12 documentaries every graphic designer should see

This collection of documentaries has been curated to be both a great foundation and fresh inspiration for any graphic designer or artist. The films cover all kinds of creation – from street art to industrial design to typography – but all of them are guaranteed to get your creative juices flowing. Here they are:

1. Helvetica

A documentary about a the world’s most inescapable typeface: Helvetica. Directed by Gary Hustwit, the film celebrates Helvetica’s history, the reasons for its pervasiveness, and universal appeal. The film also examines how typography and graphic design affect our culture. The full film is available to watch on Netflix or rent from the film’s website.

2. Objectified

Also directed by Gary Hustwitt, this documentary is about consumers’ relationship with manufactured objects and the people who design them. It’s a beautiful tribute to the design process and a mouth-watering procession of industrial design eye candy that examines how manufactured products (and their designers) impact our lives. The full film is available to watch on Netflix and Vimeo.

3. Why Man Creates

This 25 minute short film by the legendary Saul Bass is part documentary, part animated title sequence. This classic discusses the nature of creativity and the creative process, as well as different approaches to the two. Though it was made in 1968, it is still inspiring in these times and its engaging visuals are so effective that you could watch it on mute if you wanted. Feel free to watch the whole thing right here!

4. The Artist Series by Hillman Curtis

In this video series, Hillman Curtis interviews a collection of the top designers and design firms of our time about their work. The one above is about famous “grunge typographer” David Carson, who became one of the most influential graphic designers of 1990’s by breaking all the rules of design. Other famous names interviewed are Paula Scher, Stefan Sagmeister, Malcolm Gladwell, Milton Glaser, and the legendary design firm Pentagram. The whole series is free to watch on Curtis’ website.

5. Exit Through the Gift Shop

Made by legendary graffiti artist Banksy, this documentary is actually about L.A. thrift shop owner Thierry Guetta’s strange journey from street art documentarian, to street artist, to famous pop artist. It is primarily about street art, but any designer will enjoy how this film pokes fun at the subjective nature of the art industry. Along the way, the work of other artists like Space Invader, Shepard Fairey and Banksy himself make appearances, resulting in a fascinating film that is as thought-provoking and satirical as Banksy’s most iconic works. Watch it on Netflix.

6. The Deep Dive: IDEO

A feature by ABC Nightline, this film is about the product design process of IDEO, one of the world’s top design firms. In this series, IDEO’s team attempts to re-design the humble shopping cart. This film is from the 90’s but it’s a must-watch as it’s rare to find such an all-access glimpse into the design process of one of the top design firms in the world. Watch the rest of the series here.

7. Art and Copy

This film is about the ad industry in the US and process that goes into designing iconic campaigns like “Just do it,” “Think different,” and “Got Milk?” It interviews the advertising creatives behind those campaigns, finding out where they got their inspiration and how they managed to move millions with their messages. It’s a fascinating study of commerce, art, and human psychology and it’s available on Netflix and Vimeo

8. Eames: The Architect and the Painter

Iconic husband and wife industrial design duo Charles and Ray Eames provide the subject for this documentary. The two are best known for their furniture design, but the film also features their works of art, architecture, photography and film. This lively depiction takes an intimate look at these two personalities, their marriage, their work and their resounding influence on America culture.

To this day, all Eames products are viewed with a sort of religious reverence by most design types. Narrated by James Franco, it’s available to watch on PBS and rent from Netflix.

9. Logorama

This is for all you logo designers out there. It’s a 15-minute animated short about a dystopian L.A. where literally everything and everyone is made of a logo, and a homicidal Ronald McDonald goes on a shooting rampage. Produced by the French company H5, it won an Academy award for best animated short in 2007. View the entire film above.

10. Bauhaus: The Face of the 20th Century

My guess is most design school students have probably seen this one. It’s about one of the most revered design schools of all time: the Bauhaus. The Bauhaus was a hugely influential force on modern design, art, architecture, design practices and academia.

If you’ve ever designed anything, you’ve been influenced by their history-shaping philosophy that design students artist shouldn’t merely be taught, but also trained to work with the industry. This is just an excerpt from it, but you can watch the entire thing after purchasing it on Amazon.

11. Milton Glaser: To inform and delight

This amazing gem is about one of the most legendary designers of the 20th century: Milton Glaser – best known for designing that iconic “I Love NY” campaign. The film has a lot of inspirational quotes for designers, like: “The purpose of art is to inform and delight.” I guarantee you that this film will validate every reason you decided to become a graphic designer. It’s also on Netflix.

12. PressPausePlay

Our final choice is a rallying cry for all creative people out there. It’s about how the democratization of digital technology has given all artists and creatives unlimited opportunities, and many new challenges. It interviews significant artists of all kinds in this era, including: Moby, Sean Parker, Lena Dunham, Robyn, and more, and is a truly inspiring call to action for all creatives. Watch the full movie on Vimeo.

Any other design documentaries you would recommend? Let us know, below!

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