I was watching a TV programme about Philippe Starcke.

It was the only format that seems to be allowed on TV these days.

Twelve people get selected to compete for something.

Then every week two of them get asked to leave.

So this show was like “The Apprentice” with a barmy French designer in the Alan Sugar role.

They had twelve design students competing for a job at his Paris studio.

Personally I’m not crazy about Philippe Starcke’s designs.

They seem a bit too whimsical for me.

Nice perhaps, amusing even, but a bit trivial, and short term.

My start point for design is Bauhaus principles.

Form Follows Function.

First you define the problem, then judge the answer by how well it does that job.

With Starke it seems to be the other way round, Function Follows Form.

But as I was watching the twelve students present it struck me.

Although he and I are totally different kinds of creative people, this is exactly like every advertising class I’ve ever taught.

The students don’t get it.

They’re treating him like a teacher and he’s not.

They’re treating this like school and it’s not.

He set them a project that was “Design something that will be of benefit to the world”.

So they thought that was the brief.

But it wasn’t.

This wasn’t school and he wasn’t their teacher.

This was a TV programme and two of them have to leave after this project.

So the brief is actually, “Beat the other students”.

In which case the consumer has now changed.

It isn’t the population of the world.

It’s Philippe Starke.

So how can you convince Philippe Starcke that you are different to the other students and should be kept on the programme?

Well what he wanted, what every creative director wants, is to be surprised.

To be engaged.

To be told something we don’t already know.

In which case the brief isn’t to just sit down and start designing the same old stuff in new and exciting shapes.

The brief is to amaze him.

Tell him something he doesn’t know.

What we call, in our creative department, a “Holy shit!” factor.

(What Americans call a “Gee whizz” factor, or a “Wow” factor.)

Something that you look at and say, “Holy shit, I didn’t know that.”

So now the brief has changed.

Before you pick up a pencil or magic marker, you turn on the laptop and start doing research.

You start to investigate, to discover, to trawl through information.

Eventually something jumps out that makes you go “Holy shit!”

(Or “Gee whizz” or “Wow”.)

Something that, when you tell your friends in the pub, they’ll have the same reaction.

Now you’ve got something that the rest of your competition haven’t got.

You’ve got something different.

Something to make you stand out.

And that’s exactly how it worked here.

The first guy decided that, in future, we would need to live on the ocean and use the land for growing food.

Starcke said, “You ‘ave ‘ad a week, and zis is ze best you can do? Zis is boring, we ‘ave seen it all before. Zere is nussink new ‘ere.”

And the guy had to leave the course.

The next guy had designed a tunnel full of sensory experiences to make everyone appreciate the gift of life.

Starcke said, “Maybe you are a great marketing person and you weel make a lot of money. But you are not a designer. Zere is nussink new ‘ere.”

And he was thrown off the course.

Then a girl presented.

She didn’t show any designs.

She said, “Only 10% of the world has clean, drinkable water. We waste an amazing amount of it just by taking it for granted. I think we should have a small meter on every tap to show us exactly how much water we’re using every time we turn a tap on. I think that awareness will cut water consumption drastically.”

Starcke sat quietly for a moment.

Then he said, “Zat is amazing. Only 10% of ze world has clean drinking water? You are right, a meter weel make us see what we are wasting.

You weel make us think about zat every time we turn a tap on.”

And she went straight through to the next round.

Not by doing tons of beautiful designs for water meters.

I’m sure Starcke could do a better design than whatever she did.

But what she did was surprise him.

She told him something he didn’t know.

Something that made him think.

And that’s what he was looking for.

And that’s why watching that show was like watching every advertising course I’ve ever taught.

And every interview I’ve ever had.

Students forget what the real job of student work is.

They’re not doing real work to actually run in the real world.

They’re doing work to get a job.

Students forget who their audience is.

They never work out the real brief.

Except the ones who get the jobs.