Product Design: Secular Religion or Useful Hobby?

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Product design: secular religion or useful hobby? Objectified: A Documentary Film Directed by Gary Hustwit, 2009 DVD 75 mins + 60 mins of extras. Language: English, German, French, Dutch and Japanese; English subtitles Swiss Dots, £17.99, $24

Reviewed by Ken Garland

Encouraged, no doubt, by the well deserved success of his first documentary, Helvetica (2007; see Eye 64), Gary Hustwit has followed with a more wide-ranging exercise, turning most of his attention to product design. Over a running time of 75 minutes he interviews designers, journalists and museum curators about the designer's role in society. Faceto- camera sessions are interspersed with tracking and panning shots of products, from children's toothbrushes to swanky sports cars. The opinions expressed are equally varied: one moment, for example, we are offered common-sense views on the importance of ergonomics; the next, Dieter Rams, director of design at Braun ...., 1962-95, is seen declaiming, yet again, his litany of design principles (good design is aesthetic, good design makes a product understandable, good design is unobtrusive...). Further on, we are told that 'design is the search for form', then that, if designs are properly thought out, its user 'should grow a little more fond of them with time'.

Many of us in the biz will have heard views of this sort at one time or another; what makes this film overwhelming is the sheer profusion of them, jostling one another in rapid succession. You find yourself thinking, 'Hang on a bit, let's hear that again', or, 'How did we get from there to here? …