Top 5 Design Movies for Self-Education

By Yurko Gutsulyak RGD, Graphic Designer & Art Director at Gutsulyak Studio


One of the most important design skills is the ability to see things in a unique, unexpected way. Creating a "fresh look" is the talent to notice some subtle connection between things - a connection that has not yet been pointed out. I would describe design as a process where analysis arouses inspiration and inspiration provokes analysis. This is the everlasting loop. Here are the top 5 movies that, besides being entertaining, are educational and thought-provoking pieces that speak to this topic.

Flatland: The Movie (2007, Directed by Dano Johnson and Jeffrey Travis) 

& Flatland: The Film (2007, Directed by Ladd Ehlinger Jr.)

Designers spend a lot of time working with simple geometric shapes, trying to express emotions and give a meaning to such simple forms like circles or squares. We worship simplicity and believe that our design projects are independent, self-sufficient worlds. We try to persuade people that one circle is totally different to another one and they both symbolize nearly the opposite things. Design allows us to personify abstract forms and compare them to human characters. This movie is a story of a flat world inhabited with geometric figures trying to understand the meaning of life and make their own discoveries. Both movies are based on the same novel written by Edwin A. Abbott and have the same plot with slightly different stories and styles.

Renaissance (2006, Directed by Christian Volckman)

This movie is probably the best example of a screened graphic novel that fascinates with every single scene. It is all about graphic beauty. The production took around 6 years and is based on the innovative technique (at the time) “motion capture”. Regardless, the Renaissance was created more than 10 years ago it still looks interesting and even futuristic. You can track some influence of design trends (for example: floral grows with swirls) and judge them from the perspective of design evolution. Do not try to find any hidden messages – the story and famous actors are just background for an artist’s genius.

The Five Obstructions (2003, Directed by Lars von Trier)

The thing I like most about this movie is the metaphor of a design brief and the challenge of working with a series of restrictions. The total freedom is shown like the punishment of the creator. The whole movie is a dialog between the “student” and the “teacher”, where the former tries to be cruel to the latter. The “teacher” created the masterpiece in his past and now his “student” wants him to remake this masterpiece again and again with “stupid” restrictions. However, the teacher takes every restriction as a gift. It is the dialog between a demanding client and obedient designer. However, the reputation of the designer does not allow him to neglect the final result. The whole idea of the movie is a reflection on the creative process and understanding the role of the creator. It is not a one-time movie, so be prepared to watch it again. For a better understanding of what is going on, I recommend starting with the movie Det perfekte menneske (1967, Directed by Jørgen Leth).

Ugly (2017, Directed by Nikita Diakur)

The beautiful, innovative and smart short animation was titled “ugly”. In this context ugly means different. The simple story tells about homeless Cat and all the hate he experiences because of being different. Only Indigenous Chief treats the Cat with love and dignity. Designers often stuck with the same ideas, styles, fonts, colors, etc and treat everything else as “ugly”. It holds back from new discoveries and doesn’t allow embracing the novelties. There are no ugly styles, there are lazy designers.

The Pillow Book (1996, Directed by Peter Greenaway)

The whole movie reminds rather book layout than a motion picture. That is why there is a feeling of turning pages while watching. It is an elegant story about calligraphy, communication, and love. Graphic signs and their meanings seem to be more important than human life; actually, they are the energy of human life. Human bodies, in this case, are just media to carry supreme art. More than 20 years passed since the movie was created, however, the method with laying one smaller picture on the other one looks very trendy these days. The movie requires a special relaxing atmosphere to enjoy the story to the full.
Published August 2019