The website for Objectified asks an interesting question, "How many manufactured objects did you touch this morning, between waking up and leaving your house?" The answer is a lot more than you'd expect. Nearly everything you touch and encounter in life that is man made was specifically designed at some point, whether it's your fork, your pepper grinder, or the table you eat on. The computer you're using to read this article was most likely obsessively sketched, spec'd, and confabbed about over conference tables before the design was finalized. But most people don't even consider what went into creating it because the design is transparent to them.
Objectified wants to fix that by calling attention to the work that goes into crafting the things we use every day; from toothbrushes, to laptops, to chairs, to potato peelers. It's directed by Gary Hustwit, the same guy behind the typography documentary Helvetica, although it's not quite as engaging as that movie. You end up with intriguing scenes of objects being machined and lots of talking heads with lots to say but in boring static shots. Why not turn those into voiceovers to show us more visual design porn?
One of the scenes scratches the surface at what might have been: a decent amount of time with Jonathan Ive in the top-secret innards of Apple talking about their aluminum case designs, and it scratches the surface of an Apple design documentary that doesn't exist. Yet. But the rest of Objectified feels a bit loose and messy as we jump arbitrarily from designer to designer talking about the values of polyvinyl extruded chairs, while glossing over Eames and his contributions. Or rather, non-contributions since he used a ton of fiberglass in his creations. In a day and age of going green, that's a big no-no.
There's a deeper film lying somewhere underneath Objectified, and BMW's Chris Bangle scratches the surface of it when he says, "Cars are like avatars." They become an extension of your personality to the outside world. Dan Formosa of Smart Design takes it further by saying that in design, "If we understand what the extremes are, the middle will take care of itself." Even Karim Rashid, who designed the Kone vacuum cleaner for Dirt Devil has an interesting take on digital cameras that goes unexplored. He explains that the design of the camera was dictated by how the film was loaded into it, but now that we don't have film anymore, why do cameras still look the same?
It's an interesting question, and there are plenty of interesting moments in Objectified, but as a whole it feels a bit like a ship without a rudder. For instance, at one point there's a long scene showing people walking around almost hypnotically, mesmerized by their cell phones while a Phillip Glass-esque song plays in the background. It's a wonderful and terrifying scene that feels like another film for a few moments... and then we're back to talking heads. Near the ending, there's a quote from the New York Times' Rob Walker about wanting a return to objects meant to last forever: "The objects you already own. Why not enjoy them today?" It's a great point, and it begs another film about retro products like bakelite radios and steel chrome ovens. Maybe someday.
If you're into industrial design, you'll probably enjoy Objectified as it is, but I was left wanting more. Gary Hustwit is already working on a third design-based film that he hopes he can close out his "little design trilogy" with. One thing is for certain, and that's the fact that more filmmakers should have websites/blogs like Objectified's. It's nice to see an enthusiastic filmmaker blog and harp on his movie.