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Design is Dead: The Raw Philippe Starck Interview

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on March 31, 2008

Check out Starck’s entire interview on why he’s disgusted with design—or at least HIS kind of design.

My favorite question-response in the Die Zeit interview is this:

ZEIT: So all the things you have created — unnecessary?

P.S.: Everything I have created is absolutely unnecessary. Design, structurally seen, is absolutely void of usefulness. A useful profession would be to be an astronomer, a biologist or something of that kind. Design really is nothing. I have tried to install my designs with a sense of meaning and energy, and even when I tried to give my best it was still in vain.

Naw. When David Rockwell designs a better experience for kids getting cancer treatments in a hospital, design is absolutely useful. When Cameron Sinclair runs a contest for the best, most inexpensive architecture for housing in poor villages, that’s pretty good design.

But…what do you think?

Thanks to C Sven Johnson at rebang for the link to the interview.

Reader Comments

Sid Ramnarace

March 31, 2008 10:01 PM

This is certainly an interesting post - I have been thinking about Philippe Starck's comments ever since I saw the video of his comments at the March 2007 TED conference. If we can put aside the debate concerning Philippe Starck's celebrity - I think there is a lot to discuss about his dissatisfaction with his chosen field of study, Industrial Design.

According to IDSA, "Industrial design (ID) is the professional service of creating and developing concepts and specifications that optimize the function, value and appearance of products and systems for the mutual benefit of both user and manufacturer."

In the early days of the profession, it was a economic and social force that helped to provide goods to the masses, and also greased the wheels of industry. It helped a generation afford things that improved the quality of their lives and helped businesses grow by providing attractive products that people wanted to buy. However, the seeds of the issues we face today may have been sown.

The "original sin" of ID was implicit in it's creation - producing more things for people to acquire, then ultimately discard. As technology improved and materials became less expensive, industrial designer's helped create more products that continued the trend: televisions, SUV's, disposable razors and other items that today we cite as examples of why there is an impending environmental crisis. We've hit a threshold where ID as defined by it's capability to churn out goods has presented us with the challenge of defining (to crib a line from Bruce) "Industrial Design - beta".


March 31, 2008 10:20 PM

Sid, how you doin'? Long time.

I wonder, do you recall Greenlee's line to the effect of "your job as Industrial Designers is to make people buy stuff they don't need"?

I recall him using it in a lecture during my 5th year and it causing enough debate (and anger) that you were probably aware of it. Personally, when Starck uses the word "design", I believe he's referring to the activity which our old department chair was teaching and preaching.

Consequently, I can't worked up over what Starck is saying because a) there's a lot of truth to what he's saying, and b) the word has different meanings in different contexts to different people... even when speaking the same language.

All the best, mon. Drop me a note some time.


March 31, 2008 11:54 PM

Design is about that which you can't see.
Design is at its best when there doesn't seem to be any design.
Rockwell and Cameron create examples of that.
Starck is one step away from that now.


April 1, 2008 12:17 AM

Frankly, it sounds like Starck is trying to get page views (online/offline).


April 1, 2008 7:43 PM

In the last fifteen years design has morphed from a commodity, to a desirable object to an experience…basically an evolution from a product without a heart, to a product with emotion, to a product with meaning. Starck was responsible and instrumental for all those developments.
I think however he missed what happened in the last couple of years and realized it too late. Design has already become “immaterial”.
When completely stripped from form and reduced to its minimum. design reveals itself, among other things, as a process for solving problems, a strategy…therefore in my opinion design has already become “immaterial”.
This highly evolved state of design is now part of the must-have tool for the design-thinking mob.

I don’t think we would have arrived to this stage had Starck not consistently challenged the norms of design. He is the undisputed master of “everything design”, “everything pr” and “everything surprise”. Can’t wait to see what he cooks up next.

J. King

April 2, 2008 4:06 PM

Starck is very entertaining... at one point back in the early 90's he stopped by Steelcase and presented is world to the ID team... in reference to a sketch he did of some minimal chair... "it is very no, yes?".

This is a interesting discussion but we will never agree on who has the right to determine what design is or where it is going as long as people are creating and striving to improve our world.

Mark Schraad

April 3, 2008 2:33 PM

Design should create value. Otherwise the designer is merely re-arranging elements - which is a complete waste of time and resources. We are not artists seeking self realization, we are designers.

Christa Avampato

April 8, 2008 2:16 PM

I always think that it's sad to hear anyone denigrate their own work, and certainly feel worse to hear people knock down an entire profession. It's kind of like when Tchaikovsky said he never created a piece of music worth listening to. Seems that Philipe Starck is his own worst critic.


April 8, 2008 9:44 PM

"worse to hear people knock down an entire profession"

I don't perceive his words as a knock on "an entire profession" but rather an acknowledgment that a significant part of the profession is about making "people buy stuff they don't need"... by being the "accomplice" to a marketing profession mostly engaged, according to Seth Godin (, in "storytelling ... [and] ... lies."

The problem is, where Godin immediately says "Not that there’s anything wrong with that", most of us increasingly disagree. There is, in fact, something wrong with that. Thus, those within the (little "d") design profession who mostly just make a product more aesthetically alluring are subject to scrutiny. Rightfully so.

Bjorn Simundson

April 20, 2008 6:37 AM

Hi everyone-

As a professional industrial designer, it seems that the broad strokes assertion that Mr Starck makes is true to some degree, yet in need of more specific clarification.

As I see it, sure... "slapping lipstick on the pig" as it were, where one takes a limited use object of some sort and applies some nifty marketing stuff to make it a more appealing, yet still disposable object, is spot on target for the assertion of "design is dead".

Yet, I personally feel that this assertion leaves true innovation and good design out of the equation. For instance if one meditates on the essence of the concept / problem / idea in order to fully understand its essence in the greater sense, one will eventually with enough critical thinking uncover what the opportunity is that will yield a seamless interaction between user and object.

THIS concept in my opinion, is the foundation for good design.

For instance, the Aeron chair is precisely the stripped down essence in my opinion that Le Corbusier had in mind when he uttered the timeless phrase, "A chair is a machine for sitting on."

In this manner I feel Mr. Starck's statement is perhaps taken out of context, and maybe what he was trying to articulate is that nonsense filigree is dead. With increasingly crowded "me-too" items relying on flashy packaging in order to "trick" the consumer into believing that your item is more precious or a greater value based on hype is indeed becoming obsolete, as it should.

Take for instance, the task of heating slices of bread in order to achieve a different state for the food, in this case "toasting" it. This is a specific product which has been in a state of filigree for decades.

My aunt who is in her late 60's still uses the toaster that was given to her parents as a wedding present in the early 1940's which has never failed, never required repair, and shows no sign of slowing down is a perfect example of function and form blending together in a manner to make the object an intuitive tool for use in a specific manner.

Additionally, in my parent's living room rests a steamer trunk constructed out of wood and iron, which was built in 1753. 7 generations later this very trunk held the most precious items of my ancestors who came to America on a boat from Norway. This is again an example of mature design. (Today, it now holds volumes of Satie, Beethoven, Bach, Strauss, Greig sheetmusic to be played on his grand piano.)

This is the type of mature design of which I speak.

Yet, today our paradigm for ever cheaper products where we collective believe that "New" is somehow better than "Good" is I believe the paradigm which we as a community of people who are in tune with identifying ways in which to enhance the ability of people (or animals and nature for that matter) to achieve successful results for a desired task is paramount and will never ever die, always in need of identifying new ways to solve a problem.

We however, are living in a pivotal period where the Industrial Era's paradigm of "NEW > GOOD" is itself in dire need of becoming obsolete and is shaking apart as more attention is being paid to the absurd amount of waste generated from poorly crafted goods designed for a short lifetime and flashy packaging.

Prior to the Industrial Era's paradigm borne of rapid systematic manufacturing and streamlining for production methodology where objects are no longer the intimate creation of the artisan him / herself, there was a sustainable paradigm, of "waste = food" (Bill McDonough, Cradle to Cradle) there was a different paradigm which we as a species must re-embrace if we are going to make a step in the right direction for natural resource management.

"They just don't build them like they used to" is the mission statement we as designers must embrace, where the "lipsticked pig" becomes obsolete and we once again begin building products which are designed for longevity, intuitive and effective use, not disposability.

In this context, our job as designers, should become being purveyors of seamless, intuitive solutions to opportunities. These solutions are more important than ever before, as it is up to creative minds to shatter the remains of this outdated paradigm of disposability and limited lifespan and begin designing "like they used to".

As a fellow innovator, my challenge to myself and you is to create timeless, intuitive, beautiful, and hardy things which, like the spear in ancient times is created with an end use in mind, and can be passed down from generation to generation and celebrated for its competence in achieving desired results, its beauty, its strength, its essence.

Let's all try to design like Bach or Beethoven, or Gregorian monks create music, for the ages.

"Do it right, do it once."

Thanks all,

Kevin Combs

October 21, 2008 8:49 PM

could be Starck's recognizing that there is an over-supply of design. Design has become very oversold--many people buy design work instead of functional.

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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