From literature to films: the culture that inspires designers

As Netflix launches its new docu-series Abstract: The Art of Design we ask designers about their favourite design documentaries, films and books.

Emma Follett, deputy chief creative officer, Design Bridge
Emma Follett, deputy chief creative officer, Design Bridge

“To be inspired by another designer’s work is so special and as a graphic designer, my home is littered with books that are a source of inspiration. From Cover by Peter Mendelsund, exploring his wonderful book on cover designs, to Alan Kitching’s recent book A life in Letterpress, which captures all the magic of a craft across a lifetime of work.

Having heard Alan Kitching give a talk here at Design Bridge, I know how much passion has gone into every print and it really comes through on the page. I often buy books based on their cover design, from old Agatha Christie novels to obscure reads that I would never have picked up if it weren’t for their intriguing covers.”


Matthew Cockerill, creative director, Seymourpowell
Matthew Cockerill, creative director, Seymourpowell

“Perhaps an obvious choice, but my favourite design book still has to be Apple Design: The Work of the Apple Industrial Design Group. Published in 1997 – a year before the introduction of the iMac – it documents the first 20 years of Apple, revealing the human stories behind each product development, the design processes, mock-ups and concepts that could have been.

As a product designer the most significant and fascinating thing about Apple is the way its products are engineered and manufactured. This is something we only got a tantalising glimpse of in the recent Designed by Apple in California book which documented the following 20 years.”


Jodie Wightman, creative director, Together Design
Jodie Wightman, creative director, Together Design

“I love the documentary Eames: The Architect and the Painter, about husband-and-wife design team Charles and Ray Eames. It is incredibly inspiring to see two people push design boundaries in so many formats.

From their iconic furniture through to film making and textile design, there is no medium they wouldn’t turn their hands to with passionate and curious minds. The film shows a couple who encapsulate the ethos of design being a way of life, with home, work, marriage and play all inextricably connected.”


Dan Rhatigan, senior manager, Adobe Type
Dan Rhatigan, senior manager, Adobe Type

“I’m biased towards my favorite design documentary. Doug Wilson – the director of Linotype: The Film – is a good friend now, but that started because I got hooked on my first peek at his warm, sad, funny film about an improbable piece of machinery that revolutionised typesetting, and by extension the printed word.

The Linotype machine was a complex marvel, and the film tells the story of its origins, heyday and legacy. What makes the film so special though, is the people you meet – passionate, sometimes eccentric lovers of typography who show us how much craftsmanship really matters.”


Georgia Fendley, founder, Construct
Georgia Fendley, founder, Construct

“I am so pleased to see design take its place in the public consciousness in this way. While food, architecture and fashion are regulars on broadcasting schedules, design has often been forgotten which is such a shame.

I’m actually a documentary junkie and my interests are quite diverse but I struggle to find design content I really enjoy. My obsessions include art, history and human behaviour; all fundamental building blocks in much of my work.

To date I have had to get my design fix from books – current favourites are a recent vintage book haul including Ben Shahn, Jean Cocteau drawings, a beautifully designed Jacob Epstein catalogue from 1961 and a hilarious book about fictional exhibitions, which consists of rejection letters on original museum and gallery letterheads from the 1960s and early 1970s.”


Ricky Bowry, associate creative director, AKQA
Ricky Bowry, associate creative director, AKQA

“I was given Visible Signs by David Crow when I started art college and I still apply these principles when approaching my work each day.

The book opened my mind to the mechanics that construct an idea, and the method in which humans subconsciously decode visual language.

Anticipating the emotional or behavioural reaction to an idea gives me confidence in my creative judgement and allows me to push my work into unchartered waters.

The book uses contemporary examples to demonstrate these theories in an engaging and digestible way, allowing anyone to grasp the fundamental pillars of visual language.”


What’s your favourite design documentary, film or book? Let us know in the comments section below.

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