Objectified (2009)

The Principals: Director: Gary Hustwit, Jonathan Ive, Karim Rashid, Dieter Rams, many more

The Premise:
A spiritual and aesthetic sequel to the sublime documentary, Helvetica, Objectified attempts to point a similar lens at the much wider topic of product design. Speaking with designers in all fields and disciplines, the filmmaker explores a variety of issues, schools of thoughts, and case studies that illustrate the complexity of product design, and the constancy with which it affects our modern lives. Along with the standard entry, on the next page you’ll find the (extensive) transcript of a Q&A with filmmaker Gary Hustwit that occurred after a screening of the film at the Savannah College of Art & Design last year.

Is It Good: Yes, though not quite as great as Helvetica. Without as clear a point of conflict as emerged from the modernist vs. post-modernist debate that surrounds the use of Helvetica, the film lacks as specifically targeted a narrative drive to give it the same impact. That said, the overview of the myriad of topics and controversies is effective enough to give you an entryway into the large and encompassing world of design. Ultimately it manages to achieve that very special thing that it shares with Helvetica–  you walk away from the film changed in the way you look at the world around you. Helvetica and Objectified both explore things that are so overwhelmingly present in our lives, that to suddenly bring focus, context, and attention to them is almost dizzying. You are rendered literally incapable of looking around you the same way without analyzing the objects and words surrounding you– obviously the hyper-focus fades, but it does give the film a strange drug-like quality.

Is It Worth A Look: Absolutely. There are some incredible interview with designers both known and unknown. Naturally, a large chunk of the film is devoted to Apple and good ole Johnny Ive, the company and the man who are responsible for the products that have unarguably shaped the path of consumer electronics in the last decade. This comes after a segue from a conversation with the famous Dieter Rams who mentions them specifically as the one company truly concerned with design (seemingly aghast that it’s an American company). There’s certainly some idolatry going on, but the information and thoughts presented are universal.

While one may lament the lack of a driving question, there are a ton of conflicts in the product design world that bear investigation- longevity vs. planned obsolescence, design vs. engineering, sustainability vs. optimum materials, and more. Most of these topics could drive a movie by themselves, so it’s admirable that Objectified manages to give each one due attention.

Fortunately for the design-curious reader, both Helvetica and Objectified are available for streaming from Netflix’s Instant Watch service. I would encourage you to watch them both, and then check out the Q&A on the next page.

Random Anecdotes: Hustwit’s next film, Urbanized, promises to again touch the way we look at our immediate surroundings as he focuses on city planning, and urban development. The film will be released next year.

Cinematic Soulmates: Helvetica | So Right, So Smart