Tag Archives: TED

design is dead! long live design!


A friend directed me to a news snippet out of the Agence France Presse (AFP) a few days back and there’s been a lot of news and posts since about Philippe Starck’s “Design is dead”statement to Die Zeit magazine about five days ago. 


If I were to take Philippe Starck’s comment at face value, removed from context, and localize it, I would readily and totally agree. This has been my prevailing sentiment, for example, whenever I pass EDSA and see all the building facades covered with tarpaulin billboards or posted with announcements like these were flea market visual space merchandise, and would often wonder how the architects and building designers feel about this defacement. 
Certainly, those buildings were built to show off lines, rhythm, and symmetry (or intentional asymmetry, as the case may be) except, perhaps, the condominium building on Ortigas, the first to advertise building-sized leased visual space with the tacky, 30-storey high ‘world’s biggest billboard/St. Francis Square tiangge’ tarp announcement dropped from its deck, then followed by G.A.(below) and the BSA towers (above), all facing EDSA, among others. These old and new elegant structures, and much of the Metro’s skyline, are now lost to the energy-hungry tarpaulin billboards, concealed behind these gaudy and vulgar distractions and to the assonant and assaulting billboard frames. Even if these billboards were art directed well, they cannot be excused from institutionalized vandalism.  
But before Starck’s declaration is reduced to the print equivalent of a sound bite, like that of Warhol’s “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” (1968), or Mies van der Rohe’s “God is in the details” (attrib.), Starck’s quotable-quote was already evident when he spoke about Why Design? at the last TED conference in March 07


Being a follower of the TED lecture series online since coming across it sometime in late 2005/early 2006 (TED has been online about ten years before), I downloaded and watched the one of Starck’s, made available on TED in December 07, and I reviewed it again recently. Starck, I believe, reduced his design philosophy to the now abridged “design is dead” assertion, and should be taken in context. 
Even earlier, in December 2006, was an interview of him by ICON magazine (which I, too, read online), titled “Nowadays you fart and you are a designer”. Part of the article says: 



…And the man who made it possible for designers to be household names means it. He looks suitably disgusted. “More the design is trendy, less there is good designer,” he continues, transliterating from French.


…Starck’s name may be synonymous with the nouveau-riche aspirations of the Eighties, but his great achievement has been the democratisation of design. “My first chair, it cost one thousand dollar. It was a huge success. People were very happy, but not me. I said, one thousand dollar: you have a family with four children, that is six. Then there’s the table. Ten thousand dollar to eat with your family? What is that? It is a joke. It is absurdity!” Now you can buy a Starck chair from American chain store Target for nine dollars. This is an achievement that he is not unduly proud of – nor is he ashamed to recount it in the most portentous terms. “I killed design like it was by killing elitism. It took for me 20 years through the democratic design. But it’s almost done.” 


Starck was the keynote speaker in the recent Le Web 3/07, titled What is Social About Design (December 07), not talking about the web, but design in general. As in the TED talk, Starck put to fore his philosophy of evolution and the designer’s role in society and commerce; that in the future, companies will sell no products “where 90% is of use, and 10% is… I don’t know what [for]”,  as opposed to today in which the existence of products is “90% of no use and exist for the sole intention of “selling” [making a profit]. As an example, he said, (transc. by me from the video)

“I do not like that, [that each is] a target market…why should I buy a new car when [what I have] is still working? …do I need a BMW? Or do I just buy a bicycle?

Starck went as far as saying, “There is no war without money…we wear these shoes, buy these clothes because we have money…[and] we eat because we kill… Every one of you has to have a political consciousness…You can be subversive with anything.”  




When Starck, in his TED talk, reflected about the state of the world today as compared to decades ago when it afforded certain sectors of society “’luxus’…to appreciate art, beauty”, to own designer labels and collect expensive ephemera, he was more global in his perspective and certainly did not sound like singling out a certain hemisphere or race. I believe he did not promote “luxury” as the single reason for defining one’s life, as interpreted by Bruce Nussbaum in his article. Starck was talking about the world outside of his that resonates beyond Europe. 
Starck was profound in a sardonic but understated way in his funny TED video lecture, was more reflective in the Le Web 3.0/07, as he struggled to be understood as much as possible in both, speaking in a borrowed language, on his theories of evolution and the role and contributions of the designer to society at large. There were also several cynical undertones to his observations on global matters, almost a kind of poignant irony to his stature vis-à-vis the nature his work and how he sees himself involved in the scheme of things.
Something was lost in translation in the recent headline (Starck is French, the magazine German, and the news snippet, in English, from a French news agency), that sometimes, like in a passage, the short-cut leads to surprises, so that when something is headlined “Design is dead”quoting a very prolific, high-profile designer, the end of that passage is either a shock (to the unfamiliar) or an expected turn. The shock value, whether intended or not, leads to a lot of tea leaf-reading in the process. 
It is more about himself, as a designer, and about his output and role as “maker of useless things” when he said  “I want to find a new way of expressing myself …design is a dreadful form of expression.*” In TED, he said,

“That’s why I say that … I say that nothing exist if it’s not in the good reason, the reason of our beautiful dream, of this civilization. And because we must all work to finish this story. Because the scenario of this civilization, about love, progress, and things like that, it’s OK, but there is so many other different, other scenarios of other civilizations.” 

Starck was being consistent and, I believe, “design is dead!” is  more of a challenge to the designers — the young ones, the serious ones, and those who are out to prove something to the world —than a complete and total surrender of design as a discipline to what he calls falling to “the shadows…the many faces of barbaria” today.  
References, credits and links:


Filed under design, environment, inspiration, Philippe Starck, social responsibility, TED, WP