Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Objects Unanalyzed

The Film Talk blog recommends the documentary Objectified:

‘Objectified’ is sedate, but not slow – peaceful yet thought provoking – it’s a reverie on the nature of the designed elements around us. Comprised of interviews with many the worlds leading designers and commentators on design the pic is a reflective – exuberant in a minor key – paean to both the practice of design and its effects on us.
I would call that an accurate and complete summary of the film, but for whatever reason -- maybe the title? -- I expected it to move past the idea that we live in a designed world and offer some reflections, possibly some arguments and criticisms, about the pros and cons of this. That is, I was expecting an analysis of design and its implications for the world, and less a straight celebration of design.

I should probably form expectations of films based on something more than the title, but then again, titles are 'designed objects' and they therefore involve elements of tone-setting, evocation, persuasion, arguably 'social control.' I expected the film to feature speakers with European accents making claims like that, or rather, wildly exaggerated versions of such claims delivered with absolute solemnity.

I wouldn't necessarily have accepted, agreed with, or declined to snigger at high-minded theorists waxing on about how Apple's, Ikea's, and Target's design choices are implicating humankind in oppressive totalizing metanarratives or whatever, but I expected perspectives that go beyond "design is awesome!" and I think the film would have been stronger with them.

Something along the lines of Jill Lepore's discussion of business consulting, scientific management and taylorism would have been a good corrective:
In 1911, Taylor explained his methods—Schmidt and the pig iron, Gilbreth and the bricks—in “The Principles of Scientific Management,” whose argument the business über-guru Peter Drucker once called “the most powerful as well as the most lasting contribution America has made to Western thought since the Federalist Papers.” That’s either very silly or chillingly cynical, but “The Principles of Scientific Management” was the best-selling business book in the first half of the twentieth century. Taylor always said that scientific management would usher in a “mental revolution,” and it has. Modern life is Taylorized life, the Taylor biographer Robert Kanigel observed, a dozen years back. Above your desk, the clock is ticking; on the shop floor, the camera is rolling. Manage your time, waste no motion, multitask: your iPhone comes with a calendar, your car with a memo pad. [emphasis mine]
The connection between human minds, human work, and human tools is far from trivial. Change an object, and you change the nature of a task and thereby reshape the mind needed to do it. Whether you liberate possibilities or foreclose them by design choices, and what those possibilities are, is a weighty and important question, one this film only glancingly addresses.

It's easy enough to understand why: design is awesome, and this film shows many examples of elegantly designed objects. It's hard to watch this film without walking away understanding why people get passionate about it. Design also strikes me as one of those fields of endeavor for which everyone considers himself an expert or a 'natural.'

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love... readding.., ....................and ..thanks.. for.. your.. artical.