Gary Hustwit on Objectified

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Holy design porn! The trailer for Objectified, the upcoming documentary about industrial design, dropped earlier this week and set many design hearts aflutter.

Following his 2007 release, Helvetica, producer and director Gary Hustwit now examines the objects that make up our world through conversations with the famed designers who created them. Helvetica, his directorial debut, paid homage to the famed font and graphic design gods like Wim Crouwel and Michael Bierut.

Similarly, Objectified compiles interviews with industrial design superstars the world over, from Apple's Jonathan Ive, MoMA design curator Paola Antonelli and BMW's Chris Bangle to Naoto Fukasawa, the Japanese designer whose accomplishments include the Muji wall-mounted CD player.

Hustwit has built anticipation for the release through a blog promoting the film, which has chronicled his travels for the film since summer. The film will premier mid-March and will be in wide release in May.

Hustwit took a break from the editing room to talk to us about the film.

After Helvetica, why did you decide to focus on industrial design?

I think it's a really interesting time for industrial designers right now. They're at the middle of this whole conversation that's going on about sustainability, consumerism and materials. I wanted to get their side of the story. To take a look at the type of issues that they're thinking about and then look at how those issues and how their work affects us as the users of all this stuff.

What binds the many aspects of industrial design in the film?

Even though these people might be working in different areas of I.D., the strategies, the thought processes and the creative processes are remarkably similar, so that's what we tend to focus on-—looking at these people, their creativity and how that gets channeled into the objects they're designing. In a certain way, it's not even about the objects, it's about the thinking behind them.

Who has been following the blog? Just designers?

It's probably split between people who are somehow involved in design, whether it's I.D. or graphic design, and people that are the buyers of all this stuff. You have this whole other side of design: the people that are the consumers of these objects. Hopefully the film gets people to reexamine what their relationship is to all this stuff. I'm doing that as well.

What were the major challenges in this project?

Well, with a film like this, there's no set story; there's no set narrative. The "narrative" comes out of the conversations you had with all these different designers. You go back and look at them in the editing room and the themes and the issues that are on everyone's minds come out. And then we thread all of them together to create the narrative arc.

There's also a fine line between being too wonky and too obvious. We want it to be accessible to people who don't know anything about I.D., but we also want it be engaging to people who know a lot about it.

Japanese industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa with his Muji wall-mounted CD player.
Japanese industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa with his Muji wall-mounted CD player.


Can you share an anecdote to preview what we can expect for the film?

I'd never been to Japan before and I went to Tokyo for a week. Spending the day in Naoto Fukasawa's studio was incredible. Also, the Japanese have such a different relationship to the object; objects are imbued with a soul for many people. It's really interesting to see that and, in our conversations with Naoto, the difference between Japanese and Western countries in both design and the way people use designed objects. And just hanging out in Tokyo for a week and filming on the subways was a treat.

Your resume doesn't look like that of a designer or a director. How did you come to design and filmmaking?

I've been involved in independent media projects, from punk rock record labels in the 80s to independent book publishing and web projects over the past 20 years. I bought a Macintosh in '87 and everything I've done since then has somehow involved graphic design. I didn't go to school or anything; I just self-taught on the Mac. Graphic design has enabled me to do so much, whether it's designing a poster for a band I'm friends with or publishing books. It's just a thread that's gone through everything. Even though I've never been a professional graphic designer, design has enabled me to do so much creative work. I didn't go to film school either. The most important quality for a documentary film maker is just curiosity. The way that I find out about things I'm interested in is by doing these films; hopefully other people get something out of them, too.
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