Industrial design is the art that hides itself. In the end, function always trumps form no matter how beautiful the play between the two. Would, say, an Eames chair still be talked about if it didn’t work as a place to rest? Even the most striking pieces of design have a way of disappearing into the fabric of the everyday. Look how quickly the iPod has gone from being an almost-alien piece of hardware to another thing to pick up on the way to the gym.
With Objectified, director Gary Hustwit (Helvetica) wants to get viewers thinking about industrial design. To that end, he’s collected interviews with top minds from Apple, IDEO, Smart, and others, tying them together into a free-floating discussion of design’s past and future. Hustwit supplements the talking heads with often-hypnotic footage of everyday objects being designed, manufactured, and used.
It’s a fascinating subject obviously close to the filmmaker’s heart, but Hustwit has a hard time making the fascination infectious. While intriguing ideas surface here and there—the digital era design’s shift from tangible mechanical objects to intangible data, for instance—Objectified glides from one notion to the next without digging too deeply into anything or even finding much continuity between one interview and the next. Topics that might sustain entire films recede into to the background just as they get interesting. Objectified feels Twitterized. It provides just enough information to invite further study without going into much detail. It’s an intriguing film about what goes on beneath the surface of the objects we take for granted, but one that never digs as deep as it should.