A Design Trilogy

Published:  November 20, 2012
Heath Killen
A Design Trilogy

The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) presents the triptych of design films from director Gary Hustwit. Screening his latest, Urbanized from 14 January to 3 February, audiences can also see Objectified and Helvetica, the other two films that make the design trilogy, in limited special screenings.

“In 2005 I began work on my first documentary, Helvetica, which looked at the worlds of typography and graphic design through the eyes of one loved/hated/ubiquitous little font. I wasn’t a designer, or even a filmmaker, just a design geek who really wanted to see a movie about fonts!

After Helvetica was released in 2007, I had the idea for a second film, Objectified, which focused on industrial design and product design, and our relationship with the manufactured objects that surround us. But I realized there was more to explore, and had the initial ideas for a third film (Urbanized) that would also examine how design affects our lives. So I began thinking of the films as a ‘design trilogy’.” – Gary Hustwit


Screening as part of ACMI’s Long Play program, Urbanized, the final film in Hustwit’s trilogy, is a compelling look into urban design and the way design affects how we live. By 2050 an estimated 75 per cent of the world’s population will live in urban centres – how are we possibly going to survive? A daunting question, however Hustwit offers a number of smart ideas and innovative, socially-led thinking from the worlds of architecture, city planning and grassroots activists. Canvassing the world to see what works and what doesn’t and how design can play a part in future solutions of habitat, he finds low-cost housing schemes in Santiago by a landscape architect and speaks to the Mayor of Bogota who is prioritising public over private transport “I don’t see anywhere in our constitution the right to parking” he the Mayor. Urbanized looks at design solutions for a human generated problem.


Turning towards industrial design Objectified is the second of the three films. The realm of designing ‘things’ – toothbrushes, cars, bench seats and telephones; hours of thought, numbers of prototypes and endless refinements are poured into the objects we use daily. Through conversations with leading lights in the field such as the Senior Vice President of Industrial Design at Apple, the Senior Curator at MoMA and the Creative Director at Qantas Airways, Hustwit teases out the process from a thought to finished product, the world of industrial design.


The first film of the trilogy, Helvetica was released in 2007; the same year as the famed font’s fiftieth birthday. Making its debut at the SXSW film festival, it’s a film about a particular font, typeface in general, and how it inhabits our public spaces and daily lives. Used in council signs in gutters and printed on the side of the space shuttle, this Swiss designed typeface prompts a look at the development of graphic design in general over the past fifty years. Why focus on Helvetica? Hustwit borrows from Brian Eno, it’s “as ignorable as it is interesting”, it’s everywhere, we look past it but it is in every layer of our lives, we interact with this stalwart of design every day, even without knowing it.

“Hustwit has a rare ability to talk about design and the human relationship we have with it. Perhaps because he’s not practically trained in design – just a self professed geek for it, he never loses sight that design is not just for creators but it’s for users” says ACMI Film Programmer Kristy Matheson. “He shines a light on this relationship we have with design and with the designed, positing greater questions about how we function as a society and how we can foster a solution through design. It’s an interesting conversation to have.”

Many agree with Matheson. Urbanized was made possible through the Kickstarter program, a crowdfunding platform for creative projects. Initially seeking $85,000 to complete the film, Hustwit raised $118,505 from a mere 1,814 ‘backers’ – individuals who pledged anywhere from $10 to $5,000 or more. Design fans or those feeling a sense of civic duty, Urbanized was completed from public support and donations in 2011.

Urbanized will screen at ACMI from 14 January to 3 February 2013 and Objectified and Helvetica will screen as part of AMCI’s First Look program with limited screenings. For more information on session times or to buy tickets, visit www.acmi.net.au/film

Urbanized screens as part of ACMI’s summer ticket offer, whereby films screening in a Long Play season will have tickets for $6 (ACMI Members $5) for sessions commencing before 6pm (excluding public holidays).



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