Thoughts on Abstract: The Art of Design

Abstract: The Art of Design is, for me, one of the best documentary series available on Netflix. A good friend put me onto it when season 1 launched in 2017 and I binge-watched that season. Created by former Wired editor-in-chief Scott Dadich, the series explores the world of design in all its glory by delving into the work of designers from different areas.

I have always been fascinated by why and how people create which always gives great insights into what that they create. On my now-ended weekly radio talk show Life with Kojo Baffoe on Kaya FM, this was generally what I was trying to understand when interviewing people from all walks of life.

Season 1 profiled a wonderful cross-section of designers such as:

  • Illustrator, graphic designer and children’s book author Christoph Niemann, whose work has appeared on the covers of Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine and American Illustration.
  • The legendary Nike sneaker designer, Tinker Hatfield, who actually studied architecture, and went on to design a range of sneakers including various iterations of the Air Jordan.
  • The wonderful stage designer Es Devlin, who has worked on everything from theatre stage design through to collaborations with a range of artists including Beyonce, Kanye West, The Pet Shop Boys, and Adele. She designed the 2012 London Olympics Closing Ceremony and the 2016 Rio Olympics Opening Ceremony.
  • Danish architect Bjarke Ingels whose Amager Resource Centre (ARC) waste-to-energy plant design includes a ski slope and climbing wall on the outside and, is currently designing the Two World Trade Centre Building in New York.
  • Automotive designer Ralph Gilles who is currently Head of Design at Fiat Chrysler where he has spent the bulk of his career, changing the way we think about car design.
  • Graphic designer and painter Paula Scher whose phenomenal work has shaped Branding & Identities Systems and Environmental Graphic Design particularly.
  • Portrait and documentary photographer Platon whose signature portraits of world leaders like Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Muammar Qaddafi, Vladimir Putin, and Muhammad Ali are breath-taking in their ability to bring out the person behind the face.
  • Interior designer Ilse Crawford has designed everything from private clubs and restaurants to nightclubs, cinemas, and hotel rooms as well as pieces for IKEA and Georg Jensen.

Season 2 on Abstract was released on September 25th, 2019 and it took me all of a week to finish watching. While the impact wasn’t as deep for me as the first season – probably because of the 2-year wait – it is still a wonderful insight into the thinking that goes into design. In understanding the thought process of designers, one is able to reflect on one’s own little slice of this world and why, how and what we are doing with our own lives. The way each episode is shot draws from the individual, making it both personal and inspirational.

For season 2, the designers are: Olafur Eliasson who explores The Design of Art; Neri Oxman, Bio-Architecture; Ruth Carter: Costume Design (she did all the costume design for the film Black Panther); Cas Holman, Design for Play; Ian Spalter: Digital Product Design (in particular Instagram); and, Jonathan Hoefler, Typeface Design.

We often watch film, TV, video to escape or to be entertained or to be educated. Abstract does all of that and more. The series has truly influenced the way I approach my work and my life and I am better for it.

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