5 Fantastic Design Documentaries
Drained? Lacking inspiration? Has the muse fled you and left you yawning over your cold coffee, idly messing around with Photoshop layers and hating everything you come up with? Maybe you should hang it up for now and watch a movie.
Sounds decadent, right? A waste of time? Maybe not. In recent years, the design documentary has been a growing and vital sub-genre. A lot of absorbing and informative films have been made which examine both the pantheon of great designers and the creative process at-large. Best of all, each of these films is streaming right now on Netflix Instant Queue, so you don’t even have to get up from your workstation. Just minimize all those Adobe windows you’ve been tinkering around in, nuke up some popcorn if you’ve got it, and marvel at the ingenuity and creativity captured on celluloid.
1. Beautiful Losers
Made to accompany a 2008 traveling exhibit (and book) of the same name, this film takes a look at a network of young artist and designers who took their primary inspiration from street art, skateboarding, and the DIY cultures of the punk rock and hip-hop they grew up with. Household names among this clique include Shepard Fairey, Mike Mills, and Harmony Korine, but many other less famous and equally worthy creators are also featured.
2. Eames: The Architect and the Painter
Perhaps the most renowned designers of the mid-20th century, Charles and Ray Eames fascinate us all not only because of the diversity and quality of their work, but also because of their unique and enviable way of life: marriage as working partnership. As an aficionado of all things Eames, what I appreciated most about this film was its willingness to go below that idyllic surface and expose the authentic human (and therefore messy) relationship beneath the legend. The love story isn’t immaculate, but it is true. It’s hard to keep a dry eye when you think about Ray dying ten years to the day after Charles.
Yes, that’s right: an entire movie about one font. Boring? No way, we’re designers! It’s a counterintuitive idea, but it works. Gary Hustwit’s documentary was highly acclaimed upon its release in 2007 (the 50th anniversary of the iconic typeface), and examines the question, “what is it about this particular typeface that has made it the most popular in the world?” Now bring on the Comic Sans movie!
This film, also by Hustwit, is a follow-up to Helvetica (second in his Design Trilogy; the third is Urbanized, a study of city planning and architecture). Where Helvetica was brazenly specific, this movie is wide-ranging, even mind-expanding. It looks at the design of everyday objects, and features interviews with brilliant thinkers, most notably Apple design hero Jonathan Ive.
5. Frank Lloyd Wright
The man himself. Clocking in at 153 minutes, this is by far the longest of the bunch, but it’s absolutely worth each minute. Directed by another paradigm-defining artist, PBS mainstay Ken Burns, Frank Lloyd Wright is nothing less than inspirational. As many of his patrons did in the end, I found myself a willing captive of Wright’s mind-boggling levels of swagger, his persistence in the face of horrendous setbacks, his willingness to evolve, his roving mind, and my God, the eye he had!
That’s the round-up; enjoy these films, but just as important, make sure you carry some of that inspiration back into your work!
Samantha Gray freelances by day and tutors high school and college students in her spare time. Samantha enjoys giving readers advice about the ins and outs of getting your bachelor’s degree online. She welcomes questions and feedback at [email protected]