Like so many other design-loving filmgoers, I was pulled into the intricate story and visuals in the 2007 documentary, Helvetica. Although a documentary about a font may not initially seem captivating, it is a beautifully crafted independent film that explores typography, graphic design and global visual culture. Helvetica as a typeface celebrated its 50th year in 2007 and had a surprising impact on design. After seeing the film, I couldn’t wait to see what came next for the director.
Gary Hustwit, the director of Helvetica, decided to look at design from another angle in his 2009 film, Objectified. The film was released in the theatres in March and made its television debut in November on PBS. Although similar to Helvetica, this film focuses on the origins and designs of objects. The term “objects” can cover almost anything: the focus of this documentary is on modern design. Something as simple as the grip on a vegetable peeler was a well thought out design created for each consumer by focusing on the needs of the weakest and strongest to find the perfect balance. The documentary examines our relationship with objects and by proxy, those that design those objects. Objectified opens viewers eyes to the process that takes place to create and perfect the products consumers us on a day-to-day basis.
On of the more interesting sections of the film was the discussion around sustainability and the future of design. Electronics in particular are designed for short-term consumption and are quickly discarded and end up in a landfill. Smart marketing makes the newest product old very quickly and leaves us craving the next new thing. The challenge for designers is to create products that are recyclable and/or reusable that also stand the test of time. The film features interview and commentary answering this question as well as many others tied to the history, present and future of design.
The documentary is smart and interesting. You may also find yourself rattling off random facts about design to your friends (which may or may not be appreciated depending on the setting). If you missed Objectified in theatres or on PBS, the film is available on DVD for rent or purchase.