This Netflix Show Might Make You Quit Your Job
The photographer Platon in episode three of Abstract: The Art of Design, 2017. Photograph by Ms Barbara Nitke/Netflix
Everything you need to know about the inspiring new documentary Abstract: The Art Of Design.
Abstract: The Art Of Design is no ordinary documentary series. It should come with a “viewer discretion advised” warning. Why? Because you might be inspired to resign from your day job and start doing what you’ve always dreamed of. That’s the effect it had on the show’s creator.
“I can guess what you’re thinking, because I have watched a lot of design documentaries,” says the Netflix show’s originator and executive producer Mr Scott Dadich, who until two weeks ago was also Wired magazine’s editor-in-chief. “Restrained, polished, pretty – so many of them look like a moving version of a coffee table book… Most of it is clean, minimal, and boring as hell. We’re not doing that.”
Instead, what he and his fellow executive producers – including Mr Morgan Neville (who won an Oscar for 20 Feet From Stardom) and RadicalMedia’s Mr Dave O’Connor – have done is make a series of eight compelling and perfectly formed standalone documentaries about eight of the world’s most talented designers. These include: Nike’s sneaker guru Mr Tinker Hatfield; The New Yorker illustrator Mr Christoph Niemann; Beyoncé’s set designer Ms Es Devlin; the co-architect of Google’s HQ, Mr Bjarke Ingels; Time magazine photographer Platon; and former Soho House interior-décor maven Ms Ilse Crawford.
What do all these great creatives have in common? “They all start with a blank piece of paper,” he says. “Literally, a piece of paper and a pencil. They all sit down and doodle, and sketch and draw. And [it’s clear that] design isn’t just a bolt of inspiration, it’s a process and it requires practice, and hard work.” The experience of making the documentaries was so transformative that Mr Dadich decided he had to quit his post at Wired and set up his own design agency, Godfrey Dadich Partners in San Francisco. “Very directly this process influenced me to step out on my own,” he says. “To a person, all eight of these subjects have had a transformative moment after great success where they’ve gone out on their own, whether that was starting their own company or taking a big leap away from the comfort zone.”
As new business cards go, Mr Dadich’s Netflix series is a particularly innovative and well-designed one.
Scroll down for a snapshot of the eight designers who together comprise Abstract: The Art Of Design, which streams on Netflix from 10 February.
Mr Tinker Hatfield
Utilising his background as both a competitive pole-vaulter and a student of architecture, Mr Hatfield became Nike’s star footwear designer and a legend in sneaker culture – responsible for the Air Max, Mr Michael Jordan’s incredibly successful “Jordan” range, and Marty McFly’s self-lacing sneakers in Back To The Future II, which this documentary shows becoming reality in 2015.
Ms Es Devlin
In the world of stage design, Ms Es Devlin’s sets are events unto themselves. From Beyoncé, Adele, U2 and Mr Kanye West concerts to operas, ballets, theatre productions and fashion events, Ms Devlin’s emotional, immersive multi-award-winning work has graced the world’s biggest stadiums and most prestigious stages.
Ms Ilse Crawford
Ms Crawford, the founding editor of Elle Decoration magazine (now Elle Deco), has designed a great many spaces – from Soho House properties such as Babington House and Electric Cinema, to Cathay Pacific airport lounges, to Aesop stores. This documentary shows Ms Crawford taking on the challenge of designing the Ikea Restaurant & Café.
Mr Bjarke Ingels
Mr Ingels’ architectural designs include the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London, Google’s HQ in California, and the long-anticipated 2 World Trade Center in New York City. In his native Copenhagen, Mr Ingles created the VM Houses (incredibly designed affordable housing) and a ski slope/public park that sits atop a clean fuel-burning power plant.
Having worked at The New Yorker, Time and Esquire among others, Platon has photographed countless celebrities and world leaders. This documentary segues from high-profile commissions to his current passion project: training his lens on a human rights issue to chronicle the victims of wartime sexual violence in Congo.
Mr Christoph Niemann
In this playful and inventive episode, Mr Niemann walks and works, sometimes in animated form. With geometric wit, the illustrator – whose work appears in The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker – is able to boil down our shared experiences into “images people don’t need to decipher”.
Ms Paula Scher
As a creator of memorable logos, emblems, branding and graphics – including instantly recognisable work for the likes of Mastercard and Microsoft – Ms Scher “notices typography everywhere” and uses a visual language that allows “type to talk”. Her design process often starts in a New York taxi, where she gets her best ideas. These sketches and scribbles come to life at her design co-op Pentagram, or they go into her massive map paintings.
Mr Ralph Gilles
Mr Gilles tears up when he looks again at the letter he received from Chrysler after he sent them some car designs he dreamed up as a 14-year-old. Thirty years on, he is their global head of design, but he has lost none of that childlike enthusiasm, wonder and sense of bringing the improbable to fruition.