In The Scene: Abstract - The Art of Design


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Here's the thing: We have a love/hate relationship with NETFLIX. Ok, at least I do. It's one of the best "network" to happen to my life. Weekends (and long commutes back home) are now spent going through the many saved shows and movies on my list - and that's ALOT! So much so that I've somewhat stopped reading (gasp!). 

But, ok. I still do find time to just sit and read a book. There's just something about the written words that let's your imagination run wild and takes you to a whole different world. 

Back to Netflix. While it has caused me to cut down considerably on my reading, that does not mean that I just spend idling the hours away watching brainless shows. There are some great documentaries that have made me sit up, watch intently, and learn a whole lot. 

One of these documentaries that I've been obsessed with is ABSTRACT: The Art of Design.  For the uninitiated, ABSTRACT can basically be seen as an 8-part documentary on design, with each episode profiling a specific designer from various design fields. They include fashion, graphic, automobile, etc. 

As a person who's interested in design (I mean, I work in fashion), I find that these profiles are intriguing and shows a different side to various fields that I find, erm, boring. 


The thing about these eight episodes is that, with each one, we not only get to learn about the differing professions, but we get to do that by listening and watching the specific designer and hearing his or her perspective on the job as well as what it entails. 

I do have to admit, however, that not all eight episodes were illuminating to me. Somehow, I wasn't taken in by the episodes on stage designer Es Devlin and Fiat-Chrysler design chief Ralph Gilles. Perhaps, it was because there wasn't much insight provided and, thus, I felt emotionally unattached to these designers. Don't get me wrong, the design chiefs did provide thoughtful consideration of design challenges in matching form, function, and the real-world marketplace but it wasn't as compelling for me? In an episode on graphic designer Paula Scher, for instance, I felt that it was too focused on her (and her brilliance) as well as her hobbies, rather than giving me a good sense of her/her team's process. Basically, it was framed as though the only thing she does is to come in at the end of the project - riding in on her high horse - and giving her opinions and final say on the specific outcome. 


One of my favourite episodes from ABSTRACT is that of photographer Platon. Yes, like Madonna or Cher, his name is just that: Platon. Perhaps some of you have not heard of him but he is a 21st-century photographer who has taken portraits of many presidents and well known world figures. His photo of Vladimir Putin, for instance, was on the cover of Time Magazine in 2007. He has also photographed the Obamas, Lionel Messi, and Aung San Suu Kyi. Quite impressive, no?

What I find interesting about the episode was the creative process behind preparing for the photo taking - each and every one is a "problem" that needed to be "solved". 

As someone who has worked in publishing for a number of years, I've had the chance to work with many different photographers - both for newspapers and for glossy magazines. It's always interesting to watch how a photographer interacts with his or her subject so as to make them feel comfortable and, thus, getting the best picture. Platon's process of capturing the right picture of his subjects is simply intriguing. One gets the sense that he is able to develop a personal connection - or, a level of intimacy, if you like - with his subject. The best part about it is that you get the sense that he is not pretending, and so it feels genuine. 

But there's also that sense of fragility to the whole process - at any given time, Platon could break the connection by saying the wrong thing (after all, these are high profile personalities) and, so as an audience, you're constantly being drawn to the edge of your seat, wondering if he'll take a misstep. 


Another episode that I thought was interesting and exciting was one on interior designer, Ilse Crawford. I must say that I've been rather privileged in that I'm familiar with her work. Her design for London's members-only club for those in the creative industry, Soho House. 

Watching her process and how she works gave me the sense that she truly understood design and how inter-connected it is to the human psyche, and by extension, human behaviour. She says in the episode: “Design is not just a visual thing. It’s a thought process. It’s a skill. Ultimately, design is a tool to enhance our humanity. It’s a frame for life". In my opinion, no truer words have ever been uttered. 

What's great for this episode is that you as the audience get a sneak peek into the creative process behind a certain project. So, you get to "sit in" on the brainstorming sessions, or just trying out various chairs, or walk step-by-step through the creative process of redesigning an airline's travellers' lounge. I think that's pretty intriguing, do you think? 

Overall, I think ABSTRACT is a good documentary for those interested in design and/or the creative field. Also, it is a great insider's look for those who just want to be dazzled by creativity. 

Are you watching any interesting documentaries at the moment? Let us know as we're always on the look out for exciting ones to watch.