Appellate Judge James A. Stewart is redesigning his paper airplane fleet.
"You don't think about your toothbrush being designed until you put a badly designed toothbrush in your mouth."
If your train of thought takes a detour into contemplation of toothbrush design after watching The Genius of Design, the five-part BBC documentary series has done its job. I can't say I took that particular detour, but one chapter, "Blueprints for War," did have me thinking about war and weaponry in a new way.
The five chapters, on two discs, are as follows:
• "Designs for Living"
• "Blueprints for War"
• "Objects of Desire"
How did "Blueprints for War" change my thinking? It's simple, really: a British military expert, P.L. Gudgin, is shown admiring the German Tiger Tank, which is, as near as I can tell, a perfect piece of war machinery. Then he tells us how much it cost and how much time it took to make. That's after the documentary showed viewers the sten gun, which didn't cost much to start with and got cheaper, and hit home the message that the famous machine gun wasn't anything fancy. What's the point? It looks like the Nazis had better weapons, but they lost the war because the Allies had more weapons.
That turned out to be the most thought-provoking chapter, although there's a message here and there in everything. Note, for example, that the pod home visited in "Better Living Through Chemistry" is deserted and overgrown with greenery; some modern things just didn't work.
Mostly, though, The Genius of Design is a fast-paced but thorough overview of its topic, presented with a stylishness appropriate to that topic. It's full of montages and a little hyperactive, but also takes time to stop and show us names and dates more than your typical documentary series. The recent production looks and sounds good, although if you were to judge by the insistent intro music, you'd be expecting something more like Torchwood than The Genius of Design.
Athena includes text bios of ten designers, each about a screenful long, and a booklet with essays about several of the show's topics. The DVD case notes that additional educational materials are available at athenalearning.com.
You won't feel like an expert after watching The Genius of Design, but you will be thinking more about toothbrushes. It's a solid educational presentation that would make an excellent supplement to an introductory course or a starting point for anyone wanting to get into design.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
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