“Objectified,” Gary Hustwit’s documentary about industrial design, is as sleek and handsome as any of the new and improved household items it exhibits. The opening montage quirkily highlights how many things are "designed" and alludes to almost all the products covered later in the film. Design here is represented as a mediating practice, shaping people’s relationships to objects.
The film includes contributions from Apple, IDEO, BMW Group and other renowned designers from across the globe, and incorporates design domains ranging from common household furniture, tools, and utilities to computers, cars and even brand experiences. Whether the item is a potato peeler, a computer or a toothbrush, there is a talking head to explain why it looks and feels the way it does. Dieter Rams, German design master, is the guru, reciting his Ten Commandments of Good Design over a montage of products he designed for Braun. Marc Newson is the visionary: "I want to be able to have things that don't exist."
Mostly, Objectified is a lot of blather about architect Louis Sullivan’s “law,” which is that form follows function. However by featuring mostly interviews rather than in-depth insights into the objects themselves, Objectified refuses to consider the objects, which is the real measure of each designer. Hustwit is not a filmmaker. He’s an interviewer, which gets to the larger issue of why Objectified’'s appeal is limited: There’s no aesthetic, no evident discriminating consciousness behind the documentary. Ironically, Hustwit’s objectivity, his inability or unwillingness to discuss the relative beauty and utility of these objects, makes us indifferent to them.
The biggest challenge to a field that has traditionally served the industrial goal of planned obsolescence, according to the movie, is a growing awareness that the world is being overrun by trash; sooner or later most of today’s well-designed products will end up in landfills. There is a need for “sustainability,” for products that will “wear in” rather than “wear out.” But old habits — especially highly profitable ones — die hard.