"Everything that fills your world has been designed."
"Every object tells a story if you know how to read it." - Henry Ford
"Design is the search for form."
Gary Hustwit's previous film "Helvetica" played to sold out audiences at Hot Docs a couple of years ago and made people ask the question: "Who knew anyone cared about fonts?" A big part of its popularity was also its style - the great cinematography showing the Helvetica font used in everyday life combined with carefully composed frames and the rhythmic score of the band El Ten Eleven.
The follow-up, "Objectified", stays firmly in the very same mold and is yet another stylish, carefully composed film about design. This time out the subject is a bit wider in scope as Hustwit takes a crack at industrial design. Cars, computers, utensils, kitchen gadgets, chairs and pretty much any other object that can be mass produced is up for consideration. Actually, it's less about the objects themselves than simply the concept of design - what does design accomplish, what should design be accomplishing and when should we even be doing it? In comparison to "Helvetica", the questions are bigger, the ideas are grander and the discussions provide much more to chew on. It's just not as entertaining.
As mentioned above, the style remains very similar and is executed brilliantly at times (the presentation of objects is just beautiful throughout the film), but it just doesn't bounce along at anywhere near the same speed. Perhaps it's because there's less passion coming from some of the designers being interviewed. Their ideas and statements provide excellent insight into what we consume, how we consume it and whether we should be consuming at all, but I missed the vigour and humour with which the font designers argued their sides. There's far fewer laughs in "Objectified" and it's the poorer for it.
Of course, that doesn't mean there aren't some compelling ideas expressed in its 75 minute run time. One of the most important concepts raised is that of sustainability and how major companies are having a hard time adapting and adjusting to "green" requirements. Typically, it seems that design caters to the 10% of the population that already have too much stuff. The other 90% simply need the basics, but they aren't the target. It's those that want what's "Now" and what's "Next" that are buying, but what they are buying typically doesn't last. So that leads to more buying...
The point could be argued that design came about simply as a requirement for mass production. One of the talking heads in the movie relates the story about archers in ancient China who all made their own customized arrows for their bows. However, if they were killed in battle someone else couldn't simply use their arrows to keep fighting. So the Emperor insisted that a common bow and arrow be made and given to all soldiers. And thus design and production was born. In the modern age though, for the longest time it was thought that designers should simply give individual character to something that is produced. Don't worry about end to end design, just finish the product with some nice flourishes. Today, designers say things like (and I'm paraphrasing all of these):
- Understand the extremes when designing and the middle will take care of itself.
- Remove what is unnecessary.
- If you are frustrated that something doesn't exist (something you want to see), that will drive the creation of that thing.
There's plenty more ideas and objects strewn throughout "Objectified" and it's already made me want to see it again to pick up on things I may have missed. However, with fewer entertaining subjects, shorter musical interludes and less fun overall, I'm not looking forward to my second viewing as much as I'd hoped I would.