Update: I don’t think the BBC link I provided will work outside of the UK. Fortunately, someone has uploaded the first episode to Vimeo.
I’m not a huge fan of reality television, but I really enjoyed Design for Life on Monday. Not all of Phillipe Starck’s work appeals to me, but after watching him set challenges for 12 designers, I have a new appreciation for the philosophy behind what he does.
My favorite part of the program was Starck’s criticism of one of the designers use of a bicycle as a ‘sustainable’ object. The problem wasn’t the bike, but the cost of the bike (€90) and what that implied about how it was manufactured and who did the actual work. “It’s made by slaves,” Starck said to the bewildered designer.
While I didn’t entirely disagree with Starck, his statement did set off alarm bells. Starck can afford to spend €1000+ on a bicycle. Most of the world can’t. A Phillipe Starck creation is usually much more expensive than a comparable item. Most people can’t spend $90 on a citrus juicer.
I’m not defending the exploitation of workers in developing countries, but part of me wonders if Starck’s horror at that €90 bicycle wasn’t driven by something other than concern for those workers. Starck seems to have an fairly unrealistic idea of the way most of the world lives. The very idea of people living in a world without the benefit of elegant design seems to horrify him. And perhaps it is horrific, but if it is, shouldn’t we be trying to make good design affordable?
I’m reserving judgment, though. I’d love for Starck to surprise me and prove that beautiful design doesn’t have to come with a staggering price tag.