Design is how it works: Gary Hustwit’s Objectified

Objectified movie poster


Objec­ti­fied finds its the­sis in a quo­ta­tion from one of history’s prime indus­tri­al­ists, Hen­ry Ford: “Every object, whether inten­tion­al or not, speaks to who­ev­er put it there.” In oth­er words, every­thing we select, pur­chase, and inter­act with, was first designed and man­u­fac­tured by a skilled arti­san. That person’s job is to obsess about you, your body, needs and habits, and how their prod­uct might become a part of your life. Direc­tor Gary Hustwit’s pre­vi­ous doc­u­men­tary fea­ture Hel­veti­ca (read The Dork Report review) was a cel­e­bra­tion of typog­ra­phers and graph­ic design­ers, and inspired laypeo­ple to rec­og­nize the long his­to­ry and great labor that went into the type­faces they use every day on their com­put­er screens. Sim­i­lar­ly, Objec­ti­fied pro­files the often unknown indus­tri­al design­ers behind the stuff we buy.

Jonathan Ives in ObjectifiedJonathan Ives’ inner sanc­tum. After con­duct­ing this inter­view, Apple had the film­mak­ers shot.

Apple’s res­i­dent guru Jonathan Ive is per­haps the most famous design auteur fea­tured. Ive is prob­a­bly the sec­ond most famous per­son at Apple, just­ly acclaimed for his sin­gu­lar design aes­thet­ic that first caught the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion with the bon­di Blue iMac and then the stark, white, decep­tive­ly “sim­ple” iPod. Ive’s boss Steve Jobs famous­ly said that design is “not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works,” a prin­ci­ple born out in Ive’s work. Know­ing inside and out the par­tic­u­lars of dif­fer­ent mate­ri­als and man­u­fac­tur­ing is just part of design­ing a product’s exter­nals. Ive bran­dish­es pre­ci­sion-tooled parts from a dis­as­sem­bled Mac­Book Pro to illus­trate that Apple spends an enor­mous amount of time and resources not just design­ing their prod­ucts, but also the cus­tom machines and process­es nec­es­sary to mass pro­duce them.

Naoto Fukasawa in ObjectifiedNao­to Fuka­sawa rethinks the CD play­er.

Objec­ti­fied spends some con­sid­er­able time on the top­ic of sus­tain­abil­i­ty, a respon­si­bil­i­ty that regret­tably only recent­ly entered the indus­tri­al designer’s job descrip­tion. Valerie Casey of IDEO relates the incred­i­ble anec­dote of the dif­fi­cult process of devel­op­ing a new tooth­brush. When the prod­uct is final­ly ready and in stores, she embarks on a much-need­ed vaca­tion to Fiji. If you didn’t already guess where this sto­ry was going, she finds a dis­card­ed IDEO tooth­brush washed up on a beach halfway around the world. In less than a week, her prod­uct had become pol­lu­tion.

Objec­ti­fied nec­es­sar­i­ly makes a brief detour into inter­ac­tion design (this brief digres­sion would be wor­thy of a film unto itself, but in the mean­time, the curi­ous can refer to Steven John­son’s 1997 book Inter­face Cul­ture: How New Tech­nol­o­gy Trans­forms the Way We Cre­ate and Com­mu­ni­cate). When we inter­act with most ana­log prod­ucts, their form fol­lows their func­tion. As a thought exper­i­ment, would an alien from out­er space (or a Tarzan raised in the wild) be able to infer an object’s func­tion sim­ply by look­ing at it? That is like­ly the case with a spoon or chair, but not so much with an iPhone. For many prod­ucts of the dig­i­tal age, the out­ward form fac­tor gives no clues as to the func­tion. Thus, inter­ac­tion design was born with the Xerox PARC graph­i­cal user inter­face. Many of our dai­ly tasks are now abstract­ed onto a two-dimen­sion­al screen. The Apple iPhone and iPad have pop­u­lar­ized the touch­screen, which like­ly sig­nals the begin­ning of anoth­er sea change when periph­er­als like key­boards and mice will be revealed to have been a tem­po­rary evo­lu­tion­ary bump, now marked for extinc­tion.

still from ObjectifiedAwww yeah, design­ers know what time it is.

The last images we see are of the devices used to make the movie itself: a com­put­er, hard dri­ve, and cam­era. Telling­ly, the Objec­ti­fied Blu-ray edi­tion has no menu struc­ture at all. You put it in, it plays, and the sup­ple­men­tary fea­tures fol­low imme­di­ate­ly after the clos­ing cred­its. It’s a com­plete­ly guid­ed, lin­ear expe­ri­ence that speaks to the film’s ele­va­tion of the cre­ator over the con­sumer.

Offi­cial movie site:

Must read: A Hur­ri­cane of Con­sumer Val­ues by Alis­sa Walk­er

Buy any of these fine prod­ucts from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report: