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Design Is Dead. Philippe Starck Says So. Again.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on March 30, 2008

It’s deja vu all over again for me but Philippe Starck just told a German magazine Die Zeit that “I was a producer of materiality and I am ashamed of this fact.Everything I designed was unnecessary. I will definitely give up in two years’ time. I want to do something else, but I don’t know what yet. I want to find a new way of expressing myself …design is a dreadful form of expression…. In future there will be no more designers. The designers of the future will be the personal coach, the gym trainer, the diet consultant.”

It’s almost a year ago to the day that I ran a blog item saying Starck was declaring design dead. Then Starck was at TED complaining about design’s failures to deal with the current world. His words fit into my speech at Parsons saying that Designers Were the Enemy of Design.

I don’t know what’s up with Starck. I suspect that with sustainability reaching the tipping point as the global culture—and with the global economy tipping into recession—the kind of design excess that Starck does is revolting even Starck.

But design is wonderfully alive and well—and evolving fast. The tools and methods that were once the exclusive province of a handful of designers are now in the hands of

millions of people who are shaping their own experiences on Facebook and MySpace, much less on the cell phones. This democratization of design, the open-sourcing of design is driving much of the field.

Apple is pretty good at controlling the design of its products, but it too is giving in and opening up the design of applications to the iPhone platform.

I think the meta-trend is all of this is IDENTITY. It's the next Big Thing after Experience and Emotion. We are increasingly intent on designing our own identities by interracting with others in social networks and framing ourselves to the world--including. and maybe especially, the advertising world. Get our permission to market to us, learn who we are, join our space if you can or create one we enjoy being in.

People used to allow big institutions to identify them, to frame them. Newspapers, schools, churches, governments. Now they want to engage within those institutions--or create new ones--to actively build their own identities and frame themselves.

There will always be room for the Starcks and Rems of the world. The good news is that they are being joined by millions of others who want to be Brand Me. And right, many don't like the consumer excess that so many big-brand designers represent.

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Reader Comments


March 31, 2008 12:50 AM

How often can we respond to your blog?
If we gave our take on everything, could we too opinionated?
I suppose the worst that could happen is I get a call or e-mail blasting me for not just sitting back and listening for another thirty years. Let me know when I've gone from contributing to overstaying my welcome.
For what its worth; Starck designs beautifully, emotionally and inspirationally.
Can't we just appreciate his work and not have to listen to him too? Perhaps he's a bit of a shock jock when it comes to these statements. As far as the emergence of "the self", consumers aren't always there to design for themselves. But, we can learn to see through their eyes and facilitate their needs for self expression and personalization. Its a fun time to be a designer, even if you're not a Starck. Design Lives!

Narr Vi

March 31, 2008 01:53 AM

OK, good call.


March 31, 2008 03:09 AM

To get a better perspective you might want to read a full translation instead of relying on someone else's excerpts potentially taken out of context -

Rick Wolff

March 31, 2008 03:14 AM

So Philippe Stark is a graphic designer who hates his job. Somebody give him his own blog. Perhaps he's on the fast track to becoming a Social Media Douchebag™!

Jonathan Belisle

March 31, 2008 04:13 AM

Well the Word Design itself is extremely over-employed in all kinds of context by all kinds of opportunist.

Design as a BuzzWord is the Current Global Culture Meme but for me still resonates with me.

Thinkers who are building User-Tools to make decision need to develop Designers Skills to materialize Ideas.

Herve Collignon

March 31, 2008 08:33 AM

This is not new, Philippe Stark is playing again and again the trick of killing what made him famous. Even more than last year, I think it was probably 5 years again, already Stark created a buzz among designers (at least in France) announcing that Design was DEAD. Although the thinking is right and legitimate, he is a master at manipulating media, so : "very well done Mr Stark". Are you preparing your "retirement?"


March 31, 2008 04:59 PM

Describe a consumer excess that is represented by big-brand designers.

Ralf Beuker

March 31, 2008 06:14 PM

Bruce, I think you compare apples with oranges here. If I take most of your posting on this blog serious than P. Starck has never into what is being discussed here and elsewhere under the label of 'Design Thinking'. So why give him another stage in the wrong context?

I think Starck's contribution to 'Design' as a profession at the intersection of innovation & management has very much been overrated in comparison to all the 'silent designers' cross the globe who are thoughtfully practicing design as a profession addressing responsibility and people centered activity rather than constantly pushing the concept of 'me, me, me'.

Dan Willis

April 2, 2008 01:19 AM

What he really wants to do is direct. Like Schnabel.

erik roscam abbing

April 3, 2008 09:11 PM

I must say I agree with Ralf. There is a huge difference between design as a form of expressing one's ego and design as creating meaningful interactions. What Starck says about his work IS his work: a one man show. Nothing wrong with that, but not to be taken seriously in a discussion about the value of design and innovation for businesses and organisations.

Tom Rees

April 5, 2008 04:19 AM

To my ears, this sounds like the post-middle-aged musings
of designer who realized he's made a LOT of money over the years, maybe for
companies he's not so proud about... It may have a tad of the "what have I
been doing with my life for the past XX years" that many of us experience
at various points.

Aside from that, I wouldn't say design is dead.

I think design comes in many styles and I emphasize "styles."

Some design is very fashion oriented. Much of what seems to drive the
concept of fashion is what is new, or at least new today. Much of this
fashion design seems to be about being in the now/new. It is about
trendiness, etc.

Some design is more about personal expression. The article touched upon
this. It may be personal design as in look at my blog/purse/earrings or
whatever. For some, design is a purchase to reflect or create the image
they want. To some extent we all do that at some level. It's not
deceptive or shallow, it simply resonates with us at some level.

The third type of design that I often think of, is industrial design. I
don't think this necessarily has to be to intended for wanton consumerism.

For example, take Phillipe's own juicer. For years, I simply loved this
design. Beautiful, simple, elegant - It wasn't until a month or two ago, I
even knew who designed it. I just loved it.

Here's the crux. Design is not what's the problem, it is WHY and WHAT
something is designed for. I believe truly GREAT design can inspire the
desire to keep and cherish, not simply go after the new.

Ever had a great pocket knife? (Much tougher after 9/11 here in the States) You want to keep
it forever, not simply replace it for the next model.

In closing (still with me?) my own example; an ice cream scoop that's been
in the family for years. It's at least 30 years old. For almost fifteen
years, I searched hi and low for something just like it to no avail. It's
made from pressed aluminum. The scoop is a perfect bowl shape yet very
thin so it cuts right through the ice cream plus it creates that great
ice-cream-ball shape. It's got this great little thumb trigger that pops
the ice cream out, perfectly every time.

Two years ago, my father surprised me and gave it to me for Christmas.

I don't want another ice cream scoop. I've got what I want because it
meets my need. Design didn't kill off a part of my own expression because
I never would have spent the time building my own b

Design isn't dead, it simply needs to rediscover its purpose.

Sorry for the ramble...


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