In February 2017, Netflix released the documentary series Abstract: The Art of Design. This series, starring eight internationally renowned designers, each from a different field, invites the viewer to discover the ins and outs of the design and creativity profession and its various disciplines. All these personalities open their offices, workshops, and meeting rooms to shed light on their respective creative processes.
Each designer’s creations are ubiquitous and, in some cases, revolutionary to the point of changing the entire game in that field. This series allows us to see these designers and their stories about how they built themselves as incredible creative leaders in their industries. What conclusions can we draw from these designers? What inspiration are we left with?
What to remember about the design and creativity experience of each artist
Christoph Niemann is a German illustrator responsible for the design of many of the fantastic New Yorker covers. This episode reveals the essence of the process behind creating something. It’s about Niemann teaching us that design is not a flash of inspiration but hard and continuous work. Throughout the episode, he walks us through his creation process – how he’s constantly creating and doing things that increase his abilities.
A vital point that can help frame his design thinking is that he prefers to work in isolation to focus on projects. He places great importance on nurturing ideas and creative thinking in a serene and relaxed environment. He also uses original, innovative methods to frame his illustrations with Lego pieces, which shows that creativity is anything but conventional. Some essential tips for the practice of design that the illustrator mentions are:
“Abstraction is the most important concept in art,” “Contrast is the key,” “Have thousands of ideas and then reduce them to a few, to get rid of everything what is not essential is important to achieve a goal” and finally, “Don’t plan.”
Sometimes, collecting inspiration without planning anything is the best way to produce creative, original, and unique design pieces. ‘
Finally, the episode highlights that Niemann learned under the tutelage of Heinz Edelman, another prestigious illustrator, who did not teach through encouragement but ironically through harsh criticism. Not all mentors and teachers teach as one expects them to. The key here is not to take it personally: design and creativity are subjective, and all feedback is good to grow and improve continually.
Tinker Hatfield is the iconic designer of the Nike Air Jordan shoes. The episode spent a lot of time deciphering the designer’s process, the inspirations, and the debates behind the design of each Air Jordan. We understand that design is a continuous process of improvement, trial, and error. It is not a linear thing, but a constant evolution, a back and forth process, and do not be afraid to start over and over again.
An interesting fact is that Hatfield was an athlete at the University of Oregon. However, an injury led him to study architecture. Still, while he was an athlete, he became close friends with the university’s athletic coach, and it was through this relationship, he entered the field of shoe design. This shows that innovation and creativity also have to do with inspiration and personal experiences. The design must convey passion, feelings, and identity.
Es Devlin is a British set designer who has designed magnificent and revolutionary stages for the theater and concerts by Beyonce, Kanye West, Adele, and many others. In this episode, Devlin guides us through some of his groundbreaking works, the inspiration behind them, the process of creating them, and the meaning of those works. He breaks down his design process into specific ingredients like darkness, time, etc.… and then shows how he mixes these ingredients to create the final result. This helps us understand that no genius is involved, just hard work, creativity, curiosity, ambition, and imagination.
It is exciting that in this episode, I mention how, with the advent of smartphones with cameras, the stage production has gone from focusing on the performer’s photography to doing it on the entire stage. For example, in stage spaces, take light and stripe to show specific shapes through the scene. Es Devlin also leaves us some advice on traditional set design:
“Things are made only to fill the void, and it is fundamental for creative thinking. Start without light to find it » « The theater demands democracy for the same experience from all angles.» It is interesting to realize how something as simple as strategic placement, lighting, and controls can shock huge crowds for emotional impact.
Bjarke Ingels is a daring Danish architect. His vision of design makes us think that art and imagination have no limits. Insanity and unconventional designs are not something to be feared. Creativity is based on innovation, thinking outside the box. Ingels emphasizes the need to break existing traditions to create designs that captivate people, are intriguing and are remembered as unique and special. Some of Ingels’ valuable insights are that it is essential to “find solutions to problems in a completely unproblematic way” and to “build based on turning what is likely to be a dream into a perceptible reality.” Once again, this shows that creativity has no limits.
In line with his innovative line, he spearheaded the hedonistic concept of sustainability in his designs, which questioned whether sustainability could be part of increasing your daily life. He is creative, as most of his plans are entirely abstract and never fit the sense of what an average building should be, much less its feel.
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Ralph Gilles is the global head of design for Fiat Chrysler. He steered the brand into the future with sleek new sports cars and a self-driving electric van. This episode mainly shows us the ins and outs of the design industry. Not everything revolves around the creative and pure design aspect. It shows us that to achieve cult status, the bottom of the real is more like a chaos of corporate meetings, management struggles, and challenges. Without a strategic plan, clear objectives, and effective business management, the design process cannot develop to its full potential.
Some key quotes one can draw inspiration from when it comes to design are that “most designs have a theme line that holds the whole design together” and “competition drives design.” Today, the automotive industry is undergoing significant changes to move towards a greener society. Gilles mentions how the primary market is now that of millennials. He tries to solve multiple problems at once, focusing on the life experience in the car (interior, look, touch, comfort, autonomy).
Paula Scher is a graphic artist responsible for designing ubiquitous logos such as Windows 8 and CitiBank. This episode shows us that the work of a graphic designer has the power to create brands. Graphic design shapes the entire identity, image, values , and history of a brand. He mentions how “Typography is painting with words … and you can create an identity for a set based on the identification of the type.” Every element, from the choice of colors to the graphic support, must make sense. Even the most minor details seem to have special meanings and the most significant role in conveying the brand’s identity.
Creativity and design turn words into images and bring an abstract brand, idea, or concept to life. The layout must adapt to the designer and the brand’s visions, aspirations, and styles. “It must exist beyond the screens and have an impact in real life,” which means that “the design must take into account human behavior.”
Lastly, the reasonable level of expectations is one of the most important lessons to be learned from her episode: Paula Scher demonstrates how persuading others to stick with your idea is a two-way process. “Designing the logo is not the difficult part, but persuading people to use it.”
Platon has photographed some of the most influential people in the world in the last two decades, such as Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, or Vladimir Putin. He studied the compression and expansion ideas of Frank Lloyd Wright and is a cultural provocateur. Some of the keys to this episode on design are that “the position, the lighting, the gestures, the pose, the emotion, are portraits of the soul” and that “great design simplifies a highly complex world. “Platon uses photography to portray human life and the world; it is a portrait of reality, with added emotions, impressions, and stories. Photography captures extraordinary moments in time. These are the concepts that Platon highlights with immense feeling in each of his important photoshoots.
Ilse Crawford is an interior designer who has primarily influenced many aspects of IKEA, such as the look of its restaurant and cafe and bringing emotional values to the IKEA design system, which was previously considered “cheap and bad furniture.” His work focuses on translating the future life into a design language and creating places that affect people in all five senses. A valuable idea that can stand out for designers is to focus on how materials speak to people from their work. Humans are always interested in textiles. Humans understand contrast better.
What can we remember from this episode? Ilse primarily frames an empathetic way of thinking about design. “Design is not just something visual, and it is a thought process, a skill. Ultimately, design is a tool to improve our humanity; it is a framework for life” “We spend 87% of our lives in buildings, the way it is designed affects how we behave and feel”. There should always be variations in design, but also the purpose.