Movie Review: "Objectified"

March 15, 2012

I can’t pretend to be exceptionally knowledgeable about product design, but as an almost-architect, I like to think I know a decent amount. So I’ve considered it my duty to watch Gary Hustwit’s trilogy on design, Helvetica (on typefaces), Objectified (on product/industrial design), and Urbanized (on urban design). I haven’t gotten to the third one yet, but I wanted to go ahead and discuss the first two before I forget.

Like Helvetica, I thought Objectified was a nice, shiny tribute to the design world, providing a narrow range of viewpoints on design (“does design matter more than everything else, or just more than most things?") without really convincing the viewer that design matters at all. The sequences showing items in production were cool, but none of the talking heads and silent panning shots did much to persuade me of anything. I wish the director had done more editorializing. The most engaging person he interviewed explained how Apple laptops are manufactured from individual aluminum extrusions; the most ridiculous, a curator saying she thinks designers should lead the world. Everyone in between was busy making stuff without thinking too much about it, or thinking only to the extent required by the design community.

Although it’s fun to see designers at work in their shiny happy world, and despite the token nod to “the importance of sustainability” at the end (punctuated with sighs of “the old masters of product design didn’t have to deal with this, weren’t they lucky”), I didn’t feel much moved or enlightened at the end of the 75 minutes. I can recognize a few more names on the wall in MoMA’s architecture & design section, but that’s about it.

Here’s to hoping for more substance in Urbanized.