Decoding Design

New television series identifies powerful product design

Posting in Architecture

On August 24, Ovation premieres "My Design Life," a TV series that follows writer Lisa S. Roberts as she researches what makes popular products both trendy and timeless. To do so, she visits top designers such as Karim Rashid, visits trade shows and museums, and talks to retailers from Target to Moss.

Last week, I blogged about a forthcoming TV show, "Quirky," that promises to demystify design for mainstream audiences when it begins airing on August 30--but it's not the only new television series to do so.  On August 24, the Ovation network will premiere "My Design LIfe," a ten-episode series airing at 8 p.m. Eastern that follows design writer Lisa S. Roberts as she identifies powerful trends in product design. Here's a quick introductory clip from Ovation:

Despite what might seem to be a similar focus to "Quirky" (which airs on the Sundance Channel), "My Design Life" takes the completely opposite approach to documenting successful design. While "Quirky" chronicles unknown inventors trying to design and market new goods rapidly, on "My Design Life," Roberts visits elite designers and established museums, trade shows, and retailers to show how products not only get designed, but also build reputations and recognition over time. Watching the two nearly concurrent, but very different, new shows might provide a broad and thorough education in contemporary product innovation.

In the first episode of "My Design Life," Roberts checks out the New York International Gift Fair, a sprawling, bi-annual convention open only to those who manufacture, design, and retail products in the lifestyle, home, and gift categories. Roberts previews gadgets that reflect current trends in product design, such as an eco-friendly, biodegradable umbrella. In the second episode, she visits the home of award-winning designer Karim Rashid, who has more than 3,000 products currently in production and who has designed for major companies ranging from Citibank to Samsung.

In other episodes, Roberts explores Target's knack for collaborating with well-known designers on low-end products, and visits the high-end stores Design Within Reach and Moss, which both sell classic furniture from the mid-20th century to today, pieces known for their technological breakthroughs as well as their beauty. She also takes viewers to influential cultural spots that help establish design history, such as New York's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, a subsidiary of the Smithsonian Institution.

Each episode of "My Design Life" illustrates research that Roberts, who was trained as an architect, has conducted while writing a to-be-published book titled Design Pop: Popular Trends in Contemporary Product Design. But for anyone interested in what types of products and companies manage to be both trendy and have long-term staying power, this show could serve as valuable research, too.

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Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure