Drew Smith: ethnographer, strategist and host of Rising Minds

Stark, Conran and Kirstie Allsopp on design. This is gonna be great.


I recently read a three way interview, conducted by The Guardian’s Caroline Roux, between Philipe Starck (he of obscenely useless lemon juicers), Sir Terrence Conran (he of obscene business versatility) and Kirstie Allsopp (she of numerous obscenely annoying TV shows such as Relocation, Relocation etc.). What struck me was how vacuous a lot of the commentary seemed.

Here were three supposed luminaries of the design/property world discussing the changing relevance of design in these financially challenged times. More often than not, they completely missed the point and demonstrated how disconnected from reality they have become.

Most galling was Starck’s assertion that “we must try to stop design for design’s sake” The words “Pot”, “Kettle” and “Black” are swiftly coming to mind here. Here is a man who managed to turn teapots. chairs and even toothbrushes into objects of comical uselessness.

Some may say that I am missing the point with things like Juicy Salif, that it’s not meant to be a lemon juicer and is, in fact, a conversation piece (as Starck himself is rumoured to claim). Even before the current global predicament the concept of a useless object sold as useful was, to me, pretty odious.

Conran does little better to help dispel the notion that designers are ego-centric, self-serving hedonists by claiming that his next investment would be “…in wine. I can look at it and stroke it. And things that improve the quality of life, like art.” I can think of something else he’s clearly good at stroking too. Good plonk and pretty pictures have their place, don’t get me wrong. But the fact that they are Conran’s preferred investment when we’re staring down the barrel of such gross global inequality stinks.

What about investing your wads of spare cash in a promising start-up that will help to bring electricity to African communities through innovative design? Or even just investing your time in trying to promote design as an catalyst for positive change?

Ms. Roux and her gang seem to have lost sight of the fact that design is about making life better for people, not about making junk that rakes in loads-a-cash for the big name “designers”.

I thought that Kirstie Allsopp was going to save the article from being utter dross when she champined the idea of buying for longevity and buying used, two concepts I heartily agree with.

It was not to be, sadly, as the disclaimer at the end of the article stated that all three interviewees were board members of A quick check of their website today shows that any notions of longevity and re-use are hollow words for Kirstie, and her fellow boardies. It’s just another online dumping ground for “designer” furniture with a focus on all inclusive packages that help you get the “look” of the season. How apt given that Starck said he wanted to see the end of fashion and trends in furnishings and furniture. A quick read of the editors blog reveals such priceless headlines such as “Skinny furniture inspired by Supermodels” and “Trend for 2009: Why grey can be glamorous“.

Oh dear.

Category: Design, Things I Hate

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3 Responses

  1. Moose says:

    Interesting blog, although I would contest your comment that the current global meltdown will actually lead to a widening of global inequality. If anything, it should be the reverse.

    Also, design innovation is particularly vulnerable to recessions. Companies are less likely to take risks or invest heavily in innovation at times like these, although I do take your point that often this can be a short-sighted approach.

    Now, when do we get your commentary on the new Presidential ride?

  2. drewpasmith says:

    If you’d like a review of the Obama’s new ride, I’d be happy to oblige but it mightn’t be pretty 😉

    As far as your comments go, what I’m hearing from people involved in selling stuff to UHNWIs (Ultra-High-Net-Worth Individuals) is that business has never been better. I wasn’t suggesting that the gap was getting wider but rather drawing your attention to the fact that we continue to face this gap.

    And yes, your point about the vulnerability of design innovation to the prevailing economic climate is a point well made. It does strike me as odd however when I hear of design teams being idled, or told to take extra leave because there are no pressing, production projects to be worked on.

    Why not encourage your staff to go balls-out and start thinking way outside the box to which they’re traditionally confined. That kind of freedom is as good as a holiday to many designers in the automotive industry!

  3. Rob says:

    Love the Perez Hilton style doodling!

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