Karim Rashid wears hot pink glasses, thick rims glowing under the glare of the light. “There were always objects in my life that I was really in love with. When I was depressed as a teenager, I would just look at the alarm clock next to my bed and feel better instantly,” he says. His passion is universal among the industrial designers of Objectified. A feature-length documentary directed by Gary Hustwit, this ambitious piece explores our relationship with manufactured objects — from toothbrushes to chairs, vacuums to Macs.
In the span of an hour and a half, a dizzying cast of personalities and designers weigh in — too many to account for — and drop such a multiplicity of ideas that viewers may be left staggered and confused. Put it this way — you will never look at your iPhone the same way. Or computers. Or toothpicks.
The theme of simplicity returns throughout. “Good design is as little design as possible,” we are told. And the unfailing motto of the industrial designer? “Remove, remove, remove”. Far from a celebration of aesthetic innovation, or artistic virtuosity, the documentary shows how the most simple objects of everyday experience are as much a product of creativity as any ornate museum piece.
Some objects are necessarily more complex. Apple designer Jonathan Ive provides a glimpse into the computer design lab. The interview is shrouded in a sense of the illicit — Apple, the technological giant of the business world, laid out at its barest, most fundamental development stages. Ive’s eyes brighten as he discusses keyboards, and the designer’s drive to eliminate extraneous parts. (Somewhere, teenage Mac protégés are squealing in delight).
Still another scene finds Design Curator Andrew Blauvelt discussing the intricate design considerations of a Japanese toothpick.
It’s a bit of a jump, yes. Yet it is strangely compelling to see a Macbook and a toothpick discussed under the same umbrella. Hustwit is, after all, the director of the 2007 Helvetica, a discussion of a typeface. He is clearly not afraid to take risks.
Of course, in a documentary about mass production, there is the sustainability question. For this is where industrial designers come up against a wall, striving to meet the demands of consumerism, innovating an endless parade of new (but ultimately unnecessary) objects. While Objectified certainly presents the environmental concerns of mass production, the documentary avoids any decisive position or call to action. This is, perhaps, where the work falls short. With so many angles, so many personalities, so many products and objects and ideas, Objectified is like an unthreaded tapestry that leaves the viewer to figure things out alone.
Nonetheless, if Hustwit’s only agenda was to make the audience think, he has certainly succeeded. Far from being a raillery against consumerism, or a straightforward call for sustainability, he privileges process over politics. The result catalyzes the viewer into overdrive, negotiating the disparate considerations of manufacturing, consumer culture, consumption, and environmentalism.
And as for aesthetics? Ultimately, Hustwit presents a documentary not of beauty, but of practicality. And for the numerous designers of Objectified, it is clear that the two are synonymous.
Objectified opens at Cinema du Parc today. For movie times see www.cinemaduparc.com/english/prochainemente.php?id=obj#top