May 18, 2011

"Objectified": The Design of Everyday Things

"There is a story embedded in every object." Andrew Blauvelt, Design Curator, Walker Art Center.

While I was unpacking my new iMac recently, I marveled at the care put into the packaging: every item was presented so beautifully that unwrapping each was an aesthetic pleasure. Right after that, I watched with special interest the marvelous film Objectified, an exploration of the world of industrial design by the director Gary Hustwit, whose earlier documentary Helvetica, about the font, I also loved. The film opened with several scenes of heavy machinery, above, making plastic chairs. Everything was photographed with a wonderful eye for shape and color and space, so much so that I spent some hours doing thumbnail sketches of screen captures as ideas for my textiles.

Things we use every day, that we barely think about, have been designed by someone, with more, or less, thought.

The redesign, with a fat soft handle, of the metal potato peeler of my youth came about when designers were trying to find a handle that would be usable for someone with arthritis: "design to extremes".

Dieter Rams, a major German industrial designer, head of design for Braun for many years, has a list of ten essentials for good design, which I find very interesting to think of in relation to the objects we share our lives with:
Good design should be innovative design.
Good design should make a product useful.
Good design is aesthetic design.
Good design will make a product understandable. (so when you buy something that's hard to figure out, it's not your fault, it's not well designed [my comment].
Good design is honest.
Good design is unobtrusive.
Good design is long lived.
Good design is consistent in every detail.
Good design is environmentally friendly.
Good design is as little design as possible.

And from Andrew Blauvelt again, speaking of the Dyson vacuum cleaner:
The form of the vacuum expresses the symbolism of function.
Design is the search for form.


  1. I knew you were a Mac girl. :0)

  2. Altoon, the MacGirl!
    When I first started using my MacBook,
    I thought it was a useful tool for my work.
    Now I'm almost convinced that it writes the stuff for me,
    and all I gotta do is write in my name.

  3. Loved this movie!
    There was another one about typeface, called Helvetica (?), which was also nice.

  4. yep, I'm definitely a Mac girl, from my first computer, which was an old one-piece Mac, basically a word processor with a tiny green screen, to now.
    sg, I also saw Helvetica and mentioned in my second sentence that I loved it. I'm looking forward to Hustwit's third film in the series which is called Urbanized, not out yet.

  5. Oh, you mentioned Helvetica.
    Never mind.

  6. I loved the film Helvetica, I am putting Objectified in my Netflix cue!

  7. Wonderful post Altoon. Thank you for this.

  8. Thanks, Altoon, for this wonderful post. I remember opening my iPod box and marvelling at both the beauty of the thing itself and the elegance of the packaging. We'll be watching those documentaries on design.

  9. This film had so much to think about; really loved it. And looking at your images reminded me that I always use a wood hair comb (from China) as it doesn't transfer any static electricity the way the plastic combs do. I am familiar with a Dyson but never used one. Bought a similar one that was so loud you really needed to wear ear protectors when using it. When we got our new all wool carpet we were told specifically not to use a Dyson as it would be bad for the carpet; too strong a pull and would affect the nap as I recall.

  10. Nice post. I am in the process of spending many hours reworking, and rethinking some former products. It's hard to get my head into a project I once considered finished. Maybe it's my personality type that wants to be working on something "new". Or maybe it's that ever present ego wanting the gratification of a new completed form. But with patience, there it was...the newness appeared out of the old. I had to get over the self-satisfaction of the "finished" product. The fact that I had forgotten some of the original thought process made me re-examine and apply the newness that had occurred in me over time. It is rare we see perfection. Even in nature there is constant change. If we aspire to high standards in what we do, we are always moving towards something better. "Finished" is just a word that allows us to move on.

  11. john, so you're an industrial designer? I like your phrase "'finished' is just a word that allows us to move on". This is really important I think; we need to accept the best we can do at the moment and let it go.