My office is not well decorated. There are the typical stacks of pens and mind-numbing spreadsheets, with little else to make it unique. The only real noteworthy decoration is a glossy print-out of the LOLchair. The LOLchair always brings a smile to my face. Now that I’ve seen Gary Hustwit’s new documentary Objectified, which was screened at the Corcoran gallery on Monday night, I think of design differently. Looking at the LOLchair now, I can’t help but think the designer deliberately gave it its anthropomorphic qualities.
Like Hustwit’s previous documentary Helvetica, he provides a visually appealing crash course in design, and even helps audiences consider their world in a new light. He begins with static close-ups of appealingly designed objects, ones that are familiar to everyone. Through interviews from designers and journalists, Hustwit establishes a context for thinking about design, and highlights different approaches designers use. Using vacuum cleaners as an example, a journalist describes how form and purpose intersect: a sleek Dirtdevil might find its home on a coffee table, whereas the shape of a seemingly clunky Dyson symbolizes its considerable sucking power.
The designers themselves use language that’s not too technical, and focus on the creative aspect of their career. They discuss their methods easily, often with ample wit. An interview with an Apple designer is particularly illuminating. He argues that objects should appear as if they weren’t designed, so that people think, “Well, of course that’s how an mp3 player should look.” Other designers touch issues of sustainability, the future of design, and its economic potential. These philosophies soon become dizzying, yet Hustwit ensures viewers will not be lost. More important than any one approach is the kind of careful thinking the designers share. They want their products to improve the world and change the way people consume, even if it’s on an unconscious level.
Hustwit was available for questions after the screening. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy, and was eager to discuss his film with an audience of (mostly) industrial and graphic designers. I asked whether he knows the structure of his movie before he begins shooting. He said he generally has little idea of the final product’s structure, and that it becomes gradually clear as the interviews continue. For this 75 minute movie, Hustwit filmed an impressive eighty hours of footage – he joked that the DVD* might feature, “the seventy-nine hour director’s cut.” The questions gradually became more technical, and Hustwit deliberately positioned himself in the middle ground between designer and novice. In the end, he hopes Objectified will get non-designers curious about why objects take a particular shape. I can’t speak for others, but after Monday’s screening, I’ll certainly look at my stuff more carefully.
* Hustwit made no mention of the DVD’s release, but did say that Objectified will air on PBS later this year.