Persuasion Notebook offers quick hits on the business of persuasion from The Globe and Mail's marketing and advertising reporter, Susan Krashinsky. Read more on The Globe's marketing page and follow Susan on Twitter @Susinsky.
Legendary designer Philippe Starck's professional life began with disdain.
As a young man, Mr. Starck saw wealthy, stylish people able to afford beautifully designed fashion and other products, and felt it was deeply offensive.
"Elitism is the essence of vulgarity," he told an audience at the C2-MTL conference in Montreal on Tuesday. An event dedicated to exploring "commerce and creativity" and organized by advertising agency Sid Lee, the conference gathered business people, students, marketers and others.
Of course, Mr. Starck has also gone on to work with some fabulously wealthy people on some rather inaccessible design, such as his six years of work designing Steve Jobs's yacht. ("You have 88 kilos of paradox in front of you," he told one audience member who questioned him about this.) These high-paying projects are like labs for his other designs, he said, which he tries to bring to the masses.
"I have worked all my life to rise the quality, down the price, and give it to everybody."
Mr. Starck shared some of his favourite design concepts (his own, of course) with the Montreal audience. Here are a few:
Showing a picture of a slimmed down plastic watch, Mr. Starck said the next evolution is a watch buried beneath the skin – only a small jump, some might argue, from the direction already being taken with products such as Google Glass.
"You will be bionic in 10 to 15 years," he said, envisioning a future where children cannot picture a world before products were part of their bodies.
PREFAB GETS FAB AGAIN
Mr. Starck has designed a line of prefabricated houses, which are currently in prototype mode, and will come to market in a few months. The idea behind the houses is that they will make more energy than they use – via solar panels and turbines, for example.
"This is a prototype of tomorrow's housing," he said.
Mr. Starck was art director for Virgin Galactic, the development of commercial space flight championed by mogul Richard Branson – another guest at C2MTL this week.
Mr. Starck said that humanity is aware we will need to escape earth eventually. "It's the first step to ... democratize space," he said of the project. Though with a $200,000 price tag, one could easily question just how democratic it is.
SEEING A GHOST
Mr. Starck discussed what is arguably his most famous design – the Louis Ghost chair, which is inspired by the style of Louis XVI but made of clear plastic. Its power, he said, is that you choose to see the product.
"We can have more when we have less," he said.
However, he pointed out his own folly, expecting people everywhere to have the same frame of reference, and showed two examples of newer chairs he designed to appeal to a more global sentiment. (See his examples here and here.)
A NOTE OF HUMILITY
Mr. Starck surprised a few in the audience by calling design "a little bit obsolete" at the end of his talk. He feels that way because it does not save lives, he said.
"After 40 years of work, I feel a little impotent. Because my tool is not a weapon. We need weapons."