My top 9 design documentaries creative films that inspire me the most

December 20, 2018


I’m constantly inspired by stuff around me and nothing seems to light a fire under me quite like a good old design documentary.

A quick google for design documentaries will spit out endless lists (like this one), so there's no shortage of suggestions out there.

Over the years there are a few that I return to again and again that never let me down and somehow seem to give me something new to think about after each watch. This is just a list of my particular favourites and the ones that inspire me the most.

9. Press Pause Play

Press Pause Play is a film about the democratisation of the arts and culture. When people used to make art, they didn't make it for money, they made it because they had something to share, for the love of making. This film suggests that we might be returning to that ideal.

The average person has never been so equipped to make and publish art. Is the death of the true creative industries imminent and is this, in a sense, a return to normal? No professional musicians, no professional photographers, no professional writers, just people, with an idea to share, making for the love of making.

The film follows some artists who have embraced, or come into the limelight because of, advancements in technology.

But with professional quality technology now accessible to almost everyone, is true creativity at risk? Will real talent be able to shine amongst the rest of the mediocre noise?

It's not all doom and gloom, though. One of my favourite parts is when a professional sound engineer is discussing Bon Iver's - For Emma, Forever Ago (one of my all time favourite albums). This is a piece of work that couldn't have been made any other way than one guy, in a cabin, going through it all on his own. So, although there is this thick din of grey soup to contend with, gems like For Emma, Forever Ago are still there, we just have to look a little harder to find them.

8. Exit Through The Gift Shop

You'll probably read a lot of conspiracy theories about the legitimacy of the outcome of this film, however, I've always enjoyed other aspects of this film far more the plot twist.

7. The September Issue

A documentary about the behind the scenes drama that follows editor in chief Anna Wintour and her staff during the production of the September 2007 issue of American Vogue magazine.

Publishing is in Anna Wintour’s blood. Her Father, Charles Wintour, was the editor of the Evening Standard and her brother, Patrick is currently political editor of The Guardian.

Anna Wintour wanted to work at Vogue from when she was a little girl and she was definitely born to do that job. Her dedication, passion and faith in her own vision is equally as amazing as it is inspiring. At Vogue, Anna commands a huge amount of respect and the fear in the eyes her team at meetings and even that of designers, showcasing their work to her, is something to behold.

Watching how the team at American Vogue put the September issue together is fascinating, They start thinking about it from a purely visual sense, colour blocking, thinking about flow and feel then the type, detail and layout are applied. For an industry I’m pretty clueless about, this film is very interesting and hugely inspiring.

6. Horizon - The Creative Brain: How Insight Works

5. Art & Copy

Art & Copy is a powerful film about advertising and inspiration It reveals the work and wisdom of some of the most influential advertising creatives of our time – people who’ve profoundly impacted our culture, yet are virtually unknown outside their industry.

George Lois, Mary Wells, Dan Wieden, Lee Clow, Hal Riney and others featured in “Art & Copy” were responsible for “Just Do It,” “I Love NY,” “Where’s the Beef?,” “Got Milk,” “Think Different,” and brilliant campaigns for everything from cars to presidents. They managed to grab the attention of millions and truly move them. Visually interwoven with their stories, TV satellites are launched, billboards are erected, and the social and cultural impact of their ads is brought to light in this dynamic exploration of art, commerce, and human emotion.

4. All Tomorrow’s Parties

In 2005 I was lucky enough to attend All Tomorrow's Parties in Camber Sands. If you'r not aware of ATP festival then I'd highly recommend this film.

I find this film inspiring in a very different way to the other films on this list. I always used to regard myself as quite adventurous in my taste in music and that I knew a bit more than most. However, my mind was blown attending this festival and seeing the acts I saw opened doors that haven't closed. I didn't know what to expect when agreeing to go with my friend, but I’m glad I went without any preconceptions.

I like to chuck this film on from time-to-time to remind myself to jump into different experiences when they come up.

3. The Aristocrats

2. Helvetica

What is there left to say about this film that hasn't been said in a thousand different blog posts just like this one? Not much. However, it has to be on this list, it just has to. Beautifully shot, amazing contributions from some of the best designers in the world, eye opening for young designers of all disciplines and a real gateway drug into the world of type design.

1. Beautiful Losers

And finally, number one on my little list. There's so much I love about this film and I'm always left feeling charged after watching it.

I love the overall message of this film. Each of the artists, designers and illustrators featured just did their own thing, made their art, becuase they had to. Nothing was calculated about their creative output. their style wasn't chosen becuase it was popular or becuase it would make money, it was simply their art and what came out when they wanted to say something. This choice to be true to themselves ultimately led to their success, albeit not right away. This is something I always try to remind myself of. If you truly love what you make and you make it becuase you just have to, then that honesty will show in the work and that's what people connect with.

Aside from the message of the film, this is a visual feast for the eyes. Packed with varied styles and different creative voices, I challenge you to not get excited by what you see.