Abstract: Netflix’s New Documentary Series About “the Art of Design” Premieres Today

All over the world, so many kids grow­ing up, stu­dents look­ing for a major, and even adults angling for a career change say they want to get into “design.” But what do they mean? The word encom­pass­es a bewil­der­ing­ly wide (and ever-expand­ing) range of dis­ci­plines, respect­ed and expe­ri­enced prac­ti­tion­ers of eight of which the new Net­flix doc­u­men­tary series Abstract takes as its sub­jects: archi­tect Bjarke Ingels, illus­tra­tor Christoph Nie­mann, inte­ri­or design­er Ilse Craw­ford, stage design­er Es Devlin, graph­ic design­er Paula Sch­er, pho­tog­ra­ph­er Pla­ton, auto­mo­bile design­er Ralph Gilles, and shoe design­er Tin­ker Hat­field.

“I can guess what you’re think­ing, because I have watched a lot of design doc­u­men­taries,” writes Abstract cre­ator (and WIRED edi­tor-in-chief) Scott Dadich. “Restrained, pol­ished, pret­ty — so many of them look like a mov­ing ver­sion of a cof­fee table book. You’ve got soft­ly lit inter­views, eso­teric con­ver­sa­tions, and sub­tle track­ing shots of wide land­scapes beneath unob­tru­sive music. Most of it is clean, min­i­mal, and bor­ing as hell.”

Instead, he and his col­lab­o­ra­tors have matched each of the design­ers this series pro­files with a dif­fer­ent doc­u­men­tar­i­an with their own dis­tinct style: the direc­to­r­i­al ros­ter includes Mor­gan Neville (who made Best of Ene­mies, the recent doc­u­men­tary on Gore Vidal and William F. Buck­ley) and Bri­an Oakes (direc­tor of Jim: The James Foley Sto­ry).

Indiewire’s Liz Shan­non Miller describes the series as doc­u­ment­ing, among oth­er things, the work­spaces of these design­ers in a kind of detail “on the lev­el of MTV’s Cribs.” Though “per­son­al lives are kept rel­a­tive­ly out of the pic­ture, Abstract man­ages to get sur­pris­ing­ly inti­mate with the cre­ators at its cen­ter.” You can get a taste of that from the clip just above of Ingels’ episode in which he explains what his team want­ed to do with the game of “urban Tetris” that was build­ing the VM Hous­es in Copen­hagen. “It cre­at­ed a lot of noise,” he says of the hous­ing pro­jec­t’s dar­ing design, one that still catch­es the atten­tion of passers­by today.

All of Abstract’s episodes come out today, but before you binge on them (and if you don’t have a Net­flix mem­ber­ship, you can always sign up for their free one-month tri­al), you can read this Archi­tec­tur­al Digest inter­view on it with Ingels and Neville. “This show is about peo­ple who are intense­ly curi­ous and try­ing to under­stand, in a very prac­ti­cal way, how to make the world we live in a bet­ter place, whether it’s a more com­fort­able place or a more effi­cient place or a more egal­i­tar­i­an place,” says Neville. And what does that require? “Under­stand­ing that life is always evolv­ing, the world is always evolv­ing, and that means that yesterday’s answers might be the answers to a dif­fer­ent ques­tion than what the ques­tion is today,” says Ingels. “So it always starts with ask­ing ques­tions and refram­ing the ques­tion” — and of course, as you’ll wit­ness count­less times through­out the length of the show, ven­tur­ing an answer.

Abstract is a Rad­i­cal­Me­dia pro­duc­tion made in asso­ci­a­tion with Tremo­lo Pro­duc­tions. It was exec­u­tive pro­duced by Mor­gan Neville, Scott Dadich (Edi­tor in Chief of WIRED), and Dave O’Connor, Jon Kamen and Justin Wilkes.

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Pao­la Antonel­li on Design as the Inter­face Between Progress and Human­i­ty

Saul Bass’ Oscar-Win­ning Ani­mat­ed Short Pon­ders Why Man Cre­ates

Saul Bass’ Advice for Design­ers: Make Some­thing Beau­ti­ful and Don’t Wor­ry About the Mon­ey

Pow­ers of Ten: The 1968 Doc­u­men­tary by Leg­endary Design­ers Ray and Charles Eames

Sketch­es of Artists by the Late New Media Design­er Hill­man Cur­tis

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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