Abstract: The Art of Design (Review)

Netflix promises viewers the chance to “step inside the minds of the most innovative designers in a variety of disciplines and learn how design impacts every aspect of life.” Netflix does not disappoint.

Without a doubt the best Netflix Original Docu-series released in 2017 and maybe their best to date.

Featured designers include architect Bjarke Ingels, stage designer Es Devlin and Nike shoe designer Tinker Hatfield. Unfortunately, the series only features 8 episodes. Below is a run-down of who’s who and for those who want to skip straight to who they might be most excited to see (Beyoncé fans see Set Designer Es Devlin).

The line-up behind the camera is as impressive. The show is produced by the man behind the Academy Award-winning documentary 20 Feet from Stardom and former WIRED Editor-in-chief Scott Dadich.

A five stars from me. Without giving too much away, check out my full review below.

Es Devlin: Stage Design


The Secret Weapon of the Superstar, Es Devlin is the one of the world’s most sought after set designers. Although Kanye West refers to himself as a “Creative Genius”, it’s Devlin he has to thank when it comes to the genius behind every stage of his since 2005. West was the first superstar to recognise her Arena Tour potential. Since then, Devlin has been the brains behind the stages of Adele, Beyoncé and U2.

Her work stretches beyond huge rock stadium shows to the theatre, opera and fashion runway shows. Her projections on Don Giovani at the Royal Opera House revolutionised the expectations of opera audiences around the world. And now, Devlin pushes the limit way beyond what was thought to be technologically possible for a runway show with her latest client, Louis Vuitton.

Devlin’s design for Beyoncé’s 2016 Formation World Tour went on to gross over $250 million. If Beyoncé is the Pope, Es Devlin built the Vatican. A highlight of the series.


Christoph Niemann: Illustrator

Christoph Niemann-illustator-the-newyorker

Unlike Devlin’s 40 foot projection of Adele’s opening eyes, illustrator Christoph Niemann’s most iconic works fall under the dimensions of magazine covers for The New Yorker, WIRED and The New York Times Magazine.

A legend in the art world, Niemann has illustrated more iconic magazine covers than you’ve had hot dinners. Bringing his craft into the 21st Century, Niemann created The New Yorker’s first Augmented Reality Cover as well as a hand drawn 360 degree Virtual Reality animation for the magazine, no MacBook Pro here.

Niemann might be the last illustrator alive who can think in a way Artificial intelligence cannot, using a pencil and paper I might add, very cool.

Bjarke Ingels: Architecture


Bjarke Ingels is the rockstar architect of the moment. In his fledgeling years, Ingles put a ski slope on the roof a waste-to-energy power-plant. This super cool Danish architect boasts Google, Lego, and mega-exclusive Noma restaurant as clients.

Ingels is now about to transform the Manhattan skyline with his first New York Skyscraper near completion. VIA 57 WEST is inspired by the classic Copenhagen urban oasis. Expect green open courtyards and rooftop gardens, not features typically associated with Manhattan real estate. Why pay to live in a building with park views when Ingels can give you a park in your building. Quite the visionary.

Skyscrapers and ski-slopes aside, Ingels Summer Pavilion at the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park proves Ingels is far from a one trick pony.

Ralph Gilles: Automobile Design


Chrysler’s Head of Design Ralph Gilles created the Chrysler 300 – the car that was embraced by hip-hop stars and revolutionised the perception of the brand in popular culture. As one of the interviewees stated: “It just had kind of a bad ass look to it”.

This episode follows Gilles and his team as they work towards presenting their newest design, the SM-1. Gilles’ award-winning designs have steered the brand into the future with sleek new sports cars and a self-driving electric van. He’s not called the “King of Bling” for nothing.

Tinker Hatfield: Footwear Design


Unlike many of the other artists in this series, Tinker Hatfield is a household name for any basketball fans of the Michael Jordan era. The episode opens with a tourist in Times Square being asked to identify the man in the photo. His response, “’y’all serious? That’s Tinker Hatfield! That man’s a legend.”

Hatfield argues “if people don’t either love or hate your work, you just haven’t done all that much”. A superstar high school athlete turned footwear designer, the episode traces Hatfield’s career at Nike and how he came to design some of the brand’s most famous shoes. Hatfield’s genius is understood through his industry changing footwear including the Air Max and Air Jordan (Michael Jordan’s shoe brand, duh).

“I probably think about feet a lot more than the average person”. You could say Hatfield is a footwear engineer rather than a footwear designer. To him, footwear should be an extension of the athlete’s body, food for thought next time you’re out for a jog.

P.S. Without giving too much away, this is a must-see episode for ‘Back to the Future’ fans.

Paula Scher: Graphic Design


Paula-Scher-Graphic-Designer-citi-logo-abstractAfter designing the logos for Tiffany & Co., Citi and Windows 8, Paula Scher earned her title as the “the Goddess of Graphic Design”. Scher has designed every logo from MoMA and the New York City Ballet, to The Shake Shack and The Highline. There are more Paula Scher signs on the streets of Manhattan than Starbucks and McDonalds combined.


Scher refers to typography as “my biggest high, it’s my crack”. Every morning Scher asks herself “how am I going to solve this problem?” her answer illustrates that behind her quirky designs is a quirky artist at heart: “you walk up the stairs, go into the ladies room, put on your lipstick and figure it out.” I wonder what lipstick she applied the morning she designed Johnson &                                                                                                                  Johnson’s Band-Aid logo. Yep, that                                                                                                            was her too. Iconic.

Platon: Photography


From Putin and Prince to Sarandon and Serena Williams, every political or popular culture icon has sat on the stool in his studio. You know Platon’s work without realising you know his work. Platon has been the photographer behind the most iconic Time Magazine covers of the 21st century.

From Bill Clinton and Bill Gates to George Clooney and George Bush, his catalogue list is more exclusive than any Oscar Party or White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

However, don’t expect a behind the scenes look at Adele’s next album cover. This episode follows one of Platon’s politically motivated projects – he visits the Democratic Republic of Congo to raise awareness for the Panzi Foundation by capturing truly remarkable photos of women in the war-torn areas of the country.

Great episode, great artist.

Ilse Crawford: Interior Design


People often say to Ilse Crawford “It must be nice buying furniture”. This episode illustrates that Crawford does far from just that. Crawford argues that “how buildings are designed affects how we feel and behave”.

Ilse manipulates interior design to satisfy the subconscious and it was her eye for detail that made her chosen as the launch Editor for Elle Décor. Since then she’s transformed everything from old rural pubs in the London hinterland to chic boutique getaways for Kensington’s coolest couples.

For those who might never experience Ilse’s design for the exclusive Soho House in London, she also designs furniture and home accessories for IKEA. So yes, you can tell your friends that the lampshade in your living room was designed by Ilse Crawford, the woman behind Babington House.

For anyone currently scrolling through Pinterest looking for interior inspiration, save yourself the time and watch this episode instead. You’re welcome.

Crawford says it best: “Ultimately design is a tool to enhance our humanity”. Thank you Netflix for a fresh Docuseries on Design and introducing us to the coolest people to follow on Instagram until Season 2 next year. Who are we hoping to get inside the mind of in 2018? Jonathan Ive, Chief Design Officer of Apple Inc. (hint, hint Netflix).

The series is exclusive to the Netflix streaming service, which reaches an audience of more than 93 million members in over 190 countries.

Watch the series here: https://www.netflix.com/title/80057883

Please leave a comment below and let us know what you thought of Abstract: The Art of Design

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