Design For Life Review: You’re Inspired

DESIGN FOR LIFE: Monday 14th September, BBC2, 9pm Alert Me

An antidote to the ludicrous inventions as seen on Dragons’ Den (cucumber condom, anyone?), BBC2 brings you Design For Life.

It’s a design-based talent show that is bound to get some Apprentice comparisons, though instead of Suralan we have the infinitely more colourful Philippe Starck, a prolific French product designer responsible for the rocket-shaped lemon squeezer.

And instead of the smarmy contenders that are all mouth and no pants – sorry, trousers, Philippe’s students are 12 whippersnappers, creative folk who have submitted their sketches of bright ideas for a chance to win a six-month work placement at Starck’s design agency.

Philippe rides in to meet his protégés on a motorcycle, to their applause. “Don’t exaggerateâ€?, he says.

Their headquarters are the Cent Quatre, once a municipal funeral depot, now a hotbed of design talent and setting of a big scary cavernous classroom where the contestants do their drawings and stuff.

Philippe has strict standards for good design. Sustainability, as well as beauty and usefulness are high on his agenda, and this is why it’s interesting. We get to learn about what products work, and why.

He urges his students, in a typically Gallic philosophical way, that they must understand not just design, but life in order to create useful products, believing that many objects “do not deserve to existâ€?.

The contestants’ first task is to select two items that you could buy at a supermarket for less than €100, which must represent either the theme of ecology, function or gender. The task should demonstrate his protégés’ independence of thinking, and test their performance under pressure. By the end of the episode, the two students deemed the least enterprising will be eliminated.

Philippe sends them on their way, signing off with the dictum: “Peace and Love!â€?

At first Design For Life feels mechanical and a tad watered down, with the contestants letting us know “there will be tensionsâ€? and all that feigned emotional hoo-ha we’ve now built a resistance to, though this is just a hook. Once it catches its stride, it’s a pleasure to watch, it’s informative, and has that “human interestâ€? element that we just lap up.

So what would M. Starck think of this programme as a piece of design? Is it useful? You could say so, if you like to learn about the inner workings behind product design. Beautiful? Well… Sustainable? Yes. While not as compulsive as The Apprentice, it’s far more honest, and well worth tuning into. And the one after that. And possibly the one after that.

Leonie Mercedes

Still gagging for the non-informative ways of The Apprentice? Catch our interview with the runner-up Kate Walsh here, on her new Five show.