DocuMondays – Objectified

Objectified (2009, dir. Gary Hustwitt)

Take the toothpick. There is a particular design, Japanese in origin, where the toothpick had a designed head, almost like ridges. This head can be broken off as a signal that the toothpick is in use, always a good thing. It can also be used as a rest for the toothpick so that the point doesn’t touch any surfaces, like so. I doubt many of us view toothpicks with much contemplation on a daily basis, yet we use them fairly frequently. Objectified is a documentary looking at all those aspects of an object we spend zero time thinking about, but the interviewees has devoted their lives to examining.

Director Hustwitt, responsible for the similar and interesting documentary Helvetica, explores a very modernist approach to design. Apple is mentioned many times as a company on the cutting edge of premier, sleek design. One on the interviewees is Jonathan Ive, the man behind the iMac in all its iterations and talks about the focus on monitor tube of the first iMac to the now self-contained flat screen monitor of the current. We see the raw aluminum slate that is processed to create the frame of the MacBook laptop and Ive emphasizes all the thought that went into these particular materials in this particular shape, and how the average user will never think or realize this.

While there is much focus on industrial design, many of the commentators talk about the need to create new sustainable objects while simultaneously learning to find appreciation in the objects we already have. One of the interesting ideas in relation to sustainability is presented by Karim Rashid, a rather flamboyment and dynamic designer. Rashid posits that to solve the problem of landfills brimming over with garbage we design objects that are disposable from the start, and he includes high end electronics like cell phones and laptops. I have to say its intriguing to think of a cell phone with a high quality cardboard shell that could easily be tossed out and its sim chip placed in a new shell for cheap. Or even a laptop where you boot from a thumb drive and the computer itself is merely a way to interact with the data on that drive and access the internet.

Critic Rob Walker was the most enjoyable to listen to, as he presented the side of realizing that the objects one has already accrued contain more emotional value to the user than the Now object which is new and we are told we must have. He presents the scenario where your house is on fire and the things you grab as you run out are not those things that scored particularly well in a review you read somewhere, rather they are things that inform you about yourself in someway. Walker also discusses the corporate marketing around objects that he believes causes the quality of materials to be downgraded. He refers to this idea of desiring new as the New Now, which is designed to make the previous New Now become Then. All in all, a lot of interesting ideas presented by people who are experts in every sense of the word about design.

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