Top 7 documentaries every designer must watch

August 8, 2023
9 min read
Jair Lucena
Written by
Jair Lucena
Top 7 documentaries every designer must watch

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Top 7 documentaries every designer must watch

Top 7 documentaries every designer must watch

August 8, 2023
Top 7 documentaries every designer must watch

American author Henry David Thoreau said: “It’s not what you look at that matters; it’s what you see.” We believe he couldn’t have been more accurate.

Sources of inspiration are everywhere. This is not simply a positive new age statement but, in truth, everybody knows from experience that a walk in a nearby park, a refreshing swim in the lake or a visit to the local museum have the power to spark the creative fire that inhabits our human soul.

Indeed, remaining in constant awe and open for inspiration is crucial for any creative being, even more so for graphic designers whose role is to produce outstanding visual compositions that embrace harmony, beauty and a powerful message.

This article aims to provide graphic designers, and every creative individual, with films that touch the heart of visual communication and eventually became masterpieces and permanent sources of inspiration for many creatives worldwide.

Here is our list of seven films that every graphic designer must watch:

Rams (2018)

“The time of thoughtless design for thoughtless consumption is over.”

Directed by Gary Hustwit and featuring music composed by Brian Eno, this powerful and inspiring documentary highlights the life and legacy of Dieter Rams, one of the most influential consumer product and industrial designers of the 20th century.

This film portrays the remarkable work of this German designer and his compelling life vision and philosophy on sustainability and functionality.

Some people consider his work as a head of design for Braun to be one of the biggest influences and inspiration for Apple to develop their simple and functional tech products.

We highly recommend you check Dieter Ram’s ten principles for good design. We will not go deeper into them for now, as they deserve their own blog post.

Helvetica (2007)

“You can say, “I love you,” in Helvetica. And you can say it with Helvetica Extra Light if you want to be really fancy. Or you can say it with the Extra Bold if it’s really intensive and passionate, you know, and it might work.” - Massimo Vignelli. Italian graphic designer.

The world-renowned film Helvetica features this emblematic typeface’s story, origins, global influence, and leading design principles.

This documentary, directed by Gary Hustwit (the same director as Rams), takes us through the Helvetica journey, including the historical context that surrounded its creation after World War II, its simple design elements, and its enduring influence on our modern day-to-day life.

Helvetica is a worth-watching film for any graphic designer.

PressPausePlay (2011)

“This changes everything. The industry is dead. There has never been a better time to be an artist.” - Seth Godin.

PressPausePlay is a thought-provoking film that offers a profound perspective on how digital technologies change our creation process.

Musicians, artists, filmmakers and writers share their perspectives on how digital culture allows the general masses to produce and consume their art and explores its challenges, benefits and consequences.

Apart from examining the impact of this digital revolution on our societies, it also offers unique perspectives on how to prevent the oversaturation of content and devaluation of creative work.

This film is a must-watch, not only for designers but also for everyone related to the digital industry.  

Art & Copy (2009)

“The inspiration for the slogan ‘Just Do It’ came from a man who was about to be executed in Utah.” - Dan Wieden.

Directed by Doug Pray, this 2009 film delves into the heart of the advertising industry in America through compelling interviews with some of the most iconic copywriters, executives and art directors.

This documentary explores famous advertising campaigns’ strong influence on popular American culture. It addresses the relationship between creativity and commercial interests, the dangers behind consumerism, and the manipulation of consumers’ desires.  

Art and Copy won the 2011 News & Documentary Emmy Award for Outstanding Arts & Culture Programming.

The Visual Language of Herbert Matter (2011)

“If you love something, the work will be just fine.”

In simple words, Herbert Matter was a genius and one of the most influential graphic designers ever.

Artist, photographer, graphic and brand identity designer, teacher and filmmaker, he was one the first creatives to recognise and implement photographs as a design tool in the mid-20th century.

This film, directed and written by Reto Caduff, explores Matter’s clear, simple, and objective work. From being a pioneer of photomontage in graphic design to set the foundations for modern branding and corporate visual identity, Matter was always open to pushing his creative boundaries to merge art and communication into one.

Graphic Means: A History of Graphic Design Production (2018)

“There wasn’t the instant gratification. Things took a little bit longer.”

As its title entails, this film is a journey throughout the history of graphic design production. Directed by Brian Levit, this documentary portrays the intricate and beautiful analog processes that were the foundations of graphic design before the digital era arrived.

Through vintage footage and fascinating interviews with old-school designers and production teams, this documentary highlights the evolution from analog to digital, phototypesetting, early computer systems, and the emergence of desktop publishing and digital design tools that changed the industry forever.

Why Man Creates (1968)

"Why does man create? I am.”

Of course, the Academy winner and highly acclaimed 1968 short film had to be on our list.

Directed and narrated by Saul Bass, this animated short film dives deep into our creative capacity, the innate necessity to express the unimaginable and the secrets behind our creative processes.

This classic also explores the necessity of mistakes and failures in the creative undertaking, the role of playfulness and curiosity, the relationship between creativity and problem-solving, and the impact of societal norms and constraints on creativity.

Now, it’s popcorn time.

These seven documentaries convey essential aspects of our innate human creative capacity, the power of the digital revolution, and the craft behind the old ways of producing graphic artwork.

From displaying the work of brilliant minds who set the foundations for modern design to exploring the philosophy and motivations behind our creativity, these films are definitely worth watching, especially if you are a graphic designer.

We hope you enjoy this Lento selection, which aims to expand your mind to reach higher dimensions in your creative universe and help you produce disruptive, sustainable and human-inspired ideas that serve others.

Jair Lucena

Jair Lucena

Jair is a traveler, writer, and yoga-meditation teacher-practitioner. Who loves to explore different lands, cultures, and ways of being. Connect with him on Linkedin

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