By Hong Xinying
January 14, 2020
Philippe Starck discusses AI, the first chair designed using artificial intelligence for Kartell, and his goal of making design accessible to all
Philippe Starck is easily one of the world’s most recognisable design icons. His prolific oeuvre includes both everyday products like the humble juicer and tableware, as well as glamorous superyachts and even a habitation module for Axiom Space, a commercial space station. And yet at the core of it all is his drive to make design more accessible than ever before, in ways both big and small. “Whether it’s a toothbrush, an aeroplane or a chair, it’s always the same philosophy: to think about what the user will gain,” he says.
It’s in this context that we meet Starck at the Kartell booth at the Salone del Mobile fair. “I want to make design democratic,” says the 70-year-old, discussing his long-term collaboration with the Italian design company. “And the only way to make design democratic is plastic injection (moulding). Because it’s the only way to raise the quality, lower the price and make it available to everybody. The only company in the world (to fit these requirements) is Kartell.”
His most popular collections for Kartell include the Ghost collection of plastic furniture, distinguished by their transparency and sense of lightness. First designed in 2002, the collection reinterprets the classic Louis XV chair in a streamlined form made with injection-moulded plastic.
“There is a (common) confusion about plastics,” says Starck. “The plastic bag is really a bad thing, because it is used for 10 minutes and will last 200 years. A plastic chair, you can keep for 50 years. That’s why it’s absolutely not the same thing. The plastic chair today is the only (plastic item) I would pick to give a better product to everybody.”
The Smart Wood collection, designed by Starck in collaboration with Kartell, is another means of becoming more ecologically conscious about furniture production. Wood residues are used in a mould designed to create a curved seat that combines the beauty of wood with an ergonomic shape.
“For ecological reasons, if we cut and kill more trees, it’s ridiculous,” says Starck, as he discusses the Smart Wood collection. “That’s why we fine-tuned the process to use a very small quantity of wood to have a better result—an affordable, high quality and well-designed chair made very thin, (in) very strong three-dimensional plywood. Before plywood was flat, you could bend it in two dimensions but with this innovation, you can bend it in three dimensions; that is a revolution.”
For another Kartell collection, Starck collaborated with software company Autodesk to design the A.I chair collection using artificial intelligence (AI). “We are good designers; we have intelligence but we have small brains with the same culture, memories, so we all make the same chairs. And I thought it was a little boring,” says the designer.
The French designer thus set a series of instructions and creative parameters for Autodesk’s generative design software, with the goal of using the least amount of material possible with Kartell’s injection moulding method, while creating a chair that was also ergonomic. “I asked the AI the question: ‘How would you help me to rest my body with the minimum use of materials and energy?’ In two years, the AI learnt how to become a designer and it delivered this chair, which is perfect.”
As always, Starck strives to surprise and inspire while encouraging responsible design. “What makes good design? When design is useful,” he says. “I don’t care about nice design but I care about something that is good for your life; something which is made with honesty, intelligence and creativity. Design has to be political and open to new ways of doing things, such as (by using) artificial intelligence.”
(Related: Tatler Design Awards: What Makes Good Design)