Yes, I was a probably a little overly excited (in a total art school geek way) when it was announced at a staff meeting that a group was getting together on Fridays to watch the Netflix series Abstract, The Art of Design. In my defense, I have a degree in graphic design, so I was intrigued to watch this brainchild of Scott Dadich, former editor-in-chief at WIRED. Each episode features a designer from a different discipline: illustration, photography, architecture, interior, graphic, set, shoe and automobile design — and gives the viewer a peek at the everyday challenges designers face. All I needed was food and I was ready to binge on lunch and Abstract.
Saturated in color — using cameras with fancy names like Red Epic Dragon, drones, quirky edit techniques and more than one director — the series format comes off as part documentary, part Willy Wonka. One minute you feel like you are sneaking backstage with set design superstar Es Devlin, listening to her talk about sketching for Kanye and Adele, the next minute, you become part of a drawing by famed German illustrator, Christoph Niemann.
I liked that each show tries to paint an unbiased portrait of the featured designer. The viewer is able to either openly hero worship as Nike design god Tinker Hatfield reminisces about hanging with Michael Jordan, or join in trash talk, as architectural rock star Bjarke Ingels’ critiques (e.g. “my nine-year-old does more interesting shit in Minecraft,”) are read aloud.
So, after wading through a vat of Panchos cheese dip and all eight episodes, I think, for the most part, Dadich delivers. At its best, the show pulls you through each interview, giving you a glimpse into the life of the designer and leaves you wishing you had more time with each one. At its worst, the show veers into a wacky world of animation/edit treatments, which seems to be used more to fill the voids left by some of the less charismatic subjects, than to enhance each story. I mean, I do want to see how the Everlasting Gobstopper is made — but like Wonka’s Tunnel of Terror, there were a few times I wanted off of Abstract.
I am totally in for season 2 and would love to see leaders in fashion, museum, industrial and/or environmental design.
If you don’t have enough time (or Panchos), here’s my ranking of Season 1:
Paula Scher | Graphic Design:
Of course, it’s my favorite, because she’s freaking phenomenal, AND this episode does the best job of showing how Scher works and tackles everyday challenges.
Platon Antoniou | Photography:
Fascinating and emotional story
Tinker Hatfield | Shoe Design:
Makes you realize no one is really as cool as Tinker.
Bjarke Ingels | Architecture:
Whether you believe the hype or not, the work is inspirational.
Es Devlin | Set Design:
Interesting subject, but not enough about her process.
Ralph Gilles | Automobile Design:
Best backstory of how he got to where he is now.
Christoph Niemann | Illustration:
Interesting, but I might have been rummaging around for more chips during this one.
Ilse Crawford | Interior Design:
No amount of interior design can make me think hot dogs are a healthy choice in IKEAs rebranded restaurant.
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