News - Philippe Starck on the state of design
In the first of a regular series of columns, the seminal designer discusses the state of design and his creative drive.
One of the questions I’m most frequently asked is what I think is the best piece of design ever. Quite simply, it’s us. Human beings. Mankind is the only species that has taken control of the speed and quality of its evolution. We are astonishing. Of all the animal species, we are the only ones who said: 'Why we don’t rise up and better ourselves?' We are so intelligent in different ways. There is no materiality, no product, which comes close to our level of intelligence and our inherent design perfection.
Ironically, we are also responsible for the world’s worst idea. Something that continues to set back scientific exploration. I’m talking about religion. Millions of people today suffer and die because some people use religion to control other people. It’s horrible. Believing is the negation of our intelligence. You are a stupid coward if you say: “Oof, it’s not me, it’s God.” This removes any self-responsibility.
Our world has seen an explosion of new challenges, vital challenges. Design can help a little, but sadly design cannot save lives. That’s why, for me, good design doesn't exist any more. In fact, design has, for some decades, been rather useless. Twenty years ago it was perhaps amusing to waste time talking about the beauty of a lamp. Now it’s an obscenity.
There was a time when you could say that good design produced a concept or ideas to help you and your tribe have a better life. Good design was about vision, creativity, deep modernity, respect, intelligence, quality and humour. Voila! Today, we see very talented, intelligent designers who use their skills to create useless products which are developed not to help people but to put money in the pocket of companies, and to take money out of the pocket of 'a target consumer'. It's a very cynical way to work and done with greed and no respect. We need to design things that are more ecological, more social. And, yes, we need to produce less.
I have no regrets that, over the years, I’ve designed what some might deem frivolous items. That was before. I can’t alter the past. But I have changed my views as the world has changed. In many ways, I like to think I was a little ahead of the curve. Don't forget, 15 years ago I started designing and selling gas masks to protect people from a bacteriological, atomic or chemical accident. Everybody was laughing at the idea then. Now, nobody laughs and everybody wants one!
You cannot regret what you are. It’s not a positive way of thinking. I am lazy, sadly, like everybody and a coward, like everybody. But nobody was ever hurt by me. Perhaps, since I believe we should all consume less, I should also design less. But I’m obliged to continue. According to some research by a journalist, 10 years ago, when I had the exhibition at Centre Pompidou in Paris, I was told three hundred thousand people eat because of what I do. I cannot decide to simply stop that, to just jump out of the window. Instead, I can take a different approach.
I’ve spent years doing democratic design, raising the quality and killing the price to give good design to everybody. It’s done. We've won the battle. It's taken 30 years but it’s done. Now I'm turning my attention to democratic ecological design, working with a company to develop high quality, high technology, pre-fab eco-friendly houses. I will also design an electric car, which will be made by a small French company.
Am I proud of the work I have done? No.My mother, Jacqueline, was deeply creative and she taught me the elegance of life. My father, André, was deeply creative and one of the best aircraft engineers of his generation. Next to them, I don’t feel proud to be a designer.
I don’t care if people tell me: 'Oh, your last chair was so beautiful,' because I know they will say the opposite the following year when the trends change. But when people say, ‘Thank you for what you are, for what you do for us’, I feel good. Not proud, but good.
You don’t choose creativity – it chooses you – and I cannot stop creating. I don’t live my life. I live only for the future life of my tribe.