Starck’s reality TV design show doesn’t quite hit it off

The jury is still out on BBC Two’s new Apprentice-esque TV series Design for Life, featuring French design star Philippe Starck. But its first airing this week got a general thumbs down from design-savvy users of social media. Some welcomed the focus on design by the programme planners, but most were critical of the execution.

Concerns include the lionising of products, despite Starck’s stated aim not to create more things we don’t really need. The first episode suggests product design can change the world, a claim the likes of Apple might justifiably make given the connectivity they afford us, but which isn’t backed up by the array of Starck-designed artefacts that introduces the show.

Then there is the fact that Starck is French and his ‘students’ are from the UK. Couldn’t they, some ask, find a British designer to front the show?

Starck is intrinsically interesting. His philosophy, honed over years, is sound. And while he has ‘resigned’ from design on several occasions, his current desire to create only genuinely new and sustainable products sets a laudable example to new generations.

But to couch his ideas in the notion of an academy is false, and doesn’t make particularly good TV. The selection process for contestants is based purely on each one’s idea for a product and without reference to their personality or broader aptitude. So we start with a mismatch between the guru and his acolytes.

Pundits who’ve seen the entire series indicate that none of the contestants eventually want to work with Starck, nor he with them. Is this because the French culture he so richly upholds in the first episode is poles apart from the British creative spirit? More likely it is a result of the pressures of reality TV forcing unnatural constraints on all concerned.

To ape Sir Alan Sugar’s efforts to popularise business through confrontation doesn’t work so well for design. TV executives have yet to beat the Designs on your… series created by Seymour Powell in the 1990s.

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