Philippe Starck, the French designer who champions simplicity over form, has proclaimed Amazon's Kindle e-book reader "almost modern" but "a bit sad."
Starck was a speaker at the Le Web 3 social-networking conference outside Paris on Tuesday. After an energetic, rambling speech about modern design, he was handed a Kindle by the technology blogger Robert Scoble and asked what he thought of it.
"In this type of product, the best design is the least design possible," said Starck. That means it should be small, simple and strong, and not distract from the content, which should be the most interesting part.
The Kindle almost achieves that, "but the designer wasn't quite humble enough to completely disappear, so he made a little slope here, a diagonal there," Starck said. "It's a little sad because the concept is modern, but the design is less modern, because the designer doesn't want to disappear."
"No no," he concluded, "it is almost modern."
The Kindle launched last month for US$399 and allows people to download books and newspapers over a wireless network. It is a fairly plain device with a large screen, a keyboard and gently sloping sides designed to make it comfortable to hold.
"Our top design objective was for Kindle to disappear in your hands -- to get out of the way -- so you can enjoy your reading," CEO Jeff Bezos said last month.
Amazon should consider it got off lightly from the critique. Earlier in his speech Starck said most products today are designed only for profit and without consideration for those who use them. They are "10 percent useful and 10 percent [expletive]," he said.
His speech was billed as "What is social about design" and bore little relation to high technology, although it was probably the most entertaining speech of the day and got the most laughs, touching on furniture designed for sex, Viagra, and the evolution of design over 4 billion years.
"I try to make furniture that makes my friends have better sex," he said, adding that he plans to get married next Saturday.