Photograph by Brigid Hughes
Got a minute? Gary Hustwit, the director of Helvetica, the hit typography documentary (if there is such a thing), discusses his latest project, Objectified, which explores our relationships with manufactured objects and the designers behind them.
Q: Helvetica traced the history of a typeface, and in Objectified you examine industrial design—a category that includes things as disparate as potato peelers and sports cars. Is it tough to make movies with such seemingly uncinematic topics?
A: My films are about asking audiences questions, not about finding answers or teaching. You can do proper documentary films and get people off death row—or you can ask questions. I focused on design, but everything is designed. Part of the reason for making a film about stuff is to make people think about that stuff. It tells a story—where we came from, where we're going, the issues that are facing us as a culture.
Q: How is our relationship to objects changing?
A: It's funny: I just moved, and I spread out all of my stuff beforehand. Most of the things I have are media—books, records, DVDs. I asked myself, "Why am I carrying this stuff around? This could easily fit on a JumpDrive." There's no need to have a physical object for them anymore.
Q: You give a lot of attention to how we dispose of objects. Do designers have an obligation to be environmentally responsible?
A: There are two types of objects: things that will become obsolete and things that won't. A good desk is still going to be a good desk in 100 years. But so much around us, especially technology, is destined to be in a landfill. Why do we have to make laptops out of expensive metal? It doesn't have to be that way. What if your laptop were made out of cardboard? If it's going to become obsolete, it should be made out of disposable and recyclable materials.
Q: After Helvetica, you went straight to work on Objectified. Do you already have another documentary in the works?
A: I'm making a third film in this series, so there will be one more design film. But it's just too early to talk about. Each film raises questions that push me to do the next film, and the earlier interviews inform the others.
Q: So what are some of your favorite design objects?
A: My turntables from Numark. My Sony flat-screen. I'm a child of the Macintosh. When the Mac came out, it changed my life. I like things that are simple and do what they're supposed to do. There's less to get sick of. Ryan Wenzel
The film's trailer