Gary Hustwit’s new film Objectified isn’t about women or using sex to sell goods and services, though he’s been asked that several times. The new film, which premieres in March at South by Southwest, is about the objects we use everyday and the industrial designers behind them, from the Bouroullec brothers in Paris to Naoto Fukasawa in Tokyo and a multitude in between.
In 2007, Hustwit became a graphic design-fan favorite when he released his documentary directorial debut Helvetica, a feature-length film about the typeface. In our March 2009 issue, we spoke with Hustwit about Objectified and here present the extended version of our interview.
How did you come up with the title Objectified?
Helvetica was easy because there was nothing else I could have possibly named that film. This one was difficult. Objects are obviously the main subject matter. I liked Objectified because it’s a little provocative, it has several different meanings.
What’s your favorite object?
I’m a Mac addict, so my MacBook Pro or iPhone. I’m also into mid-‘60s Plymouth Valiants.
What object do you use the most?
The iPhone. I can’t imagine what life was like before the iPhone—and that’s when you know it really works.
Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec inspect a Steelwood Chair (production still courtesy of Gary Hustwit)
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about industrial design while filming the documentary?
There’s not one thing. I’m like a sponge soaking up all the information and if you squeeze me, what comes out is the film. It’s amazing to meet all these people and talk to them, see the parallels and differences in everybody’s approach, hang around the studios and watch them work.
What theme came up most in your conversations with designers?
Designers are problem solvers: They’re constantly trying to do things better and reinvent things to make them more useful. Even Dieter Rams is still actively learning about new materials and technologies.
Who was your favorite interview?
I’m a big fan of Apple so Jonathan Ive was a privilege—plus he was a great interviewer. I really like Rams as well because he’s got a great philosophy, has just done such amazing work, and is a fun man to hang out with.
A team at IDEO in Palo Alto, California, discuss a toothbrush redesign (production still courtesy of Gary Hustwit)
How has making this film changed the way you look at everyday objects?
I really think about what I buy now: (A) Do I really need this? (B) What if this is the last of this object that I ever buy? I don’t want to buy chairs I’ll be sick of in five to ten years.
How do you define good design?
I like the question Paola Antonelli, curator of architecture and design at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, asks to define good design: If it didn’t exist, would anyone really miss it? Would it leave a hole in anyone’s life? I think that’s true.
What do you think is most in need of good design?
There aren’t things in need of good design, just things that shouldn’t be made in the first place. There’s a glut of cheap products that have no thought put into them and are manufactured for the sake of making money, not improving somebody’s life.
A worker at Magis' factory in Milan, Italy, assembles an Air Chair designed by Jasper Morrison (production still courtesy of Gary Hustwit)
How can good design make our lives better?
There are some cases where having a better design has direct consequences, like mosquito nets that end up saving thousands of lives in Africa. But there are also more subtle results in our daily lives: making our lives seem a little simpler so we have time to do other pleasurable things.
Who do you hope will be in the audience for Objectified?
Helvetica was for professional graphic designers and design students but also for people who just barely knew what a font was. I’m hoping that Objectified also balances that line of being accessible enough for people who have no idea about the subject matter but inspirational for people who do this for a living.
What will your next documentary be about?
I like the idea of taking a closer look at the things we take for granted and changing the way people think about them, whether it’s type or objects or whatever.
Click here to watch the trailer. Check the Objectified website for a list of cities that will be holding special screenings through April, and be sure to buy a ticket soon, as they're already selling out.