Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Life in Hell

Image via andy

Design For Life - Philippe Starck's new reality show is an odd thing being more like "Hell's Kitchen" or "The Apprentice" than say. "Project Runway". Why can't industrial design be treated like fashion or the culinary arts? No reason I guess. Except maybe that the product design cycle is very slow compared to a night in a kitchen or making an item of clothing over a few days. In fact, my colleagues in software are usually stunned by the timelines necessary for even the simplest bauble.

The show has been criticized for a number of reasons, mostly about squeezing this concept into the reality show model. Part of the problem for me is the contestants who are an odd bunch with many of them having little or no actual design experience outside of school (here Project Runway seems to have better contestants). Are these designers unemployed due to Britain's loss of industry and current economy or did they simply lose out to sharper colleagues? It's surprising too how Starck chose the young designers based on a thin portfolio of sketches or that the show is framed as improving the state of British design (which hardly seems to need a "Starck Shake-up").

While the program holds the promise of both educating the average viewer about the design process and revealing Starck's own process to curious designers it also has the possibility of doing the exact opposite. Starck's broken English and self-mocking tone along with his, well, "Frenchness" could really obscure both his thinking and the process of how products are conceived and realized. Additionally, Starck is caught in the same dichotomy all designers face — knowing we should produce less, consume less and live our lives more simply but no one pays a designer to remove product from the shelf, only to add to the pile. Today's coveted goods will be tomorrow's trash heap (unless every piece you design is a collectible future antique).

Still, I'll keep watching when I can because I remain fascinated by the man and enjoy this glimpse into his "tribe". Too bad, Dieter Rams never had a reality show.

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