From iconic furniture, revolutionary yachts, electric cars and hotels, to even lemon squeezers, French designer Philippe Starck has designed them all. The pioneer of “democratic design"—known for his understanding of contemporary mutation, concern for the environment and defense of the usefulness of intelligence—channels these concerns in all his designs.

Some of his products—such as the Juicy Salif lemon squeezer—don’t work very well, according to experts, but are still celebrated for their form over function.

In 1999, Starck tied up with property entrepreneur John Hitchcox to start YOO, an international design company that has worked with developers across the world on landmark residential and hotel projects.

The 69-year-old designer was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at India Design Forum at Colombo last month for his contribution to the design industry, specifically within the South Asia region. In an email interview with Lounge, he spoke about his projects in South Asia, sustainability in design and the challenges in the design industry. Edited excerpts:

What is the significance of design in a rapidly urbanizing South Asia?

Design is not a matter of country but of cultural tribes. And these different tribes exist in all countries. Design is first of all a tool to help people improve their lives and it is expressed differently, depending on the tribe but not necessarily depending on the region.

Can you tell us about your projects in South Asia—both in Pune, India, and this recent development in Colombo, Sri Lanka?

All YOO projects are about a philosophy. When we start a project, we don’t focus on concrete, stone or glass but on the impact our creations will have on the end user.

YOO Pune is a paradise island, lost in the beauty of India’s gardens. It’s a place where people can gather and feel more creative, more confident, more in love.

Sapphire Residences, in Colombo, follows the same philosophy. It is a vertical village built to enhance the community feeling and to embrace connectivity between residents, with communal areas to be creative, talk, play, share and love in.

The Juicy Salif lemon squeezer
The Juicy Salif lemon squeezer

Is there anything in India that you consider to be an iconic design? Why?

I am more interested in people than objects. I am fascinated by Indians for their relationship with abstraction, to the beyond, how they relate to their gods, to their relationships with animals also. One of the iconic elements I recall from my India trip is the vision of white elephants in a splendid dark temple.

The Louis Ghost Chair is one of the most widely copied designs in the world. What is the story behind it?

The Louis Ghost chair is a result of a combination of different visions. The first being dematerialization, one of the main parts of the evolution of humanity and of human production. We are now in the dematerialization era, tending towards less materiality and more intelligence. The second element is the power of common memory. I did not design the Louis Ghost, we—in the Western world—all designed the Louis Ghost by catalysing our common cultural and sentimental memory. The third vision is that high-tech injected plastic can create a product with the right design, the right technology, at the right price; it is the continuation of democratic design and we can say that today this battle is won.

You have been very vocal about sustainability and yet you work a lot with plastic and other synthetic materials. Do you feel this poses a contradiction; how do you reconcile this agenda (to be more sensitive to our environment) with your practice as a designer?

I was almost born with ecology. It’s not a coincidence or another form of intelligence, but at 16 I was told what ecology is. And I grew up with it, with this duty. Despite what we can believe, I prefer to use synthetic materials: for a philosophical reason, I do not have much respect for natural materials because I do not believe in God and for technological reasons, synthetic materials born out of human genius almost always perform better. I would rather work with someone who uses fully traceable plastic to someone who kills trees. Not only is it crucial to respect the laws in place but also to create a cultural aesthetic that can ensure a long life cycle so that materiality does not become obsolete after a few months.

We talk a lot about ‘sustainability’ today; is this word at risk of losing its value through overuse, and if so how can we mitigate this?

Ecology is not a concept, it’s a duty and we are now in an emergency state. Our intelligence has created an unstable world that we are no longer able to control. We know that we have problems, but the problem is the delay—the delay in awareness and the delay in putting solutions into action. Today, the solutions for the planet are to save energy and to create energy that will not pollute.

What is the biggest challenge you face in your design work today?

There’s no future for design because we are entering the era of bionism (which, according to Starck, is finding inspiration in living matter to design technology better suited to humans) and dematerialization. After the amoeba, the fish, the frog, the monkey and the super monkey we are today at the point where bionism is the next essential step in our evolution. And in the coming years, all the useless things around us will disappear one by one becoming completely integrated (curtains by LED screens, etc). The next designer will be our coach, our dietician.

Cutting-edge innovators

A sneak peek into the 10-day-long design gala coming up in Bengaluru

From brewing craft beer to disruptive gaming, Bengaluru is gearing up to embrace a range of activities at the cutting edge of design, from 23 November till 2 December. Bengaluru ByDesign (BBD), founded by Suprita Moorthy and Priyanka Shah Bhandary, will run for 10 days across three tentatively marked “districts" in the city—Whitefield, Electronic City and Yelahanka.

In a series of curated programmes, visitors will have a chance to meet makers and design gurus influencing lifestyle choices from real estate to restaurants, not to forget issues of environment and sustainability.

The centrepiece of this gala is the India Design Forum 2018, which will unfold over 23-24 November at the UB City Amphitheatre. Confirmed names so far include Sanjay Garg of Raw Mango, Prateek Jain of Klove Studio, Kai Richter of SAP, Germany, and Steve Lidbury of Eight Inc., UK.

While the highlight of Whitefield ByDesign will be The Makers Market, featuring more than 25 designers picked for their inventive aesthetic, Electronic City ByDesign will include talks on “Designing For The Future", “The Future Of Wearables" and “Ideas That Shake The World". The final segment, Yelahanka ByDesign, involves collaborations with students of Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, including an exhibition of posters created by Japanese graphic designers between 1980 and 1990.

—Somak Ghoshal

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