Documentary Site started as an outlet for my interests in documentary 15 years ago. Since then, my presence has expanded to writing, managing Twitter fans, and connecting with makers, promoters, and fans of documentary. Probably three of the coolest things to come from this endeavor are being invited to write for POV, visiting Kartemquin studios, and leading a discussion after a screening of The Trials of Muhammad Ali. My current project involves watching and writing about 365 documentaries in 2014. Feel free to send along your suggestions via Twitter @documentarysite!

#365Docs: Objectified (30/365)

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I’m watching 365 documentaries and writing about each one in 2014. Tweet your suggestions to @documentarysite, or send an e-mail to hmcintosh@documentarysite.com. Read more.

Note: This post may contain spoilers.

Objectified is the second part in a trilogy directed by Gary Hustwit about the roles of design in contemporary society.

This 2009 documentary focuses on the seemingly invisible role design plays in the creation and application of everyday objects, from something as simple as utensils to something as complex as cars. Much thought goes into the creation every object, which balances designing for more challenged users, such as someone with arthritis, and designing ultimately for mass production and consumption.

These mass-produced items also embody stories of their own gained from the cultural rituals surrounding them. While a couple experts share those stories, the documentary’s greater focus lies more on the design thinking that informs, though arguably that thinking is informed by those very same rituals.

The documentary explores object design as well as design philosophy and its applications at a corporate level. Some segments show the design process for a vegetable peeler or a hedge trimmer, while other segments connect design with corporate image, namely Apple. Apple Senior Vice President of Design Jonathan Ive offers some insight into what process means for the company. “It feels almost un-designed,” he says, commenting on the complex relationship of all the work that goes into the design despite an object’s simple appearance. As Dieter Ram, a designer who worked for Braun and oversaw the design of more than 500 products, claims, “Good design is as little design as possible.”

The microchip complicates contemporary design by blurring the line between form and function. Design critic Alice Rawsthorn cites the iPhone as an example.

While design carries with it associations of elitism, the documentary attempts to break that image down some, citing examples of Target and Ikea as companies bringing design to everyday audiences.

The running theme of design for mass production raises the question about excess and audience. Sustainability offers a challenge, and one artist noted that much ends up in a landfill. Further, the audience in mind for the designs already owns plenty, so why continue designing for them? (To keep the consumption processes driving some economies going.)

Objectified includes interviews with key figures in today’s design world from around the world. Unlike Helvetica, Objectified includes more women experts and brings their voices in more frequently.

Montages of images render the designed objects in a way that forces a “re-seeing” of them for their details and not just their function. For the most part the images’ inclusion makes sense — such as the sleep indicator light or the charge indicator lights on a MacBook Pro — but other times they appear random, such as children riding bicycles.

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Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh started Documentary Site as a resource for documentary media and has greatly enjoyed the connections it has fostered over the years.