Caught in a funk? Looking for inspiration? Well then, why don’t you watch Abstract on Netflix, if you haven’t already! As cited by Netflix, this show is cerebral and inspiring. The famous streaming giant also made all the eight episodes of Abstract season 1 available on YouTube in response to teachers’ requests for access to documentaries amidst the global lockdown during the Covid 19 pandemic. This wonderfully informative documentary series has gone to receive an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Graphic Design and Art Direction. The series on Netflix documents the thought process of a different designer in every episode, letting us catch a glimpse of what actually happens inside the head of a true genius.
Christoph Niemann opens the entire series by asking, “Is this about me, or by me?” From covers of magazines like the New Yorker to fun Instagram sketches, illustrator Christoph Niemann plays around with the art of abstraction and interactivity — and questions authenticity. Episode two features the legendary footwear designer, Tinker Hatfield. Hatfield’s background in architecture and athletics lit his path ahead. Hatfield has gone on to design shoes for Nike, including the iconic Air Jordan series. He says, “A good design is always functional, but a great one will also say something.” So, designs must and should always tell a story. Episode three has Stage designer Es Devlin opening with, “Over the last two decades of working, one of the things I’ve discovered is that often, things are made to fill voids. The impetus to fill that void with art, to me is fundamental.” Devlin creates sets for operas, concerts, plays, and runway shows using light, sculpture – and sometimes even rain.
Three episodes down, you are already fascinated by the series, every artist mesmerizing you in an enthralling tale of their own and you can’t help but feel inspired, feel as if anything is possible. And yes, you will find that I have used ‘inspiring’ and ‘fascinating’ a lot in this article, but well Abstract is that wonderful!
Next up, we have Bjarke Ingels for architecture on Netflix. This episode has a close place in my heart. The Swedish architect combines sustainability, fantasy, and function in “practical utopian” designs like a clean power plant topped with a ski slope. In discussing the controversy his work has sparked, Bjarke says of people’s reactions, “If you go beyond indifferent, you will awaken response at both extremes.” He opens the episode comparing his work to the film Inception, saying “When architecture is at its best, you’re coming up with something that is pure fiction, and then after all the hard work and all the permits and all the budgeting and all the construction, it now becomes a concrete reality.” We also catch a glimpse of the brainstorming sessions that Bjarke has with his team at BIG architects. His futuristic utopian designs are truly inspiring and compel you to broaden your own horizons and think outside the box. Anything is possible these days and Bjarke has already, undoubtedly proved it to the world!
We move on to episode five with Ralph Gilles – Automotive Design. Ralph Gilles is Global Head of Design for Fiat Chrysler. His award-winning designs have steered the brand into the future with sleek new sports cars and a self-driving electric van. Originally from Canada, Gilles joined Chrysler in 1992 and was promoted to his current role in 2015. “Tastemaking takes time. I believe as designers we create taste. Sometimes we are ahead of it, sometimes not,” Gilles says in the episode. The abstract helps us understand his holistic philosophy and approach to automotive design.
There are a plethora of takeaways from all the episodes, words of wisdom, and tips to be a better artist. Go to a museum maybe, or take a walk in the woods, make sure you are on the lookout for these little tidbits of knowledge throughout the series. It could be a part of a casual conversation between the artist and the team perhaps, or the artist talking about their daily routine, but there is so much knowledge one can soak up from Abstract. As we move on to the fifth episode, we see Paula Scher talk about her entire design process as a graphic designer and artist. In the next episode, we see Platon capture our hearts with his fearless, soul-catching photography. “I am not really a photographer at all. The camera is nothing more than just a tool. Communication. Simplicity. Shapes on a page. What is imperative is the story, the message, the feeling, the connection. How do you make this reach people? It’s a combination of graphic simplicity and the power of spirit and soul. It’s designed,” he says.
Season one ends on a high, with Ilse Crawford – Interior Design. “We spend 87% of our lives in buildings, how they are designed really affects how we feel and how we behave. Design is not just a visual thing. It is a thought process. It’s a skill. In the end, design is a tool to enhance our humanity. It is a frame for life,” you hear her saying in the episode.
And trust me when I say this, the series leaves quite an impact on you! Season 2 is just as brilliant as the first one. Having a genius talk about their design process and design philosophies on your mobile screen, what else could you even ask for? Truly inspiring and a must-watch!