"Rock star designers"

It seems like in the past two days, I’ve read two Core articles that tell people, “Don’t be a rock star designer!”. Now, I actually agree with this, so I nod my head vigorously in agreement. However, I don’t think I’ve ever read someone say, “Be a rock star designer! We need more!”.

Just curious, has anyone seen an argument like this? Anyone want to try one?

Seems to me rock star industrial designer is an oxymoron. The general public couldn’t even tell you what an industrial designer is, let alone name one or even recognize the name of one.

Does it matter if one is considered a rock star within our cloistered world? Doesn’t matter to me and I fail to see why a rock star would be “bad”. You?

I feel the point being made is don’t be a jaded egomaniac. We all like getting our ego stroked but thinking that you are awesome and thus only your input is relevant is BS. People with different experiences and points of view will help the process more then some polarized idea of beauty.

The goal of any business is to be profitable. Without the profit, there is no way to sustain the business.

If a business is sustained based on the ego of an individual or if it sustained on a good process of collaboration, I fail to see the distinction. Why does the means to the end matter?

I think its good to be able to pull on the furry, stuffed animal pants and rock out every now and then. Like, 10% of the time.

Companies, groups, projects all sometimes need a clarity of vision that is not derived from a requirements document. ‘Rock Star’ mode could perhaps describe that vision. A little bit of measured arrogance can help too.

I think it is kind of a moot point. You can’t decide to be a “rock star designer”, whatever that means. It is a term bestowed on you by others.

Those making the argument not to be a rockstar designer tend either
1)not to be one
2) are frustrated with having young designers who behave like pre-madonnas but haven’t done squat.

I would not recommend anyone to behave like a rockstar, but I would encourage them to do the work at the level of a rockstar.

I’m not sure what a rock star designer is. We should all just try to be as good as we can be. If you look at previous big names and their success…

You could create a load of poor but aesthetically different products, a kettle that Alberto Alessi apparently described as a ‘beautiful Fiasco‘, a lemon squeezer that doesn’t catch the pips and stools that were difficult to sit on, then draw all those objects on your body and talk about sex a lot. (Stark)

Or rip a car seat out of a rover, drop it onto some scaffolding pipe and claim a revolution, then go around bashing up cubes of metal and claim they are chairs (Arad),

Or come up with a chaise longue, that no one could lounge on for any serious length of time as it was so cold and uncomfortable, so realising this, advertise it as half design, half sculpture (the lockheed lounge, Marc Newson)

Based on the former, if you wanted to become a design superstar in the 80‘s and 90‘s, you had to create un-functional objects loosely under the heading of furniture, that when questioned about, you claimed were more sculptural than intended for actual use. ‘What do my creations actually do? Who cares?’ Ron Arad

It may be that it is now impossible to become a rock star designer in this way as we now live in different times. People (I hope) want more functional as well as aesthetically pleasing objects. Rock star designers didn‘t get there alone, we put them on a pedestal and maybe the masses are not prepared to do that in the same way anymore, is today’s design less about ego? The most recent rock star designer I can think of is Ives, who rather than blow his own trumpet, bigs up his team and company, it’s different times.

What is interesting is if any of the 80’s and 90’s super designers will have left a real legacy. The media is forever claiming that Rock Star Designers (a strange term) are pushing the boundaries and their impact on the 21st century is already being felt. I question whether combining new materials and manufacturing processes to do something we’ve already done perfectly well is that revolutionary. A carbon fibre or blown aluminium chair is no more comfortable than a wooden one and more damaging to the environment. Yet we are not celebrating the engineers who invented the manufacturing technique, we’re worshipping the person who found out about it and thought, Hmm what can I use this ground breaking material that was developed for a medical procedure for… I know. I’ll make a chair! Again! It’s a strange world.

Yo: I was going to say you were wrong, until I realized I only criticize “rock star” design about how it distracts attention from me (essentially). I’m so jaded.

What surprises me, is everyone seems to agree we hate these people. So, why do they exist (or existed if you agree with Product Tank)?

To be clear, I definitely don’t hate any of the Rock Star designers, when I was a student, as far as I was concerned Stark was the man. Now a little older and wiser, I cannot understand why the designs that the three designers I mentioned are famous for, propelled them into the lime light, especially as the examples given were so functionally bad or really uninspiring, Arad mounting a car chair (someone else designed) on a not particularly special frame, why did that make his name? (He did not do it first) I’m not jealous of their success at all, I wish every designer luck, what I am annoyed with is who were the decision makers who put these people on pedestals and why do these people not question things enough. What Stark set out to do was design a lemon squeezer, and (it’s fairly universally acknowledged) he designed a bad one. If he had set out to design a retro rocket ship, I would have said Ok, but he didn‘t, he tried to design a lemon squeezer. But rather than question it, we celebrated it, just for being different, so I am disappointed that we are celebrating in some respects a failure. The reason I argue that there can be no new versions of this type of super star designer, is that with the internet, economic climate etc, designs are more easily accessible, less elitist and there is much less acceptance of things that don’t function well as brands want good looking, good functioning objects so they do not loose loyalty. Nostalgia and retro appeal for the lemon squeezer etc is a separate issue.
The market saturated with new graduates doing really good work so I question whether the 80’s and 90’s superstars would really stand out if they were starting out today. There is a large argument for being in the right place at the right time, when they were starting, there was simply less of them, without China or India really getting their design schools off the ground. Also now, rather than individuals, most companies know that teams are going to be more successful. The arena feels more aligned to teams than individuals and the amount of work being shown and ideas there are out there means that we are saturated with so much difference (in colour, style etc) that it is much harder for designs to really stand out.

I think it’s important to make a distinction between Rock Star and Super Star designers. I would argue that Dieter Rams is a super star designer, as far as I am aware he has never been arrogant about design, he would never say ‘what do my creations actually do, who cares’ as Arad did (whether said jokingly or not). Yet disappointingly, he is probably less well known outside of the profession than Stark and Arad, because he didn’t go around puffing out his chest. So I don’t hate anyone, I am sad at how we as a society celebrate the people who shout the loudest and who let their ego’s get in the way of the design. Of course if you ask Arad in his floppy little hat, or Stark who has drawn all over his body, they would probably deny it or spin it for publicity, because that’s what they do better than design, I don’t hate the players, I hate the game!

I recently had the incredible opportunity to meet with a ‘rock star designer’ in the summer, I won’t name him but to be honest it ain’t too hard to work it out.

I have always admired him and he was the one who made me decide I wanted to devote my entire working life an career to design. He is bigged up in the media but as said before, he is mostly only know by designers (and of course the companies that have been clients) and he and his firm have won many prestigious awards.

I (very very foolishly) assumed he must have some ace up his sleeve as to how he got to where he is but he humbly explained to me how he became so successful. Apart from moving to a certain city where he and his firm is now based (he explained this was the main point as it is such an inspiring place!) he sketched for up to 80 hours a week back when he was my age and he barely rested when he set up his own firm after gaining experience at some well respected firms beforehand.

If that is what it takes to become a ‘rock star designer’ then I want to be one too. He may not be respected by everyone and all designers in the same way that I respect him but I strongly believe he deserves all the recognition and credit he gets!

Like I said, the term is bestowed on you, not claimed. Liam’s rockstar is a rockstar because Liam believes he is worthy of the tittle. You can hate that, but you can’t take it away.

I think the above set has a very narrow definition of who rockstar designers are, based on when you all went to school. Here is a selection from my personal list, in chronological order:

Raymond Loewy
Eliot Noyes
Charles Eames
Dieter Rams
Joe Colombo
Hartmut Esslinger
Tinker Hatfield
Naoto Fukasawa
Marc Newson
Jasper Morrison
Jonathan Ive
Scott Wilson

Honorary members:
Buckminster Fuller
Frank Lloyd Wright
Richard Nuetra
Eero Saarinen

Again, my personal list. Saying the rockstar designer is going away is somewhat naive of the way humans think in my view. Everyone loves a hero, even if they love to hate him. The world needs provocateurs, and in the absence of one, the world will manufacture one.

Liam, keep loving your hero, just know he is human, and he may disappoint in some way in the future, I commend him for showing that side to you right away. Most of these guys got to where they are not by getting an MBA, or falling ass backwards into money, but by working hard and being better than most of us at what they do! Plus a little swagger and bravado, but under it, most of them tend to be their own worst critics. At least the ones on my list…

If you look at the media coverage, my perception is that Scott Wilson and Yves Behar are today’s biggest rock stars. While Yves’ name seems to be on a wide variety of innovative stuff, Scott is only connected with a single product. The difference is that Scott’s achievement is much bigger than just a product, his product brought to light a paradigm shift in how products may come to market. All those rock stars started some sort of movement, sort of like a philosopher inspiring lots of following thinkers - whether they agree or not. Thus I would group Scott together with the others we call rock starts, but leave Yves of that list (for now) but group him with the other, much longer list, of great but obscure designers. Kinda like Scott was before Kickstarter.

One success akin to winning the lottery (Scott Wilson, Kickstarter) gets you at most, a “popstar” merit badge. “Rockstar” status comes when you can fill an arena.

nxakt: haha! Good one & true.

Yo: Your list reads to me as a list of respected members of the design community. “rock star”, to me, means people that are a little dirty. Where are the strippers, coke and booze filled parties in that gang? OK, maybe Loewy… hehe

Rock or Pop star designers: Remember my signature…so true. “Great architecture requires great clients”. I think that’s the biggest difference with most of these big names. They got good clients. Would Karim Rashid have actually gotten the Garbo garbage can to production with Avery office supplies instead of Umbra? Would Yves Béhar have designed such memorable graphics and accessories for Pontiac instead of Mini? Would we know who Jon Ives was if he had been toiling away at Acer rather than Apple?

One could argue that those designers went after the great clients, but it’s notable that Ives rode the Apple wave downhill from '92 to '98. He was unknown working in a basement according to the horror stories. Dieter Rams joined Braun in '55/'56, but he didn’t become in charge of design until the early '60’s, which is also when he started doing the work that he is remembered for. At least with these two, it seems like they fell backwards into the right clients.

Having said that, they aren’t “rock stars” to me. I think it was “product tank” that said that they stopped making them (along with real rock stars, come to think of it). I think Rashid might be the last “rock star” according to me. Wasn’t the Garbo can around '98/'99?

I define the rock star designer as how they make me feel. I need to have strong emotions both ways. I have a huge respect for Rashid’s accomplishments, but I am hugely disappointed at how uninspired some of the designs are. Zaha Hadid’s architecture is the most mind blowing thing I’ve ever seen, but if you’ve seen any videos from her office, she is real a**hole. That’s why I wouldn’t call Béhar a rock star. I want to hate him, but he’s a nice guy that does great work…that’s not a rock star.

“Rock Star Designer” does promote the idea of the the sole genius designer, without consideration of the team behind her/ him- someone has to turn Frank Gehry’s or Karim Rashid’s sketches into the actual thing (no disrespect to F.G. or K.R.):

and this:

to this:

It’s a branding thing as well, people respond to the idea of the ‘one person show’, but the time spent branding and marketing yourself must detract from the actual design work.

I think this is a great point, I don’t know shit about client relationships in terms of dealing with them within a design firm but I believe the brand behind a designer is very important. A lot of my friends (who are 18, my own age) say ‘ohhh you love design! I bet you end up working for Apple!’ I always tell them that I would much rather aspire to become the next Apple and I wouldn’t want to work for them but non-designers often assume working for Apple would be a dream job. I really don’t think so personally…

Any Yves is a nice guy! Humble, but at the same time he knows he is great at what he does but he told me he is so because he loves design and always has done. He put it down to hard work, love and passion and not ‘talent’ (Although I believe these things are what ‘talent’ really is…)

I’m not sure why anyone would actually want to hate someone, the only thing I can think is iyour personal definition is so narrow as to pre-prove your point that it doesn’t exist anymore. You are toying with the mechanism to make it fail.

Dieter Rams is a rock star in the true sense. He didn’t choose to be one, nor want to be one, but he can’t help himself. Anyone who publishes a “10 Comanments” list for his own profession has a set on him. Each of the people on my list is a rock star in my book.

The Rock Star mythology is a bit likeSanta Clause, it exists if you believe. So for you it may not, but for others it does, and that is something you have little effect on. Not every rockstar ODs at 27.

Yo: I don’t want to psycho-analyze myself too much, but it’s not like I burn calories on this subject. When I say “hate” I mean that I want to find some reason to knock-down his work. “oh look, it’s really the team behind him” or “oh look, the chair snaps because he/she doesn’t really know anything about manufacturing”. Kind of like finding the fraud. Like a Milli Vanilli designer.

Sanjy: I think you bring up another part of what I feel is a “rock star”, the lone genius. I guess it’s a testament to good education that it seems like there are few designers who believe that the lone genius theory works.

Thinking of that & Yo’s list…it would be fun to ask those designers about team work. Next time you run into Dieter, ask him and report back here;)

Still, there’s no way in hell I’m ever calling Beiber a rockstar, I don’t care how many arenas he fills.

I like Yo’s list, but would add Henry Dreyfuss. Less rockstar-y than Raymond Loewy I suppose, but he sort of - well, actually - wrote the book on designing for people.

I kind of wonder about the need for designers to gather up all these awards. How much do they really mean? I see some products that win awards and it reminds me of those little-known movies that nobody watched and still win all the Emmys and Golden Globes. Isn’t the real award the market response? Should they be the ultimate judge, or does recognition from your peers outweigh recognition from the masses? I don’t know, I’m just asking…

Lots of wonderful and influential things (products, movies, what have you) where market failures. Saying the market decides is saying the guy that designed the Camry is the biggest design rockstar in the world!

Also, no one brought up Dyson. Not a rockstar in my book, but fits the stereotype that 914 seems to be playing out… And 914, you are psychoanalyzing yourself on the page here. Your desire to knock these guys down is revealing something you should explore, in a good way. What does it mean? Don’t answer here, but worth figuring out for yourself.

The fact is that it is true, there are people behind every big name, but there is another fact, there happens to be some people who are just really very good at what they do. The Michael Jordans, the Warren Buffets, call them what you will, rock stars, geniuses, prodigies, super stars, gifted, some people just operate on another plane.