Archive for May, 2009

On Objectified and Rams

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Yesterday, I saw the movie, Objectified with Dyna at the IFC Film Center. It’s a documentary on contemporary industrial design—interviews with designers, an endless parade of cool products designed within the last 20 years, discursive bits on the nature of “good design.” You see how certain products (say, an OXO Good Grips vegetable peeler) were created, how various functional and esthetic considerations were thought through, how a product is brought to market. The movie parses the various sub-disciplines of industrial design (Interaction Design is interesting: the design of computer interfaces.) You get a lot on “sustainable design.”

You don’t get much arguing between the designers. All of them are pretty strictly in the Modernist/Functionalist camp. No one is fighting for doohickeys. Some of the car designers (like clothing designers) will talk about “aspirational” design, design as fantasy for how you want to see yourself. Some talk about nostalgia and sentiment (one nerdy-looking Times writer talks about a scenario where you’re forced to save the most treasured items from your burning home. You choose kitsch.) But for the most part, people agree that design should first and foremost be useful.

There’s no historical context presented for this understanding of design. Design was not always this way—design was ornate Rococo sliver candlesticks and the like. We get a bit on mass-production, but no Bauhaus, no Mies, no Corbu, no Jean Prouvé. No discussion of traditional craft or traditional utilitarian objects, no discussions of “class.” It would be interesting to get something on the Protestant ethic’s influence on design thinking. Or Communism. We get some Zen ideas from the (fun) designer at Muji. [EDIT: this is the amazing Naota Fukasawa who did more than just things for Muji.]

We get a tiny glimpse of the great Charles and Ray Eames, but not nearly enough.

But I’m so interested in this stuff that I’ll forgive the movie’s faults (it’s a bit boring.) For example I got to see the work of the great Dieter Rams who was Braun’s lead designer in the 60s.

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Oh, Dieter Rams! You are so very, very good! I never knew your name but I knew your things. You were doing Apple designs long before Apple. In fact, from the looks of it, Apple ripped you off.

In the movie, Rams reminds me of a calculating German supervillain—kind of ruthlessly austere. And his products look at bit as though they were designed by a cold, emotionless supervillian. But I love them. They are perfect. So in honor of Mr. Rams, I present a catalog of his work:
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The Tivoli Audio Model Three radio totally aped the design of this, but the Tivoli radio is a complete piece of junk…

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