As an investor, founder, CEO and business book author, I write about startups, design, how to build a good business, and I like to muse about culture in any form.


Poster from film Objectified

Poster from film Objectified

I took two of my sons to see the new documentary on industrial design:  Objectified. (Yes, that would be a big night out for the Pieris.)  It was created by Gary Hustwit, who also created a scintillating (I am dead serious) film on type design, called Helvetica. You don’t have to be design geeks, like me and my sons, to enjoy these films.

I like the arc of Objectified.  At first I was worried because Hustwit starts with a well-done but pretty obvious primer on the basic process of industrial design (interviews with Dieter Rams of Braun, the Smart design folks who do all the OXO stuff, Bill Moggridge who created the field of interaction design).  But it is a thoughtful base upon which to layer some of the more philosophical questions of consumerism, sustainability and policy making which are a big part of the design profession these days.

Anyway, you should go see it, or put it in your Netflix queue,  if you care at all about design. Take your kids (over age 10)–they’ll get it.  We are surrounded by this manufactured stuff, but most of us don’t think enough about products and their meaning in our life and living environments.  Here are some thoughts I enjoyed:

Jonathan Ive, Apple designer

Jonathan Ive, Apple designer

From Jonathan Ive (central designer at Apple, since a very long time):

One of the curses of being a designer is we can’t look at anything without thinking, ‘Why is it like that, and not like this.’ In that way, we are constantly designing.

From Gary Hustwit:

We have an ongoing conversation with designers through the objects they create.

From Rob Walker, NYT writer:

At the end of the day, if you thought a hurricane was about to hit your house in 20 minutes, what would you grab?  You wouldn’t take something because it had a good review in a design blog.  You would take the objects that reflect the true story of you.  The ones that tell your true narrative, because you are the only audience that matters

That comment really delighted me because one of our early Grommets was a book called Taking Things Seriously.  It’s full of exactly that kind of personal narrative, as told through treasured objects.  It was very inspirational to me in creating Daily Grommet.

From my 17-year-old son Gray, upon seeing the director Gary Hustwit take the stage,

He looks normal.

From my design student son Dane, upon spotting a gray-haired pony-tailed man in black designerly garb,

That’s Matthew Carter who designed the typeface Verdana.  He was in Helvetica.

Photo by Ralph Gibson

Photo by Ralph Gibson

From me, rather cattily, after hearing a senior representative of the prominent design firm IDEO give one vapid answer after another (She shared the stage with Gary Hustwit, and–full disclosure–I worked for their competitor for five years so I am not objective about IDEO, truly.)

Some designers have an amazing talent for stringing together impressive-sounding words that seem deep and thoughtful but actually just parrot trendy thoughts and say nothing.

From my son Gray, after I asked Gary (and the vapid woman from IDEO) a question,

I was nervous when you raised your hand to speak…I was pretty sure you were going to blow that question.

That’s a teenager.  I criticise a fellow designer for giving empty answers, but my critical teenage son keeps me very humble…he’s convinced I’m going to screw up before I even open my mouth!  NO benefit of the doubt.

5 Responses to “Objectified”

  1. Daniel Weinreb

    I would love to have seen it, but it was only here in Boston for two days. However, I see “Helvetica” is available on Netflix. It’s even available in “streaming” mode, which means I can use my Roku box and watch it any time!

    I learned a few important things about typefaces back around 1983-1984 when Symbolics (where I worked) was collaborating with Bitstream (the electronic type foundry), to figure out how to make Bitstream’s fonts work well on low-resolution devices. Mike Parker and Matthew Carter taught many of us the basics, and got us all “hooked” on typography.

    When the second Star Trek movie came out, the Symbolics Graphics Division (in L.A.) got the job of producing all the graphics for the little screens about the bridges of the Enterprise and the Klingon ship. For the latter, they invented a Klingon typeface. Rich Bryan, back at Symbolics in Cambridge, took a look at the Klingon font and said, this is no good, the stroke-weights aren’t consistent, etc. He redesigned the Klingon font to adhere to the principles we had learned from Mike and Matthew. So if you ever see that movie again, take a look!

  2. julespieri

    @Dan–It is so cool that you got to learn from a couple of the type design masters. And that you actually retained the lessons!

    The crazy thing about “Helvetica” is that it is packed with controversy and dramatic tension. Seriously…a movie about type!

    There are no real warring factions in “Objectified” but an audience member nevertheless commented that it took him an emotional roller coaster. My son Dane, being a passionate training designer, agreed. He said, “When Karim Rashid was on screen, I wanted to scream. I can’t stand that guy. He’s a fraud. But when the shot changed to that old pick-up truck, and Bill Moggridge appeared, I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, something credible, real.”

    If you see the film, you will appreciate this Moggridge scene when he appears.

    The documentary does a good job of covering the “old standards” and masters of design, while mixing in more contemporary and unproven designers. Ask me about the French brothers if you see it. Gary told us some backstory information after the screening.

  3. Dan Weinreb

    We finally watched Helvetica, and we utterly and totally loved it! The designers whom they interview are clear, funny, and fun to hear from. You learn a lot about graphic design and fonts. It didn’t hurt that two of them are people I know in person: Mike Parker and Matthew Carter. They had just formed Bitstream at the time. Matthew and my wife and I later got to be personal friends, at least for long enough for us to take an extended vacation in California together with a few other friends. I will have to blog about this myself since I have a lot to say.


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