March 30, 2008

Die Zeit interview with Philippe Starck, translated

The recent interview with Philippe Starck, printed in Die Zeit, stirred quite some emotions, also over on Twitter. What I found, though, were a lot of English blogs and sites that would quote off one source, which in turn had managed to take some lines of the interview (probably those that Google translation managed to make sense of the most?) and remash them into a completely new context. No link to the German original, no full translation of the interview. But yet, quite some people take this as a base for their own musings and commenting.


Here is the translation of the German interview. I have done it rather quickly, but at least I bothered to. You can find the German original interview here, at Die Zeit online.

If you think I did an acceptable translation and you fancy using it, I do ask you to credit me properly. Thanks.

"I do feel ashamed for this."

Philippe Starck is the star designer of the past two decades. Notwithstanding this he claims today, "Everything I have designed is absolutely unnecessary."
An interview.

ZEITmagazin: Monsieur Starck, you have designed everything, from toothbrush to spaceship. What do humans really need?

Philippe Starck: The ability to love. Love is the most wonderful invention of mankind. And then, one needs intelligence. Mankind, as opposed to animals, has managed to create a civilization based on intelligence. For this reason, no human can afford to not work on their intelligence. And humour, humour is important.

ZEIT: And you can't think of something material?

P.S.: We don't need anything material. It is more important to develop one's own ethic, and to stick to these rules. There is nothing else one would have to worry about.

ZEIT: You can't be serious. Isn't there so much else one needs in order to survive?

P.S.: If you want to talk about objects: one certainly needs something to light a fire.

ZEIT: Can you think of anything else?

P.S.: A pillow maybe, and a good matress.

ZEIT: So why, then, have you become an industrial designer in the first place?

P.S.: That is an interesting question. And I haven't found an answer to it for myself yet. Look, 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, SIC).

ZEIT: So all the things you have created -- unnecessary?

P.S.: Everything I have created is absolutely unnecessary. Design, structurally seen, is absolutely void of usefulness. 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.

ZEIT: So this is the balance you strike of all your creating?

P.S.: Those people with more intelligence than me would have gotten to this point much earlier. Perhaps I wasn't smart enough and had to learn it the hard way. Ever from the beginning I had the feeling that ultimatively, product design was useless. It is because of this that I have tried to change this job into something else; into something that's more political, more rebellious, more subversive. So maybe the most important thing that I have created is not a new object, but a new definition for the word "designer".

ZEIT: You said that we are undergoing a transition towards Postmaterialism. What does this mean?

P.S.: 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.

ZEIT: So what else would designers create then?

P.S.: There won't be any designers. The designer of the future will be the personal coach, the fitness trainer, the nutritionist. That's all.

ZEIT: You have often stated that it was your goal to destroy design. How far have you gotten with that?

P.S.: It is accomplished! When I started out, design objects were but beautiful objects. No one could afford to buy them; design stood for elitism, but elitism is vulgar. The sole elegance lies in multiplication.

ZEIT: Please explain this.

P.S.: If one is fortunate enough to have a good idea, one has the obligation to share this idea with others. That is how democracy works. When I started to design, a good chair would cost about $1,000. Should a family that needs six chairs and a table have to pay $10,000, just to be able to have dinner? What an obscene thought. Four years ago, I designed a chair that would cost less than ten dollars. If you just strike three zeros off the price you change the whole concept of a product.

ZEIT: And yet you recently designed that motor yacht for a Russian millionaire?

P.S.: Exactly this is part of my Robin-Hood concept. I do use such projects like a lab. It allows me to try out new technologies and render them useful for the mass market. For this particular yacht, I developed a hull that wouldn't cause bow washes at 20 knots. I applied this concept to a solar boat, which in turn could be the prototype for a Venetian vaporetto.

ZEIT: And you don't want to stop designing?

P.S.: I do want to, for sure. I am definitely going to stop designing in two years. I will be doing something else instead, I don't know for sure. But I know that it will be a new way of expression; a weapon that will be faster, mightier and lighter than design. Design is really a terrible way to express oneself.

ZEIT: So you will only be switching the job.

P.S.: Exactly. I have been a producer of materiality. I do feel ashamed for this. What I want to be instead now is a producer of concepts. This will be much more useful.

ZEIT: Is there any object that you like, then?

P.S.: No.

Interviewer: Tillmann Prüfer


Update, April 1st.
As much as it may sound like a prank-du-jour, but there is a good discussion going on chez Bruce Nussbaum's (thank you and reBang for pointing to my translation).
The first two comments, imvho, sum up the overall feeling of Starck's statements (implicit and explicit alike).

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