Q&A with Gary Hustwit
How long have you had the intention to make Objectified?
The idea came to me right when I finished Helvetica two years ago. Making Helvetica, actually just making a film, since Helvetica was my first, got my mind spinning with other subjects that I wanted to explore. I’ve found that making a documentary is a great way to learn about something you’re interested in. And I like to treat these films as explorations, or learning experiences, both for me and for the audience. I’m just curious about a lot of things in this world, so I’m planning on making a lot of documentaries.
Did you have a clear idea before you started making Objectified what the film’s ‘message’ would be?
Absolutely not. I approach these films as explorations of a subject I’m interested in learning more about, and it’s the conversations I have with the designers that determine the film’s content and trajectory. As for a “message,” I don’t think there’s really a message in either film; a documentary doesn’t have to have a message, or even a story. These films are about questions, they’re about getting the viewer to question and re-examine their own relationship to the subject matter.
How long did the film take to make?
Objectified took 18 months to make: six months of pre-production, six months of filming, and six months of editing, although we continued to film throughout the editing process. We probably shot about 80 hours total, for a 75-minute film. So in a way, the decisions about what to leave out become more important than what to leave in.
Did anyone you filmed radically change the way you thought about design?
I think my understanding of the design process was radically changed. In the film, Jony Ive talks about how his team at Apple spends as much time designing the manufacturing systems that enable them to make the product, as they do designing the products themselves. So one doesn’t just wake up one morning and say, “I’m going to design the MacBook Air today.” You can’t even begin to design a product like that until you’ve figured out the way you’re going to manufacture it, how you’re going to hold that thin piece of aluminium through the different machining stages. That’s an issue that I don’t think many non-designers consider when they look at a product.
Why do you feel there’s such a need for people to define what ‘design’ means?
Maybe because the reach of design is so broad… everything in our world is designed. Political systems are designed, cities are designed, even we as human beings have been designed in a sense, through evolution. I think we all share the desire to understand the world around us. And I think design is so difficult to understand specifically because it’s so ubiquitous. How can someone understand every piece of this manufactured environment we’ve created?
Do you think there’s a need to educate people about design?
I do, because I think the more the average consumer understands about the designers, their processes, and the issues facing design, the better and more critical consumers they become. We talk about sustainability in the film, and I get a lot of questions about what designers are doing to make products more responsibly. My answer is that it’s not just about the designers, it’s about us, the users of all this stuff. No one is putting a gun to our head and forcing us to buy unsustainable products. By continuing to buy them, we’re enabling the companies that make them. I’m not anti-consumerism, but I’m pro-considered consumerism. We should all be re-examining the objects in our lives, and how we consume them.
What’s your next project?
Halfway through making Objectified, I began to feel that it was a companion piece to Helvetica in a way, hence the similar shooting aesthetic, and music. And I also saw a third design film in my head, the last piece of this little design trilogy. So that’s the next project. I can’t talk about the subject matter yet, but I think it’s much more ambitious than the first two films. Just think of Objectified as The Empire Strikes Back and the next one’s The Return of the Jedi.