Decoding Design

Philippe Starck on democratic design

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The French designer describes the secret to his success despite a slow economy.

Even in these slower economic times, Philippe Starck's designs are doing well with companies and buyers. The secret to his continued success, he says, is his philosophy of "democratic design". Starck's definition of democratic design is design that provides quality pieces at accessible prices.

In an article for the Associated Press, Colleen Barry highlights the French designer and his design philosophy:

"People are intelligent. They want quality. They want a high level of creativity, but everyone will have less money," Starck said in an interview during the Milan Furniture Fair, which ended Sunday.

The times, he said, favor the kind of creative impulse that led to his decades-long collaboration with the Italian design company Kartell, which specializes in plastic contemporary furniture.

"This was my intuition 40 years ago when I started design," he said. "Now we have the reward of the political and philosophical choice."

Starck's designs for Kartell include his iconic ghost chair. While I wouldn't call it affordable, the chair is priced at a relatively reasonable point for a designer piece. Most recently, Starck lent his Mademoiselle chair for a collaboration with rock star Lenny Kravitz, who clad the plastic chair in python, fur, and leather.

Starck has lately been venturing into the fashionable land of sustainable materials. Lighting retailer Flos and Italian biotech company Bio-on are remaking Starck's Miss Sissi lamp with a 100% naturally biodegradable bioplastic made from the waste products of sugar beet and sugar cane. His stacking Broom Chair is also being remade by Emeco with discarded materials from lumber factories and industrial plastic plants.

Although it might ultimately be Starck's design sense of simple shapes and a strong grasp of proportion that keeps his products popular, his decision to produce designs in less expensive materials shouldn't be overlooked. Any of the designers who decide to do collaborations with mass market retailers like Target and H&M are reaching a broader audience. By doing so, they get closer to becoming truly household names.

VIa: Boston Globe, Co.Design, Dezeen

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Sun Kim

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Sun Joo Kim is an architect and creative consultant based in Boston. Her projects include design and master planning of museums, public institutions, hospitals, and university buildings across the U.S. She holds a degree from Carnegie Mellon University and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure