Bad design causes stress and discomfort; whether it is typography in a document, or unfettered suburban sprawl or too many buttons on a mobile phone. Life and relationships, which invariably happen in a haphazard fashion by their nature are bad design, and even the happiest of marriages, or most well adjusted of families and such are nevertheless full of tensions and misunderstandings, but virtue of design being non-controlled, that we learn to live with and accept, or we move on. Storytelling, autobiography, blogging and other personal narratives are an attempt to put some good design on something as chaotic as ‘a life.’ Technology, from ink and paper, to the printing press and eventually the internet have enabled our capacity to do this on an individual level. The landscape of modern social media platforms and the specialized subset of dating websites, while far (very far) from perfect, are a significant step to projecting some ‘design’ onto how we present ourselves to the world. Ultimately, though we have to find a way to be comfortable in our own skin and headspace, while alone in a room, and this includes whether or not another person or persons are present. Comfort and confidence can be driven by good design, but finding some truth and understanding in the messiness is essential.
Spike Jonze has been surveying and navigating these strange lagoons and very often uninviting rocky places with his music videos, short films and of course, his accomplished trio of feature films, Being John Malkovich, Adaptation., and Where the Wild Things Are. In collaboration with an eclectic gathering of intuitive but articulate ‘philosophers,’ Charlie Kaufman, David Eggars and Maurice Sendak, Jonze sets out on his own to great effect writing and directing his fourth feature.
Her, serves up a beautifully designed world. It is perhaps the best film on design outside of the more literal-minded “Design Trilogy” documentaries by Gary Hustwit. Here a near-future Los Angeles (or erstwhile Shanghai) is rendered skyward with clean glass towers, minimal advertising, and plenty of wide vistas and inviting space. In terms of cinematic depictions of America’s richest and most forward-thinking domain (California in itself the world’s 12th largest economy), we have come a long way from Ridley Scott’s septic, tactile and dizzying dystopic Blade Runner full of belching flames, corporate ziggurats and effluent pedestrian clutter. Architecture and aesthetics aside, there is more than a little common ground as a science fiction conceit; the questions being considered are somewhat in alignment: Can we love something ‘artificial’ if that thing can and will evolve to be more human than human? How do we interact with pervasive and ubiquitous ‘technology?’ Despite this concept being explored in may ways even in the infancy of this new millennium (From Soderbergh’s Solaris to Niccol’s S1mOne), this is the first true cinematic Pygmalion of the information age.