Everyday objects tell a story

“Your audience is yourself.”

Understanding the design of a particular object never caught my attention beyond the physical surface. I might have thought about the utility of an item, but never envisioned the process designers go through. Maybe it’s largely because I don’t make things with my hands. I’m missing something tactile since I don’t create anything that is physically tangible. Objectified, directed by Gary Hustwit demystifies the process of modern industrial design, and allows us to see how everyday objects first start out with an artist and a drawing board. We forget common house objects have a beginning, and don’t simply go from factory—to giant box store.

Odd bowl shape by bormioli rocco, an italian dishware company.
Cereal and everything, odd-shaped bowl by bormioli rocco, an Italian dishware company.

Form vs. Function

Analog objects (watches, vinyl record players, alarm clocks, rotary phones…etc.) often follow function more than form. With the onset of the digital world, designers began experimenting with form, observing how form and function can fit subtly into people’s lives without being conspicuous, but still useful and attractive. You can say this is true for iPhones, laptops, fit watches, wireless speakers…etc. Most people take for granted how intuitive these items have become and how easy they make our lives. For example nowadays you can run your whole house from your iPhone if your items are connected wirelessly, or easily find and buy a product on amazon thanks to the website design. One negative outcome, is the Democratization of design; it allows industry to mass-produce at a low-cost, which doesn’t always translate to optimal quality or design.

To hold any relevance in today’s quick-paced buying and selling world, the product has to have an “emotional authenticity.” People will always buy the new now, but it doesn’t mean they’re going to conserve it or pass it down to friends and family. The public will spend more if it means having a design that is innovative and emotionally aware. Some designers in the film argue for creating new forms (chairs, clocks, phones..etc.) instead of going back to the old ones to “reinvent the wheel.” They want to see designs that are a “physical interpretation of the digital world,” where design dissolves in behavior. Still, it’s important to acknowledge historical influence and cultural patterns on design ideas and construction.

Signing bowl, by Cynthia Via.
A singing bowl gift from friends who travelled to Nepal last year. These bowls are handmade made using century-old traditions typically from bell metal bronze.

“Every object tells a story.”

When you walk into a person’s room, often the first things that catch your eye are the decorative items: posters, paintings, furniture, books and other knickknacks lying around. Each one tells a story either of the person’s taste, perception of themselves, or their economic background. It’s cruel to judge someone based solely on their items, but they help understand someone’s style and thought process when they made the purchase. As one designer in the film said, “you have to know how to read it.” As a character analysis, objects tell you details about the person without having to reveal anything in words. But don’t get it confused; the emotional story you tell yourself about the object you’re buying comes from you. “Your audience is yourself.”

argo tea bottle. Glass is more expensive to make, but at least these can be reused as containers or water bottles.

Make non-disposable items in as mass-produced world.

Many designers realize their creations will one day end up in a landfill, especially if they’re working for large manufacturing companies that are is the business of selling cheap goods to as many heads as possible. Some items are not bought for the purpose of style, but utility and comfort, and are often an afterthought to living. Nowadays with people moving more frequently, objects are quickly tossed or donated.

Designers are now studying the connection between sustainability and design. You can no longer afford to think of just one. If you’re a designer who doesn’t want his creations to pollute landfills, it’s a philosophy that should be active. As consumers we also have to be environmentally conscious buyers. After finding one of their toothbrushes on a beach shore, one design group in the film, brainstormed ways to create a sustainable toothbrush. (In one lifetime an individual can use an average of 156 toothbrushes.) After coming up with different ideas and rummaging through some wacky possibilities, the group decided on a wood bottom with a replaceable bristle that was realistic on price but also realistic on design and use.


Designs that will help us survive in the planet we love.

As consumers change their buying patterns and demand more earth-friendly products, they influences designers and manufactures to think outside the disposable world. Consumers have more purchasing power than ever. They don’t have to settle for products that are making their lives harder by contaminating the earth and the natural resources they cherish. Designers have to continue to challenge form on the basis of sustainability, utility and comfort. Imagine a world with no humans and alien archeologists coming down; they would certainly conclude that earth is a plastic-loving planet.

Tea cup, by Cynthia Via
I love tea cups. This one I bought from a street vendor in the 7th ward.

When everything settles.

The story you tell yourself about an object is the only one that matters. Designers are constantly trying to understand this to see how they can influence you to buy a story (brand). But at the end of the day “when there’s a hurricane you’re not going to take the items that got the best write-ups on some website,” said Rob Walker, writer at the NYT. “It’s the items you feel the closest to.”

Watch the full documentary.