Friday, October 16, 2009

Irish TV and "Design for Life"

Irish television is rather limited. There are about 15 channels. Two are in Arabic, two are soccer dominated, two are news channels and the rest are made up of period dramas, antique shows, game shows (in great supply), Springer clones, Ellen, Oprah, Dr. Phil, and Judge Judy. They seem to like our old TV westerns and “Murder She Wrote.” The best programming seems to be very late at night. Some of these shows are signed, which is not the norm during the day. Apparently the hearing- impaired only watch TV at 3:30 in the morning.

I saw a very interesting show last night at about 2:00AM. It’s called “Design for Life” and it is similar to our reality shows like “Top Model,” “Project Runway,” and the various cooking shows. I liked it because it involves several students designing a product that, if deemed the winner of the competition, will result in one of the students being placed in the studio of Phillippe Starck, who is a French product designer and probably the best known designer in the New Design style. His designs range from spectacular interior designs to mass produced consumer goods such as toothbrushes, chairs, and even houses.

The students must design a product that will help people. One designed a cane-like stand to assist the elderly to stand up from a chair. Another designed a glove-like device for women to wear that can be used to shine a bright light into the eye of an attacker. The third student designed a wobbly chair for children to improve their coordination. The final student designed a tray with utensils for the blind. They must not only design the project, have a model made of it, but also create a logo and marketing material for it. The students were bright, serious, and articulate. This show would never make it on American television. It is too cerebral and design as a profession has never penetrated the popular culture in the way that clothing- and people-designing has.

I enjoyed watching Starck give feedback to the students. They are from the UK and he is from France, of which there is no doubt because of his thick accent. While they are attempting to design a useful product for persons in special circumstances, Starck’s comments are very conceptual. The challenge for the students is, of course, to makes sense of what the master is saying and apply it concretely. I remember working in a consulting firm where the owner gave such conceptual comments that I was somehow to apply to writing a proposal for government funding. I think he thought he was brilliant. I usually walked away wondering what he, in fact he had said. I was miserable at implementing his lofty feedback. Fortunately, I think he did not know what he was saying or did not remember it because he was fairly bad at following up. In contrast, Starck has two assistants who do follow up and appear to understand his feedback, although they add a lot of their own ideas, much like Tim Gunn on “Runway.”

It was a privilege watching Starck at work. He has a vision for the student’s design projects and it seems to justify his lofty reputation. He also has a sense of humor and seems approachable. There are two finalists and I hope to see who the winner is, but given the lack of predictability in my travel and my sleep, it’s unlikely.

I liked seeing genius at work. Mostly I do not see it at work on American TV. I never get the sense of genius in Heidi Klum, Tom Ford, or Tyra Banks. Not even Bill O’Reilly, in spite of what he thinks of himself.

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