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Philippe Starck's School of Design

Two weeks ago a programme came on BBC2 Mon 9pm that I wasn't expecting and it was a pleasant surprise. The programme is called Design For Life and if you haven't seen it yet, and want to catch up with previous episodes it is on BBC iPlayer
and you can read more there about how students were selected for the programme.

Basically World reknowned French designer (of the New Design style) Philippe Starck sets up a design school in Paris where he chooses new hopefuls British designers to take part in a series of challenges in order to win a six month placement with his Paris based design agency.

It is the usual reality show elimination format but according to a report I read in The Independent about this show, Philippe Starck is the one who chose the contestants and not the producers of the show, and it is he who has held tightly to the reins when setting challenges and eliminating students.

One thing that has irritated me slightly about this programme is that I want to hear exactly what Starck says to his students, and compare my interpretation with theirs as they quite clearly get totally confused about exactly what he wants out of them. Part of me thinks these young designers don't think creatively on the show, mainly because their fear of having misinterpreted it is so great they are paralysed but part of me thinks they just got it totally wrong.

However, whilst Philippe (in his very odd and unique style) is talking to the students, a voice over comes on paraphrasing and re-interpreting the brief so we as viewers know what is going on. However, that ruins the enjoyment of listening to Starck and seeing how you yourself would have proceeded with his information. We can't hear Starck's voice at all as the voice over completely blocks it out. The programme makers have obviously assumed that like other reality programmes, we want to watch it for the horror of contestants reacting abrasively towards one another. In this case, I think they could be wrong. The students were not chosen for the entertaining way in which they interact so perhaps other viewers like myself, are more interested in the design briefs given by Philippe Starck and seeing the creative thought processes others go through to fulfil (or not in their case) the brief. Also of course, they are either admitting that Starck is rambling and incoherent or even worse they are dumbing it down for people like us who don't have a clue of course about how designers communicate their ideas!

When it comes to Philippe Starck's ideas themselves, many people like me will have heard of him and have thought of furniture in Heals or the like but not be able to call to mind exactly what he has done. Well scattered around this page are examples of his work. It ranges from distinctly futuristic looking pieces that you can't believe are real life objects (they seem to be walking sketches) to pieces that are a little on the ugly side. Of these, the worst I feel has to be the garden gnome seat. It is just horrible really and kitsch, not stylish. I could see it in a novelty garden but not one that is supposed to be totally innovative.

There is the kettle, which looks great but actually had to be pulled from the market because apparently the steam mechanism was unreliable and pushed its way up the wrong end of the tube burning people's hands. Then there is the lemon squeezer which looks fantastic but is really not that practical. Starck supposedly said of this "
My juicer is not meant to squeeze lemons; it is meant to start conversations"

There is a knife called Jojo, which is a cheese knife that stands upright on two legs which I love and some speakers called Parrot, which are designed as Wifi speakers for phones or i-pods, and if both those work, then they are truly elegant designs.

Do watch the programme and see people struggle not only to interpret briefs but also communicating their ideas and presenting their ideas to others. Even humble knitwear designers have something to learn from this. I.e. that it isn't all about the design speaking for itself, we have to champion the creation and present it and show how relevant it is as well. And generally it is the best communicator, interpreter that wins out and not necessarily the best knitter, or the most intelligent or complicated stitching. Lastly, remember that people want to make something themselves to wear or use out of a knitting pattern and something that is complicated or looks stunning will most certainly generate a lot of interest, but won't be the most popular project to make.

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