Starck says Design is Dead, yet Again?

PSFK posted an article on their blog about Starck feeling that “Design is Dead” and is also shamed for all the excess he has created in his designs. Well it was sometime ago when he spoke about his distaste for design, and a year ago we covered this Icon article, where he indicated similarly. This time around he continues his tirade by telling a German news weekly Die Zeit that:

I was a producer of materiality and I am ashamed of this fact.Everything I designed was unnecessary. I will definitely give up in two years’ time. I want to do something else, but I don’t know what yet. I want to find a new way of expressing myself …design is a dreadful form of expression…. In future there will be no more designers. The designers of the future will be the personal coach, the gym trainer, the diet consultant.”

I’m sorry but can something die twice? Third time lucky? Well, at first the cynic that I am believes that Starck is up to his usual shock tactics. Ironically going against a type of design that he had a hand in popularizing.
He has expressed before that he favors any publicity (good/bad) that gets people talking (i.e. Juicy Salif), and as with this blog and every other blog that reproduces this article will have taken the bait and continue to spin his own fame to the next level. Problem is that, it is too good a discussion point to pass up.
But then I decided to take a step back and not look at things out of context as I feel many of the other blogs have. Check out the Die Zeit German language article here and the English translation here, for the full context of this discussion, so that you can decide for yourself if “design is dead”.
I can see where he is going with this discussion, and I think he knows what has to be done. But fickle as he is, the question is, is he doing anything about it? Probably not, as he has been ranting and raving about it since 2002, and is still talking about it today.
From the translation:

I have designed so many things without ever really being interested in them. Maybe all these years were necessary for me to ultimatively recognize that we, after all, don’t need anything. We always have too much (stuff)…Everything I have created is absolutely unnecessary. Design, structurally seen, is absolutely voide of use. 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…Society is pursuing a strategy of dematerialization: it is more and more about intelligence and less about material. Take a computer, for example. In the beginning, computers were big as a house. Now there are computers in the size of only a credit card. In ten years from now they are going to be in our bodies – bionics. In fifty years from now, the concept of computers will have dematerialized itself.

If you can ignore his haughty language, he might have something here. It is easy to misunderstand him, as most blogs (yes even the top tier ones) have, quoted him out of context and it is obvious his English is not the best. Personally I tend to agree with csven’s, (from reBang) take on this situation. Design is not dead, per say, but design as we know it is evolving.

  • larryr

    April 5, 2008 at 4:21 pm Reply

    Money?lol they pretty much own the professional 3d tools market today.:) As to how they got that “inferior product;)” to gather 80% of the market by the year 2000 is another story and issue for designers and educational organizations to deal with:)
    As I continualy say- against the tide of the new tech culture’s meme of everthing for FREE– is that NOTHING is really FREE, or without affect. And the assension of 3dmax from 1995-2000 and that activities results in the choice of tools considered for employment opportunities in 2008 is a case in point. We’ve had 15 years of design hiring based on brands of tools. Was this Good for Design as a process or profession? what do you think?
    I suggest you check out the TOS issues that arrose with the release of the SERVICE oriented tools from Adobe last week. As more and more tech companies making tools for content creation by “others” go to ONLINE service rather tban packaged software sales they are also seduced to profit from a medium rather than from being a tool seller. The work designers make using these tools may not end up being theirs -This is not an “amature” vs “profesional” issue- but a pure value and ownership issue.
    Adobe got caught, and apologized.But the culture that created that first TOS is very much alive and growing.
    Work and creation in the networked MEDIUM will make the issues of work in the branded tools product seem trivial by comparison.

  • DT

    April 5, 2008 at 3:15 pm Reply

    Hi Larry,
    Yes I was surprised at Autodesk. I did not think they had the money! They owned a inferior product and bought the superior one…
    Thanks for your insights on the design process. Some food for thought. Please keep in touch.

  • larryr

    April 3, 2008 at 3:52 pm Reply

    I agree, about “its the experience” Experience in many ways is an abused word today:)
    I dont agree that the design process is no longer needed as “inventive design” and yes the overal design picture-process was the value- but there hasnt been design critism in the us press in over 25 years as well to help all designers focus on that concept.
    Let us move past the victory of the pretty marker rendering or picture….even let us move past the pretty anti alias may rendereing..– but lets stop at AUTODESK OWNING basically the ENTIRE DESIGN tool process today, and that a magic marker company NEVER decided the future of design “quality” via either is tools or its endorsments…. examine this 25 year evolution for some answers to todays issues of the value of the design profession.:)
    Back to Process:
    The physical product- tool- device,,, has been replaced by the “software” product and for the most part its been a lousy process of development for human tool users..
    Plastic Nobs had to stay ON…. and not come off into the babies mouth:) But todays software tools cant even manage to stay stable for a few months in accepted culture of product design.- are these diffent things– actaully i think NOT.
    think about this- the future of product is the web based app/tool… its in constant BETA ,, or its considered obsolete as the joke goes… our tools and devices are now “allowed” to basically suck by process and design via the typical business practice of the “new” tech culture.:)
    Imagine the AUTOMOBILE or AIRCRAFT or power drill of the past released in BETA ( may blow up in your face- your option to try TOS)…..on PURPOSE– thats what Ralph Nader helped end:)– but seriously. see the difference in how we relate to our objects/tools in todays net society? I think Design INVENTION is needed now more than ever- especially as we all now willingly plug ourselves into the machine of our own making:)
    The last physical devices- the cell phone, the vcr controller-remote, all were allowed to ship /sell over the last 25 years making humans conform to them, as opposed to their design to conform to the human user. This coupled with the “fashionable” but unusable Starck like toothbrushes being lauded as “designs top products” helped the 25 year process that has finally bonked Phillipe over his clever head.
    Design is Dead is the same hybebole of words that serves the web2.0 or generation tech type memes that our society sells today as fodder for the course.
    In also looking for a long term 25 year change… Industrial Design was a term that came with the world of the american INDUSTRY age ( INDUSTRY was mentioned many times in WALT DISNEYS last recorded pitch- 1969 ) By 1980 the word that replace industry was BUSINESS.. as in BUSINESS as we
    “Industry” conotes “TRANSFORMATION” while BUSINESS has become more commonly to mean “IN one Side /out the other….”
    Design as the process, hopefully dosent die. nore should it evolve, its fine as it was… it US who need to devolve back to a state of culture that can recognize its proven value.
    screw all the blog spelling and diction… The process that also allows for the product and its valuation is my point.

  • DT

    April 3, 2008 at 3:06 pm Reply

    @larry Thanks for stopping by and really taking the time to pen this reply. I think you have a lot of insight on this and thanks for sharing.
    Don’t worry, I like rants. I do it all the time. Anyways I did not reply so quickly as I wanted some time to think about this.
    I think you bring up some pretty relevant points. But I do disagree to the term that “Design is Dead”. I rather call it evolved instead, because if not it would have died twice.
    You see, during the time of Lowey, not only was industrial design about making something easier to manufacturer, it was also the time of inventive design. Toothbrushes, pens, door knobs etc.
    This “died” when we went into platform design and JIT, and the world was pretty much the same for the sake of volume. Our design changed to styling, and not much more.
    This “died” again when we kinda moved from this when we finally understood, design is not about the physical, it has gone back to the mental, and about the experience.
    We had it wrong all along, we though it was about the product, as our visual sense is the strongest. But it was the complete picture, the experience that won us over.

  • DT

    April 3, 2008 at 2:39 pm Reply

    Hi friends, thanks for your reply. I will do my best to answer each of you individually.
    @csven, I had to radically drop a lot of my personal notions of him to really understand what he is talking about. But I do hope its not another rant of his, and that he is going to do something about it and not another Jucy Salif!
    @mario, I agree, I think design is dead is going a little far, it has and will evolve into a whole different thing.
    @mickeybluefried, LOL I don’t think his bank minds at all. I like to see some of it go back to the society he has taken from, rather than another project. Robin Hood? Nonsense!

  • larryr

    April 2, 2008 at 1:59 pm Reply

    wow that sounded like a rant.:)
    but actually I think it’s quite accurate… though i’d like to not attack “all of humanity” as wanting to die away in this century.
    luckily many still arent yet invited to the end of the human party… and my hopes rest with them ( and a few may be designers) as they resist assimilation-).

  • larry Rosenthal

    April 2, 2008 at 6:07 am Reply

    Designers and Design ( as limitedly definded by the works of a Starck alone:)for the most part have been dead for 25 years… It was the “age of the starck like designer ” along with the “age of the new tool-computer” that made “indutrial design” a dead name and it’s superficialties evident as far back as the early 1980’s when both “ages” converged to those watching with no vested interests–yet.
    In the new age of the techno religious capitalists, eager to place all of humanities fate into the machines control for what can only be seen as monetary power as control.
    Design “as the process of planned thoughful creation tempered by experience”, DOES seem to be dead. So few trained or experienced in design process are invited to partake in the GOOGLED and the VR worlded. Facebooked building frenzy and hype of today.The mediation of the human world is not a place for the thinking designer as evident by the board rooms of the tech mediators of today. As we blaugh, almost no one praticed in any human/ product design process is ushering the new “virtual” world. If the CCO was the pinnacle of the Designer’s world view in teh corporate boardroom of the last century, then look to the “top” technology-media billion dollar dream boardrooms today…tell us what you see.?
    Yves Beahr-sp. was right- if Lowey existed today- well almost right, there are those as good i suspect, WOULD corporate tech media boardmembers hire HIM?… Invite the thinking designer into the process at the highest levels… ? Of course i believe that’s not the only game in town, and have spent many years promoting the “entrepenuer designer” concept.. but thats a different story.
    In the late 80’s I wrote some articles for ID magazine, one that called for the “end of the Industrial Design” name.. as it was so clearly of the 20th century that was by then already over. Scared to offend, it was never published.
    So is this a 25 year old joke on designers ?
    PostMaterial, a term familiar to any of the people present years ago at the design seminars i held trying to communicate how the next 20 years might play out. Sadly very few Industrial Designers had a clue or interest( though core77 s founders were there;)Has the outcome of thier ignorance and shortsightedness become finally evident to the point that the one most “defined” as designer for the last 20 years by this profession has no choice but to see his given emperor’s clothing…?.
    My thoughts arent anti-Starck or even anti -designer. But only anti- the level of thought and intelligence that designers as a group have given to the changing world around them for over 25 years….
    But now maybe he is correct.- its too late for design. Designers became more reactionary than proactive, and now are defined by others…even Starck.
    Fashion is now in the hands of the “consumer”, and mass “brands” like a STARCK” are ready to leave us for the most economical_- (CHINA_ WALMARK— Rubbermaid for ex.) and for the machines penny adding and the “i like red” design power of the mass.
    We enter the 21st century, having succeeded in removing thought and planning and intellect from design, replaced it with FASHION and Style alone, Redefining it as only ART to sustain any monetary value. We allowed the machine, so mistakenly assumed by most designers as a TOOL in 1990s design press, to become the MEDIA, and one that has no place for what was most likely the only value from our now dead discipline… THINKING, THEN MAKING.
    The article published by ID instead of the one called “Industrial Design :re name” was called “sketching on the computer”- nice and safe it did though show the change from fast ideas, to fast edit as the most important change in the way designers would use their new tool- the computer- to design/think on—- and how if not addressed thoughtfully- that the “object” would overtake the “process” by illusion.
    eventually ID magazine became International Design,- more readily i suggest about the “political correct” ideologies of the later publsihers/editors than the realities of the profession.
    Industrial Design “positioned” itself into the most important parts of humanities existance in the “industrial age” from say. 1900-1980
    But it has like the railroads so service by our first heros of Lowey and others, lost sight of what it really did at best, adapt technology for humanity, that its now lost in a century willing to adapt humanity for technology.
    So maybe he has a point…. but its not that DESIGN is dead, its that HUMANITY is borderlining it…. and has in the last 25 years decided it wants to die.
    im not ready to serve Va ‘al How bout you?
    Larry Rosenthal

  • csven

    March 31, 2008 at 11:50 pm Reply

    If one assumes that Starck is referring to the current state of *Industrial* Design, then I agree with him. I’m no fan of his, but I won’t simply dismiss him. Thus I suggest people get past their emotional reaction and consider not the literal words but the potential message.


    March 31, 2008 at 12:45 pm Reply

    Starck’s bank balance doesn’t think design is too bad.

  • Mario Vellandi

    March 31, 2008 at 12:43 pm Reply

    How could design ever be dead if people are growing older the world is ever changing in regards to: culture, values, demographics, materials, supply/demand, and other areas?

  • csven

    March 31, 2008 at 10:40 am Reply

    I was actually surprised that Nussbaum jumped on PSFK’s piece without apparently getting a full translation, because as you said, the full text comes across a bit differently than what I think Starck intended, and I suspect his thinking isn’t that different from ours.

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