Objectified – Investigating Our Complex Relationship With Stuff

Goodlifer: Objectified - Investigating Our Complex Relationship With Stuff

Cogito Ergo Sum — I think, therefore I am, the statement made by French philosopher René Descartes in the 17th Century seems, in Western society (and largely other cultures throughout the world), to have been replaced with the more consumerist I own, therefore I am.

We work increasingly long hours so that we can buy all the stuff that a contemporary human being seemingly needs to get through life. Our choice of stuff reflects who we are, projecting an image of our choosing, perhaps more so toward ourselves than to our fellow earthlings. There is even software dedicated to indexing our countless possessions. Because how else would we remember what we have?

The point director Gary Hustwit tries to make in Objectified is not whether or not we should praise or renounce stuff, but that, whether we like it or not, we have a strong, complex relationship with the objects that surround us.

A steady stream of renowned designers talk about their process, intention and what design means to them. Braun’s former design director Dieter Rams becomes the film’s standout hero. (Good Design: The Ten Commandments of Dieter Rams is a must-read.) Besides talking about his groundbreaking, timeless product designs, he is the one to most seriously address sustainability, which in Germany is simply called common sense.

Dieter Rams, German design guru.

Dieter Rams, German design guru.

Rams designs for Braun.

Braun radios designed by Rams.

The queen of quirky simplicity, Hella Jongerius, brings us inside her studio, where, amid perfectly shaped vases, she talks about intuitive form and gives design critique to her employees, who look less than thrilled to be on camera.

Hella Jongerius, dutch minimalist perfection personified.

Hella Jongerius, dutch minimalist perfection personified.

Karim Rashid must be said to have shown a fair amount of restraint in his comments (or maybe the others landed on the cutting room floor), saying that we are all vulgar in our reluctancy to give in to progress. Stating that the way we are fetishizing ephemera, such as old 35mm cameras, we may as well use horses and carriages instead of hovercraft. (He must be as thrilled as I that NYC is planning to ban horse-drawn carriages in the city.) And, oh, those pink glasses, I wonder if they are prescription or window-pane.

Karim Rashin has a very absolutist view of what the future should look like.

Karim Rashid has a very absolutist view of what the future should look like.

Marc Newson has a table dedicated to stuff that inspires him, and it is from there that he draws inspiration when creating his designed stuff. A handwritten note on that table gives us an idea of how serious Newson is about his stuff.

Marc Newson, in his Paris studio.

Marc Newson, in his Paris studio.


Newson is serious about his stuff.

Author of Buying In: The Secret Dialog Between What We Buy and Who We Are and New York Times Consumed-columnist Rob Walker (follow him on Twitter)  is not a designer at all, but still (or maybe because of it) offered up the most interesting insights into our increasingly dysfunctional consumer culture. I buy, therefore I am.

No film like this would be complete without Jonathan Ive, Mr. Apple himself. Ive’s passion is almost scary at times. He really, truly loves the stuff he makes. On a tour of the manufacturing facility for the new one-piece aluminum laptop cases, he cradles them like they are infants, his babies.

Jonathan Ive and one of his aluminum offspring.

Jonathan Ive and one of his aluminum offspring.

We get to take a look at the design process of two major consultancies. Smart Design (whose NYC offices I was lucky enough to get a tour of a few weeks ago) showed a box of discarded prototypes for Oxo peeler handles. Anyone can appreciate the meticulous effort and tremendous amount of time that has been put into perfecting something that we can buy on Amazon for $7.99. IDEO brings us along on one of their now-infamous post-it brainstorming sessions.

Names, of Smart Design, with a box of nixed potato peeler handles.

Dan Formosa & Davin Stowell of Smart Design, with a box of nixed potato peeler handles.

Post-it-aided design thinking at IDEO.

Post-it-aided design thinking at IDEO.

Appearances are also made by British design critic Alice Rawsthorn, Japanese minimalist Naoto Fukusawa, former BMW design chief Chris Bangle and adorable conceptual design duo Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby of Dunne & Raby.

Like Hustwit’s previous blockbuster Helvetica, the interviews are highly transparent and we feel like we get to really look inside the minds (and spaces — oh, the amazing work spaces) of these design heroes. Perhaps what the film is lacking is a clear story line and main character, like the role served by the typeface in the previous film, the object as protagonist is, at times, somewhat elusive. But, then again, maybe that is precisely the point.

About author
A designer by trade, Johanna has always had a passion for storytelling. Born and raised in Sweden, she's lived and worked in Miami, Brooklyn and, currently, Ojai, CA. She started Goodlifer in 2008 to offer a positive outlook for the future and share great stories, discoveries, thoughts, tips and reflections around her idea of the Good Life. Johanna loves kale, wishes she had a greener thumb, and thinks everything is just a tad bit better with champagne (or green juice).
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