Abstract: The Art of Design

Check this trailer:

This is one of the best documentary series I have ever seen. It is about a world that was (or still is) unknown to me: “design” as a profession. Of course, I was aware of “design” as an activity before watching, but not the depth and sophistication that goes into it.

The show explains why design is not just “applied art” but how it defines the way we feel about and interact with the world. It taught me not to think of product vs. experience: the product itself is the experience, the product creates its own world. Moreover, design is actually problem solving: good design is not only beauty but it solves problems, and bad design is not just a lack of beauty but it also creates problems.

Eight episode presents the life of eight very different personality. None of them seems to be driven by their ego but by their passion for their craft. They have an impact because their message is broader than themselves: they don’t want “my design” but “good design”.

Below are some of the words and ideas from the series that I found particularly interesting.

Christoph Niemann: Illustration

“It’s extremely exciting but it never becomes easy.”

“Inspiration is for amateurs, us professionals, we just just go to work in the morning.” (Chuck Close)

“It’s not about waiting for hours for this moment where inspiration strikes. It’s just about showing up and getting started and then something amazing happens or it doesn’t happen. All that matters is you enable the chance for something to happen.”

“When you show the real thing, you kill it. You make it impossible to then look
at these things in the abstract. It’s like in… I think in Charlie Brown, you never see the grown-ups, you only hear these muffled voices, and that’s perfect, that’s amazing!”

“Nobody wants authenticity. Authenticity is like changing your kid’s diapers. It’s a cute idea in the abstract, but the real deal is just…”

“Often, the viewer might have different ideas, and you want to be surprised. That’s the whole point of books. You want some surprise. You want something unexpected to happen.”

“Relax; don’t be so hard on yourself. I actually totally disagree. You have to practice and become better. Every athlete, every musician practices every day. Why should it be different for artists?”

“The idea of pop music is not to invent a new story, but to tell the same story again in a new and interesting way.”

“My goal is to speak visuals…like a pianist speaks piano. And like somebody controls the keys and can convey different ideas, different emotions, through that language.”

Tinker Hatfield: Footwear Design


“I think there’s art involved in design. But to me, I don’t think of it as art. My perception of art is that it’s really the ultimate self-expression from a creative individual. For me as a designer, it is not the ultimate goal to become self-expressive. The end goal is to solve a problem for someone else, and hopefully it looks great to someone else and it’s cool to someone else.”

“In a lot of ways, design is about predicting the needs of the future.”

“People struggle with stuff they don’t understand, design that’s different than what they’re used to. Yet what creates excitement and gets people to pay attention, is to kind of force the disruptive nature of like, “Whoa, that’s a big idea.”

“A basic design is always functional, but a great one will say something.”

“If you have an athlete with the right personality, you can challenge the perception of the entire sport.”

“But the real purpose is to help them overcome fear and do something they’ve never done before and to develop confidence in themselves.”

“If people don’t either love or hate your work, you just haven’t done all that much.”

Es Devlin: Stage Design


“You sort of do need to start without light to find it.”

“…we went to see lots of shows, and I always thought they were visually desperately boring. Probably because I went to the wrong ones. I didn’t go to the fascinating ones.”

“What I tend to be most interested in is the psychology of a space.”

“A lot of my work now is about finding environments for music.”

“They have all come to focus their gaze on one person. We don’t need to say worship, but all the energy of the room is focused on that one little individual, and that in itself is an extraordinary, physiological event.”

“The word “show” suggests that you’re revealing something. It doesn’t suggest finding.”

“So I looked at some footage of babies playing with those sorting boxes, where you pick up a triangle, you pick up a circle, you pick up a square and you try to slot it through different apertures in the box. It’s actually extraordinary footage to watch, because what’s happening in their brain is every time they discover something new, they’re getting a little dopamine rush, which is why we’re biologically selected to be in love with new things. This baby literally, either when it does go through or when it doesn’t go through, either of those instances is a new sensation, and it gets a little reward. That baby is the equivalent of me here or in a stadium with Beyoncé, whatever it is. It’s literally what’s going on in that little baby’s brain, loving that.”

“So they’re at once in positions of almighty power, because they’re 15 foot up. But they’re also vulnerable, because they’re standing up there and they could easily be shot or fall off. And they’re alone, they kind of look very lost and alone up there, so it’s a combination of power and vulnerability again, I guess. That tension between power and fallibility is very fascinating territory.”

“Theater makers are aware of the ephemerality of what they’re making. Nothing’s going to last. You know when you set out to make it that it’s going to be gone. Sometimes in a week, sometimes in four days, sometimes in four years. In the end, everything is only going to exist in the memories of people. You had to be there on that night, to see that performance from Benedict Cumberbatch, or from Beyoncé.”

Bjarke Ingels: Architecture


“When architecture is at its best, […] you’re coming up with something that is pure fiction. Then after all the hard work, all the permits, all the budgeting and all the construction, it now becomes concrete reality.”

“There’s no doubt that in architecture there’s this catch-22. Nobody will entrust you to build a building until you’ve already built a building.”

“I went through this sort of intellectual, serial-monogamy, falling in love with one architect, then the next, and next…And it completely warped my idea of what architecture could be.”

“Whenever we design homes, I’m also thinking about myself: What would I think would be amazing? And I think in this case, it’s almost like realizing a dream that an apartment block doesn’t have to look like a big, boxy slab.”

“The way you realize your wildest dreams is actually one step at a time.”

“Whenever we talk about architecture, and whenever people have opinions about architecture, the most typical argument is: something is bad because it doesn’t fit in.”

“When you’re doing something like this, even though it’s carefully crafted, and premeditated and discussed and designed and tested, when you see it, it has to feel effortless.”

“It’s also like somehow, when you start this kind of journey, you know what’s important for you…but you don’t necessarily know where you’re going.”

Ralph Gilles: Automotive Design


“Most designs have a theme line that holds the design together. […] If you don’t get the bones right, you’re never gonna have a good design, no matter how hard you try.”

“I remember in school, times we talked about, “Can you sketch this car in three lines?” You know? “Is it distinctive enough to capture it?”

“My love affair with cars came from just walking around and seeing how ugly cars were. I grew up in Montreal, Quebec, in the late ’70s and early ’80s. I remember thinking to myself, “Ugh.” And then one day, I saw a Porsche 911 Turbo. I think I was maybe nine years old. And it struck me as being, “Why is that car more attractive than the one next to it?” And then I started noticing more beautiful cars.”

“Chrysler, their image, it’s not the greatest. They are the smallest of the three automakers. They don’t have strong brand images the way Toyota or Honda or BMW do, so they’ve really gotta fight to get people to buy their cars, and design has to be spot-on for them to be successful.”

“You’re designing for five years in the future, then you have to think about the car living in market three to six years. So you’re looking at a nine-year window of time that you have to consider when you’re creating these vehicles.”

“I think the best designs are emotional forever. You see an older 300, it’s almost 11 years old now, and somehow they still look kind of cool, because that emotion was there from the beginning.”

“The vehicle looks great and it was affordable. It was a pretty big deal for us. We create a vehicle that someone will not just own, but will cherish, will create a community around, and it’s amazing.”

“It transcends much more than what we do as designers. It becomes popular culture. And I think that’s pretty cool.”

“The interiors have become the new battleground for car design. We design every square inch of that interior to control the message, make sure it’s holistic. To make it beautiful, functional.”

“I believe what we do as designers is create taste. Sometimes we’re a little bit ahead of culture, or ahead of the times and we challenge it.”

“Doing a new vehicle from scratch is about a billion-dollar investment. So you’ve got to know what consumers are going to want even before consumers know what they want.”

“No matter how tough times are, you just do not compromise the product.”

“What I just saw was a young kid sitting, wasting his talent. It was just obviously there, right in front of him. He just didn’t know what to do.”

Paula Scher: Graphic Design


“Typography is painting with words.”

“You can create an identity for a whole place based on a recognizability of type.”

“Typography can create immense power. You’re working with things that create character.”

“If a font is heavy and bold, it may give you a feeling of immediacy. If a font is thin and has a serif form, it may feel classical. So that, before you even read it, you have sensibility and spirit.”

“Ideas come all kinds of ways. I get my best ideas in taxicabs, you know, like sitting in traffic, drooling. I’m allowing my subconscious to take over, so that I can free associate. You have to be in a state of play to design. If you’re not in a state of play, you can’t make anything.”

“Design exists beyond screens. It has an impact in real life.”

“You’re getting your own icon, your own logo, and it would give them identity. There’s an emotional aspect to it. Design needs to take human behavior into account.”

“The design of the logo is never really the hard part of the job. It’s persuading a million people to use it.”

“I’m driven by the hope that I haven’t made my best work yet. Making stuff is the heart of everything. That drive never goes away. What can I make next?”

Platon: Photography


“I’m not really a photographer at all. The camera is nothing more than a tool. Communication, simplicity, shapes on a page. What’s important is the story,
the message, the feeling.”

“Design, for me, was a way out of confusion. Because great design simplifies a very complicated world.”

“I don’t believe you should ever allow your tools to dominate the message. Great design is when all those things take a backseat and you get the message.”

“I got jumped by this guy. And he beat the living daylights out of me. Skull fractured, both cheek bones, eye sockets, all my ribs busted. […] It was just like, “Why me?” Mumbling through my messed-up mouth. And this old lady in the bed next door said, “Young man, why not you? What’s so special about you?”

“The hero is the person that inspires us to think again about our own moral compass and our own responsibility.”

“People need to know what’s going on in Congo. And my job is to build that bridge in a solid way. The power of the content, that’s the whole point of design.”

“With all this amazing technology, the tools must never dominate us.”

Ilse Crawford: Interior Design


“Some people think interior design is a look. In fact, “It must be really fun buying furniture” is something one person said to me once. But I see it differently. We spend 87% of our lives inside buildings. How they are designed really affects how we feel, how we behave. Design is not just a visual thing.”

“All our projects start with a strategy. Basically prioritizing people, putting the human experience at the beginning of the design process.”

“Empathy is a cornerstone of design.”

“One of the qualities that distinguishes her work from that of other interior designers is that it’s about how we experience a room and how we ourselves feel in a room to satisfy the subconscious. Ilse’s strength is her humanity and her caring. She really cares about wellbeing.”

“I wanted to get my hands dirty and really do something for myself. I’m driven by my curiosities. By learning more about what made people comfortable in space, researching in Anthropology, Behavioral Science and so on, that really made me understand
how we discover the world.”

“Ilse had very new ideas, and I think it takes a long time for a new idea to really become an established idea”

“We actually understand materials best by contrast. Our senses are wired in such a way that we understand that rough feels rougher by contrast with smooth. To get the best out of these materials, we needed to find its opposite.”

“Design that encourages people to be close together is a good thing.”

“A building process is a sequence of decisions.”