A while back I wrote about the documentary Helvetica, a film about the design of typefaces produced and directed by Gary Hustwit. I recently came across another of his films, Objectified, which looks at our relationship with manufactured products and their designers. Like Helvetica, Objectified features in depth interviews with some of the worlds most renowned designers who discuss their creative process and thoughts on the evolution of design. I’ve picked out some of the designers key points (and my favourite bits) below.
Dan Formosa & Davin Stowell (Smart Design)
Clients often come and say this is our user and give the average; for example “woman, 30 years old, 2.4 kids etc” and we say, thats really interesting, but we don’t care. If we are to design a great product, then we need to know the extremes – the strongest/weakest, oldest/youngest users and so on. If we get it right for these guys then the “middle” or “average” user will take care of itself.
Dieter outlined his “10 principles of Good Design”:
- Good design should be innovative
- Good design will make a product useful
- Good design is aesthetic design
- Good design will make a product understandable
- Good design is honest
- Good design is unobtrusive
- Good design is long lived
- Good design is consistency in every detail
- Good design is environmentally friendly
- Good design is as little design as possible.
Jonny Ive (Apple)
When designing with his team at Apple they look at different attributes of the design… for example, the materials they can use, the form connected to these materials, and how a user will be able to physically connect to the product (e.g. for an iPhone everything comes through the display). He also discussed the difficulties, and rewards, of designing something using as few parts as possible – the Macbook aluminium unibody enclosure for example. For the Macbook it was more like designing a process that enabled the product to be made from 1 or 2 parts than simply designing the end product.
Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec
Design is about creating an environment where people feel good – and recognising that when people make their choices in selecting designs/products, they’re asserting themselves.
Anger and dissatisfaction play such a motivating role in what we (designers) do. I want to have things that don’t exist yet, that you can’t go out and buy… My job as a designer is to look into the future, its not to use any frame(s) of reference that exist. A key aim is also making things that are non-disposable… that don’t get dated. Marc mentions how watching the moon landing was a huge event for him – it was almost like looking at the future, and this is what he tries to accomplish in his work.
However, this does not mean abandoning everything from the past and present… People have a lot of memories which help give layers to an object – so I use a familiar craft, or something from a familiar culture, or something where you see a human scale; something sewn or iconic.
Why do we feel we need to keep revisiting old archetypes? Take the digital camera, their format & proportion – a horizontal rectangle, with the circular lens, “capture” button etc all in the same place/style as old analogue cameras. These analogue cameras had a form that was defined by the films used. We don’t use films anymore, so why do we still use the form designed to house films? There’s something almost perverse about how we live, its like we’re afraid to admit we’re in the 3rd technological revolution. I have an iPod, mobile phone and laptop and yet I’ll go home and sit on my little wood spindle, whittingale-like chairs. It’s strange – its like me working on my computer and then having to go out – what am I going to do, go get a horse and carriage… no!
David Kelley (IDEO)
If you can’t get your GPS thing working in your car, there should be a riot because they’re so poorly designed, but instead they’ll sit there and think “oh, I’m not very smart, I can’t make this satnav work”. I like setting people the test of designing something that gets better with use (his dads leather briefcase…. it will get passed on and gets better with use), there’s very few things that don’t degrade with usage.
Bill Moggridge (IDEO)
Like David Kelley, Bill really believes in the concept of wearing in, instead of wearing out a product. “Create something where the emotional relationship gets better over time, where a user becomes more fond over time.”
Rob Walker (New York Times Magazine)
The film ends with part of the interview with Rob Walker, a journalist who writes about design, who explains his really interesting view on how we relate to products and designs today.
“If I had a billion dollars to spend on a marketing campaign, it would be urging people to make the most of the products they already own. We’re so focused on the new developments that we don’t have space in our brains for the stuff in our attics, or scattered around the home. If you had 20 minutes before the hurricane arrived to pack up the items most valuable to you you’d choose those that have associated memories, or some meaning. You wouldn’t be thinking, “that ‘x’ got a great review on that design blog”, because it doesn’t mean anything to you as a person – it doesn’t reflect your story and who you are.”
Finally, a few other interesting points raised by the other designers in the documentary:
- Designers now seem to be working less on end products, and more on scenarios that will help people use (existing) products. I hope that in the future designers are the “intellectuals” used when someone is making a “policy” for people.
- Form vs Function: analogue products were usually able to allow function to follow form. For example, an alien would be able to land on Earth and work out roughly how to use a spoon or chair just through the products form. The microchip/digital age has completely changed this.
For more information about the Objectified documentary visit the official website: http://www.objectifiedfilm.com/about/