The film Objectified takes a behind-the-scenes looks at the everyday objects that dominate our lives – providing rarely seen insight and interviews with the people who brought them in to the world. The film is a primer. It’s the sort of thing that every would-be designer and student should watch before embarking on a career in the profession – because although it’s wrapped in a rich layer of cinematic lovely-ness, it also hints at the sheer blood, sweat and compromise that sits behind every industrially designed product that surrounds us today.
Sitting and listening to relatively secretive people – like Jonathan Ive at Apple, talk about their products, and their own design philosophy is enjoyable whether you’re in the profession, or simply an interested observer – the products provide a lynch pin around which everyone can engage.
Objectified didn’t start life as a book, but one suspects that from the research and interviews conducted here, and on the video cutting-room floor, lies a much more interesting, in depth piece that would make a cracking book. Indeed, anyone already working in the profession may find a good book on design (I recommend Bill Moggridge’s Designing Interactions) a more insightful way to spend time and learn new things. This isn’t to say that the film is without merits, merely that the viewer is left wanting to find out more.
The first half of the film is largely concerned with the way things come into being, and what actually represents good design. It’s the sort of information that most are probably already aware of – designer’s sketching, thinking, prototyping, the mass production process. It’s quite compelling to watch – because it’s filmed in a sweet way and the designers provide good sound bites – but doesn’t really tell us anything new.
Above: a trailer for Objectified
Where the film gets both more interesting, but also more frustrating, is in its second half. Here it moves away from the basic building blocks of design, and on to some of the issues facing the world today. As one might expect, sustainability is brought up – and one gets a profound sense from guys like the founders of IDEO of how the issue has come from nowhere, to be top priority, within just a few decades. The most pertinent comment that stemmed from this was a question about how designers might challenge an oft-unmentioned fundamental behind design, which involves building obsolescence into products in order to create more and more crap, which the ten percent of the world’s population who already have way too much crap already, will go out and buy. It was pleasing that this led into a discussion about designing things that improve with age, and discussion of cradle-to-cradle design processes.
Yet I say the film frustrates, because points like this aren’t explored in enough depth. Perhaps this is the design nerd talking, but if we’re considering the future of the design of things, then the critical issues were only scratched at, without ever penetrating below the surface.
The perspective on how digital interaction and the microchip has the power to change the form of products – but how it doesn’t appear to be doing so in many cases (cameras as the example) – was thought provoking. Chris Bangle once again talked about the importance of the product as a personal avatar – asking the question of what the generation growing up today truly wants from its products. He wondered out loud as to whether it would be a service-based function, or a form-based desire.
I kept trying to work out who the film was aimed at. Its makers appear to be trying to walk a fine line between appealing to a mass, non-designer audience, and providing brain food for those already in the profession. By a hair’s width they get away with it, because overall it’s an appealing watch, and to a designer, much of what goes unsaid here is the interesting, thought-provoking part.
The burning issue is not simply how designers use their skills to make the world a better place (which is what everyone sets out to do, right?). But how they actually break out from within the secretive walls of the studio, to go and really see and understand what’s happening in real people’s lives in the real world, involving them in the design process along the way. At present, certain design disciplines (I’m looking especially at you, automotive world) do this extremely badly. As one of the designers in the film suggested, sometimes the most innovative, clever designs, aren’t designed at all. They’re just elegant, impromptu solutions that someone with no formal training has created to solve a specific problem. Objectified reminds us that we would all do well to remember that.