What is design?
In essence it’s everything, everywhere that has been made; not to say all of it is good design - that’s the judgement on which we decree. It’s as big as a space shuttle and as small as a drawing pin, as significant as the microchip and as insignificant as a toothpick. In one way or another design is maybe best described, more than defined, as everything between mankind and life.
It’s a big question and an even bigger answer. And it’s one that Gary Hustwit, director of Helvetica, has tackled head on in his second film Objectified. In the 75-minute documentary he goes about answering ‘what is design?’ in the only way possible, by asking luminaries from every corner of the industry to give their take on what they do and how they understand what they do in a wider context.
Jonathan Ive, Alice Rawsthorn, Dieter Rams, Paola Antonelli, Marc Newson – to name just a few of the many pontificators – talk us through design. Their answers of course vary widely to the point of being contradictory. We’re told that design is a constant process of making things better but then that the best designs are the ones that improve with age; that the finest examples of design are the things we use unconsciously but then that the ones we hold dearest are the designs we have an emotional connection with; that the skill of design is more in designing the machinery and technology that makes the final product but then that the real skill is in answering a human need better than what’s been made before.
As the credits roll you’re left wondering if there’s anything you can’t say that’s relevant about design, testament perhaps to what a big subject it is, and of course how difficult it is to define. Would it be more interesting to try and define what design isn’t? Or to make a documentary about the majority of the world who don’t think about design as we know it and challenge them on their understanding of the things they use, how they’ve adapted objects to suit their needs without realising they were unconsciously designing themselves?
Objectified is a beautiful documentary and, at the very least, an interesting insight into the minds of pioneering figures in the design world. It’s a film that raises as many questions as it answers, but covers a huge ground succinctly – from industrial design to design art, communications to transport, technology to environmental issues. And it’s not everyday you get to see Dieter Rams giggling as he prunes his bonsai tree.
We spoke to director Gary Hustwit about the film to get a glimpse of his take on the subject.