I saw Objectified the other night. It’s a Gary Hustwit (of Helvetica fame) documentary about industrial design, and its effect on our lives. I enjoyed the movie, it’s great to see a little bit behind the scenes of how things are designed, and the people he interviewed were thoughtful and intelligent on the subject.
Early on in the film, he makes the point that every man-made object has been designed, nothing is accidental. But then later, you see stores like Ikea and Target which explicitly sell you on the idea of “Design for the masses”. Which made me realize that when someone talks about “design”, they mean “good design”, or at worst, “self-conscious design”.
But I thought the most telling part of the film was near the end when the journalist Rob Walker proposes a thought experiment: imagine a hurricane will strike your house in 20 minutes, what do you grab? And the answer is that it has nothing to do with the design of things. It’s only about your emotional connection to them, usually based on what you see through and beyond them (photos or heirlooms, for example). It seemed to be a coda to the film that basically said, “As cool as this intentional design is, it doesn’t really matter.” Good design gets products in the door, it may be why you buy something in the first place, but it won’t be what gets it onto your 20-minute grab list.
The designers throughout the film talked about that, about needing to make a connection with people, about understanding them and designing an object well enough to touch them at a deep level, but I don’t know if there’s anything a designer can do to get his work onto the grab list. Good design can surround us with beauty and function and comfort, but in the end, it’s the Rosebuds in our lives that really matter.