Design for life

Design for life

So, who caught the opening episode of BBC2's Design for Life just now?

The show is the design version of The Apprentice, with Philippe Starck hamming it up as a gallic  Sir Allan. 


In the first episode we were introduced to the group of 12 British wannabe product designers*, who applied to the the show in the hope of winning a six month placement at Starck's design group. They were whisked off to Paris, where their first challenge was to scour a supermarket in search of examples of good and bad product design.

Starck held up an army jeep as an example of really great design, "its the only vehicle which have the elegance of intelligence, because it's not driven by marketing, it's driven by function". Which is fair enough, but more than a tad ironic coming from the man whose most famous product is the almost entirely non-functional Juicy Salif lemon-squeezer (below). He went on to lament the fact that designers are churning out too many unnecessary products… a case of the designer pot calling the kettle charcoal-grey?


Still, it's always good to see design getting an airing during prime-time. And Starck is at least entertaining. But what did you make of the programme? Answers on an inflatable postcard, or chuck us a comment just below.

More info on the show here, and it runs for another five episodes, and you can catch it on iPlayer too.

*What's the right group noun for that? A CAD of designers? A sketch of designers?)

  • Clint

    An ‘Oasis’ of designers? A very loose knit grouping where everyone thinks that they’re the most important/talented element and only chooses to work with the others because it’s physically impossible to do everything at once yourself and still look like Paul Weller … and you always need someone to make coffee

  • Kimberley Crofts

    I only caught the end of the programme, but was extremely underwhelmed. I would have expected some really crazy, forward-thinking ideas to be coming out of young designers, but they were all so safe.

  • I was surprised to see a reality show about design, I actually thought this could be interesting. But so far it’s just repeating the same formula of all other reality shows, it’s about the people’s relationship and not their content. Not really my cup of tea.

  • firebaldey

    I get the feeling this programme could backfire in several ways, having winced through three episodes :
    1 Mr Stark seems to have a problem communicating to the entourage – ironic when he is to encourage good presentation skills
    2 Mr Stark seems a distant busy man – he semms to have underestimated the time that will be required !
    3 I get the feeling the designers dont know the difference between a tutorial and professional expectations
    4 If all the designers get sacked, then the ethos of the programme reflects badly that britain has no design talent in this field – or from the cross section of talent that he interviewed
    5 The group is too clique – as strangers in a foreign country theyre not at ease and seem to think theyre in big brother, not competing for a top design experience
    6 Mr Stark seems to be looking for the polished article, and the contenders are looking very ‘straight out of college’
    7 Mr Starks buffoness and playing in front of the cameras is putting the designers too much at ease, and I think he will regret this by not setting a more serious tone
    8 Mr Stark will only tarnish his and their image if he does pull out of the show
    Ill carry on watching more to see if it does develop back on the right path, and hope to see the great ideas that the show initially promised to produce. I suppose this is entertaining, but id rather see young uk design talent showing off their potential than being made a laughing stock. The polished professional format of the Apprentice is hardly a comparison – if only the format of the show was more original – id never thought of making that criticism against the legend of monsieur Stark – e !

  • firebaldey – i would say you are pretty much on the button there (I am one of the contestants) stay tuned, i had only seen rough cuts of episodes 123 back in february and was disappointed myself as what you have seen so far was filmed over just two and a half weeks (so they have shown a 5th of the filming period over half of the series) the remaining 7.5 weeks of filming will be aired over the next three episodes, I havent seen these myself yet so dont really know what to expect in terms of how it has been edited and what is included but things can only get better eh? I can certainly vouch for the quality in the final development of three of the last products!

  • Chris

    Great to finally see a show about design, but agree with firebaldey.
    I finished a product design course at uni back in 2003 and remember feeling concerned about a very talented and competitive market place of young designers that were a million times better than me…
    …and then when I see the “best” young UK designers on the show I’m shocked! And even from the drawings / concepts / designs that they were picked from (seemed low standard to me?!)
    I can’t believe these graduates don’t know what seems like the basics… all those complaints about an open brief (what?!? – isn’t that an opportunity to showcase creativity, and thought processes?!) and the supermarket task about finding good/bad examples on themes, and people come up with batteries and nappies… these people are creatives and have paid tuition fees for 3 years and that’s all they come up with?!?
    I have to say Ilsa that you are one of the few people I look forward to seeing more of through the show, and how you develop. There are a couple others, but the rest seem GCSE and not even A-Level standard to me. A shame Nebil got booted – as I thought his semantic evaluation of the joystick was exactly the sort of thing that everyone should have been delivering that week.
    Any ideas as to whether they’ll be doing other series and how someone would apply? I would love to have a go!
    Hope you had a great time on the show?!

  • to say i was disappointed with what i saw tonight would be the understatement of the year. if this bunch are design our future – mollycoddled, slack & totally lacking any sort of drive & inspiration, well, it’s game over for the UK’s future in the coming knowledge/manufacturing economy that is bearing down on us, as low-cost producer companies like india & china turn out ever better talent. maybe it was a co-incidence i also heard on radio 4 that more students are studying ‘media’ as a vocation than actually work in the media sector. james dyson, christopher cockerell, alex issigonis of the Noughties – where are you????

  • The latest episode wasn’t very inspiring was it? I wonder what the problem is: if it’s the way the show is set up; the way the participants were selected; some sort of fear induced by working for Stark; or a failure in the teaching?
    Either way, there’s still great stuff coming out of the country’s design colleges (despite the ever increasing student numbers, which is in no way met by an increase in tutors / tutor hours…) Just catch any of the annual degree shows and you’ll see plenty of innovative and intelligent design work.
    Seeing the show as representative of the best the country can offer would be a big mistake.
    As a casual observer of the product design industry in the UK, I’d say the real problem is not in finding great new designers, but in finding manufacturers willing to produce their designs…

  • If that is the best talent from the UK that we are all – as the great man himself says a LOT – “in deeeeeeeep shit”