If we laugh at Starck’s students, are we just laughing at ourselves?

Like many of us, I’ve been avidly following Philippe Starck’s reality show ‘Design for Life’. If you missed it, in the programme British designers vie for the work placement in a million – working in Starck’s Paris studio. But were the candidates for real? Is that really the best we have to offer? Or were they just picked for us to laugh at? This is, afterall, entertainment

Looking beyond the game show, it occurs to me that the programme reflects much of what goes on in everyday agency life. More importantly it highlights some of the basics which are so easily forgotten.

Firstly, Starck used an internet competition to select the participants, only meeting them once they’d arrived. This seems to have been an extremely unreliable indicator of talent – perhaps one of his goons could have sifted out some chaff (a dud on TV makes funny TV, one in an agency makes work clients won’t buy). In our agencies, how often do we rush in new recruits, waiving more rigorous testing, only to rue our choice?

Next, his briefs seem to consist of a few disconnected words and thoughts, and nothing else (eg “A product for daily use which is Democratic, Ethical and Ecological”) – and that describes the bulk of the responses he’s getting. How often do we all write unclear briefs which confuse rather than inspire?

I do, however, like the way Starck crits the work, though – passionate, instinctive and decisive – everything’s either ‘ok’ or ‘shit’. He speaks with his heart first, then post-rationalises his feelings. His sixth sense finds potential in work that’s now just mediocre, and so he doesn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Could we all learn to see with our heart before we think the ideas into the wastepaper basket?

The students’ presentation skills are judged as lacking and I can’t disagree – Starck kicked out the one who could sell his work in the first round for being a smartypants. Maybe our schools and colleges could teach young people to express themselves rather than nurture a fear of public speaking?

What’s really clear is that the ones who do their homework come up with better ideas – insights from the coal face beat random thoughts every time, and give the context required to sell the ideas.

But for me, the cherry on the cake was that Liverpudlian designer Ilsa Parry finally won through because of her energy, passion and belief in her idea while he pressed eject on others for not going the extra mile. Belief is a quality I think we easily forget in these times where we bend over backwards to keep and please.

So, what can we take from our Philippe’s game show? Do our homework to really understand the task, then write a clear, inspirational brief, use our heart when we develop the work, passionately follow through on our ideas and communicate them well. If we’ve been laughing at the programme, have we just been laughing at ourselves?

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