects.  One example was single use batteries as an environmentally unfriendly product.  Although he didn’t specify it, he also wanted the candidates to provide him with new insight into existing products.  In this regard, most of the 12 were caught off guard but were not all pressed to justify their choice of objects.  Or perhaps they were but the film footage was edited out.

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