Weekends in our household are spent with our good friend Netflix. By now Netflix knows me better than I know myself; when Netflix guesses just how many stars I’ll give a particular film, Netflix is usually right. It’s all very Jetsons-ish. When it comes to weekend viewing, I just sit back and let Netflix do my choosin’ for me. Now if only Rosie would come up to my computer and- with a few robotic this-es and thats – enter the movie into my Netflix queue, the vision of the future according to the Jetsons would be fulfilled. I could just sit back and drink my slurpee and watch away. (No, I don’t really drink slurpees, I just wanted to invoke an apt image of sloth.)
This weekend’s viewing included the documentary Objectified, a film on the world of industrial design and how it intersects with all of our lives, every single day, whether or not we are aware of this fact. It’s strange to consciously realize that everything we use was designed by someone – usually with an end toward function that, if executed well, does not draw attention to its design. Meaning, our favorite pen is our favorite pen because it works so beautifully, not because we are conscious that it was “well-designed”.
Objectified is a very compelling movie because, among other design luminaries, we get to listen to Jonathan Ive, head designer for the nearly universally-admired Apple, talk in special design language about what his team tries to accomplish with each new product. A low point is Karim Rashid, who seems as self-important as I had always speculated he might be, holding forth about how “perverse” it is that we use products and pieces that are completely irrelevant to the time in which we live. He used spindle chairs as an example. Well, if a spindle chair – or any item – is still perfectly useful, in spite of the Rashid World drawback of being made in a material as anachronistic as wood (from a tree – so old world. In a bad way.), it seems perfectly reasonable to sit on that same spindle chair. I admit to a personal bias here – I do after all, trade in old stuff, and am as far removed from cutting edge as it is possible to be and still be alive – but a world filled only with Rashid-approved objects and spaces gives me the creeps. As far as I can tell, other than a few nods to organic shapes (like wombs and other curvy places), he completely eschews everything natural in favor of this:
Imagine spending time in such a kaleidoscope, especially combined with banned substances. Like a rave for people with money.
Rob Walker of the venerable New York Times was interviewed as well. He brought up the Target phenomenon of bringing its big-box customers together with the headier world of sort-of high design, introducing the masses to designers like Michael Graves or Rachel Ashwell (though I’m thinking that Rachel Ashwell doesn’t need much of an introduction to the proletariat). I was hoping for something more from this line of thought: namely, that Target has not done its customers any favors by bringing out cheap junk masquerading as well-designed cheap junk. You still have to deal with the problem of where this stuff came from, who made it, and where it will go when it dies. The dilemma of the Western world: how do we think about our stuff? Objectified is a good place to start.