Design film featuring Google, Pentagram and Ikea to tackle big issues

The Frontiers of Design has been produced by New York-based studio Doberman, and features short interviews with 20 influential designers, sharing their views on topics such as diversity, ethics, the environment, education and more.

Google, the Guggenheim, Pentagram and The New York Times; these are just some of the businesses that have been interviewed for a new documentary delving into the current state and future of design.

Produced by New York-based studio Doberman, 30-minute film the Frontiers of Design will feature 20, short interviews with designers, from both studios and brands.

Rather than featuring in-the-studio footage giving viewers insight into working processes, Frontiers of Design aims to explore big issues concerning the design world, from ethics and reducing waste, through to diversity in the industry and how to teach design in schools.

Not “pretty pictures” or “behind the scenes”

Lisa Lindström, CEO at Doberman, says this is how the film will set itself apart from recent design-focused documentaries that have been released, which include Netflix series Abstract: The Art of Design, and Flatpack Empire, the BBC series on Ikea.

“No current design documentary tries to frame the challenges and opportunities ahead for design,” says Lindström. “Pretty much all of them just show pretty pictures and overindulge in peeking behind the scenes.

“We can of course enjoy that as well,” she adds. “But Frontiers of Design is more of a philosophical reflection that points out directions, opens topics up for critique and raises a lot of questions that we need to ask ourselves as designers.”

Google, Ikea, Pentagram and more

Interviewees include Isabelle Olsson, design director at Google, who heads up the industrial design of the company’s smart home and wearable products; Jaime Krone, director of exhibition design at the Guggenheim Museum in New York; Natasha Jen, partner at Pentagram’s New York office; Marcus Engman, head of design at Ikea; and Graham Roberts, director of immersive platforms for storytelling at The New York Times, so is in charge of projects that use virtual and augmented reality, and 360-degree video.

Across the many themes that are present in the film, three main challenges come up throughout, says Lindström; moving beyond “design thinking”, the status quo in design, and the changing role and responsibility of the designer.

“I felt fatigued by design thinking”

Google’s Olsson is one of the designers who challenges the notion of “design thinking”, a concept for a certain way of working that has been thrown around by non-design businesses in recent years.

“[I feel] pretty fatigued by the notion of design thinking,” says Olsson in a clip for the film. “There was so much talking about design and so little designing. For the longest time, it wasn’t even okay to talk about beauty – but I’m seeing that shifting again.” Pentagram’s Natasha Jen has also famously been a critic of the term.

Environmental footprint and the designer’s responsibility to reduce that also comes up many times, with both Olsson and the Guggenheim’s Krone talking about the need to not just “create more stuff” and the danger of “design becoming a commodity”.

While all the designers came across similar challenges in their interviews, there were differences in how brands and studios approached design, and what they considered to be important, says Lindström.

“There was a tendency for larger start-ups or corporations to reflect on aspects such as scale, team and process,” she says. “Studios, on the other hand, focused more on emotional impact and experience.”

“This film is aimed at design nerds”

These points of difference and similarity were crucial for Doberman when it was constructing the film, as the studio wanted over-arching themes but with a broad range of viewpoints.

“The truth lives in the intersection of many different perspectives, so we reached out to a diverse group of designers from many different industries, disciplines and markets,” says Lindström. “We wanted to talk to influential organisations that value design highly, but we also wanted a diverse group of voices, some of whom might be pretty unknown to the general public.”

And while the 30-minute film aims to be accessible to a general audience, this short that aims to move beyond the “pretty pictures” and glamour of the industry really is for those who are deeply involved in the subject, and want to improve their ways of working, she says.

“This film is aimed at design nerds,” Lindström says. “So everyone actively engaged in design, from designers to product managers, business leaders, and more. This is not the ultimate how-to-guide – this film simply uncovers some inspirational clues for how to move forward, and hopefully encourage people to step up their game.”

The Frontiers of Design, produced and directed by Doberman, premieres in New York on 26 June. Further dates have yet to be announced, but the interviews will be available to view online. For more information, head to the Frontiers of Design site.

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