Philippe Starck And Why There Is A Backlash Against Design And Innovation.

Bruce Nussbaum

I spent Wednesday working on a speech on why designers are the enemy of design for Parsons' School of Design + Management and came across a bizarre speech given by Philippe Starck at the recent TED conference over at the Metacool blog. I wasn't at TED so I'm relying on Tom Guarrielo's posting but if he's accurate, we have one reason why there is a backlash against design and innovation.

Now Starck is about as big a designer as you can find on the planet these days--hotels, furniture, objects of desire for Target, a spaceport in New Mexico for Branson's Virgin Galactica enterprise, everything. So what he says is significant.

What he appeared to have said through a heavily-accented English talk was that "people like me, or like artists, are acceptable" because of the luxury of having barbarism at bay, according to Tom. In short, since there is no war in the world, or at least Europe, this moment in history celebrates his work in making fancy toothbrushes and toilet brushes.

"We are almost gods now," said Starck.

Wow. That is one interesting perspective. I don't know Starck. Never met him. I'm sure he loves dogs and children and perhaps is a vegetarian. But his work spans decades in which nearly a million people were killed in Africa in ethnic fighting--and Europe did nothing to stop it. Some 300,000 people were killed in Yugoslavia in ethnic fighting--and Europe did nothing to stop it (until the US intervened). Thousands have been killed by terrorists in New York, Madrid, Mumbai and London. There are ethnic horrors in Iraq, terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and India. Riots in the streets of Paris by disenchanted Moslems. It goes on as the globe gets hotter, the weather changes--you know the drill. No barbarism?

The backlash against design is, in part, a backlash against the arrogance of designers and their separation from the real lives of people. Many live in a tiny sliver of a world of luxury and design for it. That's OK by me. But please, don't rationalize that Mr. Starck, by saying that barbarism is dead and "luxury" defines our lives. It just erodes the eroding credibility of many designers.

The truth is that design thinking can solve many of the ills of the world. We just ran a great story in IN, Inside Innovation, on Acumen, one of the best new philanthropies that leverages social entrepreneurship to help villages in Africa and Asia. We've done stories on how design thinking is making it easier for people to navigate courts and hospitals. The power of design extends far beyond making pretty things to making a better world.

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