The Director of Helvetica Is Making a Documentary On Dieter Rams
Monographs, biographies, keynotes, and entire exhibitions have focused on Dieter Rams, the renowned German designer whose clean, functional aesthetic made Braun a household name in the 20th century, and paved the way for design-focused companies like Apple and Muji.
And now Rams is getting a movie.
Documentarian Gary Hustwit is just the person to make it. Remember Helvetica, the breakout indie success of 2007? Remember how great it was? That was Hustwit’s doing. He followed it up with Objectified in 2009 and Urbanized in 2011—two equally beloved documentaries about urban design and the objects with which we surround ourselves. The films are undeniably languid—“my films are slow,” Hustwit says, “but I like that”—but their pace is purposeful. By taking the time to unravel what many non-designers regard as esoteric subject matter, Hustwit tells audiences why they should care about the designs they take for granted every day.
Now Hustwit is at work on a documentary about Rams, for which he’s currently raising money on Kickstarter. In some ways, the film, which he’s already spent one year shooting, represents a departure; it’s about a person, not a thing (thought it’ll spend time with a sizable chunk of Rams’ private archives). But Hustwit says the same principles apply. “If I see a situation I question it,” he says. “Not in a bad way, but in a curious way.”
Rams is notoriously private, but he and Hustwit hit it off in 2008 while shooting a scene from Objectified, in which Rams dispenses design wisdom while pruning a Bonsai from his garden. “There’s this aura around Dieter of, you know, very iron-willed, dictatorial. Then when you meet him he’s completely the opposite,” Hustwit says. “He’s an 84 year old German man, so he’s still a little bit cantankerous.”
Hustwit plans to spend another year filming Rams, in interviews and at work. He’s already started shooting in London, where Rams still works with Vitsoe, the producer of his famous 606 shelving unit, and at Rams’ home in Frankfurt. “He’s living in his designs,” Hustwit says. “Everything is very ordered and unobtrusive.” If that sounds like a familiar approach, it’s because Rams’ design ethos has shaped the way entire generations think about making and consuming. “That’s a big part of why he and I wanted to do the film,” Hustwit says. “There’s still so much that designers can learn from what he’s done.”
Rams in London, 2015.
Even Hustwit himself feels that design influence. “I had a Braun alarm clock, and there was Braun mixer in our kitchen” he says. “All of these things that were part of my life as a little surfer kid growing up in California were somehow made by this German guy in Frankfurt.” Like most children—like most people, really—he didn’t give much thought to who designed these objects. He just used them. Now he’s giving them, and their creator, a closer look.