Design and Graphics: Five Unique Documentaries for Creative Inspiration

Design and Graphics: Five Unique Documentaries for Creative Inspiration

Eugenia Luchetta Published on 4/22/2024

For numerous practitioners, design transcends mere employment; it embodies a passion and a pursuit engaged in during leisure time as well. Often, the distinction between work and pleasure becomes indistinct, as evidenced by various documentaries, series, and discussions that serve either as educational resources or as entertainment.

The fascination with design and graphics has undeniably surged in recent years, accompanied by an increase in audiovisual content documenting this realm and its key figures, ranging from independent endeavors to those backed by major streaming platforms.

Highlighted below are some impactful documentaries from recent years, offering valuable perspectives to both designers and the general public.

Graphic Means (2017), Briar Levit

Created by Briar Levit, a Graphic Design professor at Portland State University, and funded via Kickstarter, Graphic Means delves into the graphic design landscape from the 1950s to the 1990s—a period before the rise of desktop publishing around 30 years ago, which marked a significant transformation in the field. This era experienced swift changes, transitioning from linotype letterpress printing to photocomposition and eventually to digital software, involving various procedures, tools, and crucial roles that were previously conducted manually.

The documentary emerged from Levit’s curiosity about a design and production approach largely unknown to many designers educated since the 1990s, a knowledge gap she shared before embarking on the project.

After its festival and event screenings, Graphic Means is available for streaming at

Helvetica (2007), Gary Hustwit

Helvetica, a seminal documentary on graphic design by Gary Hustwit, examines the pervasive presence of the Helvetica typeface and its significant impact on urban design and daily life, often in subtle, unrecognized ways.

Featuring interviews with renowned designers such as Erik Spiekermann and Massimo Vignelli, the documentary explores their creative processes and their engagements with typography. Despite its release over a decade ago, Helvetica’s insights remain relevant, offering a multifaceted analysis of design, advertising, and their societal, psychological, and artistic implications.

Although it is now almost 15 years since this documentary was first screened, the analysis is still very timely in both content and approach, looking at design and advertising from psychological, social and artistic perspectives.

Available for rental on Vimeo, Helvetica marked Hustwit’s directorial debut, leading him to produce other acclaimed design documentaries.

Abstract: The Art of Design (2017-2019), Scott Dadich

This Netflix original series spans two seasons, each episode profiling a different designer from various disciplines and locales, uncovering their unique practices, successes, and daily lives.

The series illuminates the vast scope of design, featuring talents from sneaker design to set design, and reveals the commonalities in their creative processes despite their diverse specializations.

Featuring figures like Paula Scher and Jonathan Hoefler, Abstract is insightful for industry professionals and laypersons alike, offering a glimpse into the unseen aspects of everyday designs.

The 14 episodes are interesting both for those in the industry who can delve deeper into their field and discover new ones, and for those who are totally uninvolved in design, as it offers an opportunity to explore the behind-the-scenes objects, environments and images we interface with on a daily basis.
Abstract: The Art of Design is available exclusively on Netflix.

Bauhaus: The Face of the 20th Century (1994), Frank Whitford

This documentary explores the influential Bauhaus school, established by Walter Gropius, which championed the unity of all arts and faced challenges from the Nazi regime. Despite its brief existence, the Bauhaus left a lasting legacy, detailed in the film.

Design is One: Lella & Massimo Vignelli (2013), Kathy Brew, Roberto Guerra

Documenting Lella and Massimo Vignelli’s prolific careers, Design is One celebrates their contributions to design, from the New York subway’s graphics to American Airlines’ visual identity. The film emphasizes the duo’s collaborative spirit and Lella’s significant, yet often overlooked, contributions.

Streaming for a fee at, the documentary, alongside Helvetica, underscores the Vignellis’ profound influence on design.

These documentaries provide enriching explorations into the realm of design and graphic design, offering both entertainment and education for viewers to delve into from the comfort of their homes.

Enjoy discovering these visual narratives!