Special Edition: What I Learned at the Movies About Designing for the Future

This blog post is a part of Design Blogger Competition organized by CG Trader.  You can learn more about it at this link:  https://www.cgtrader.com/blogging-contest

In a philosophy of film class that I took years ago at Louisiana State University, we discussed the difference between watching a movie on television versus on the big screen. Television is added to one’s environment whereas a film on the big screen becomes one’s environment. I realized how true this is a few years later when I watched a whole summer’s season of films at the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto, California. The Stanford is a grand movie theatre originally built in the 1920’s that shows films from the “golden age of Hollywood,” so I watched many classic and iconic films there, in a beautifully restored space that is comfortable, accessible, and classic in the tradition of the movie palace. Watching films as they were truly meant to be seen awakened my love of the cinema in ways I would never have realized otherwise. What I learned from this experience is something we need to consider in designing for the future.

Innovation in sustainable materials and technology plays an unprecedented role in future interior and exterior design, but spaces conducive to human interaction are necessary to bring out the best in society. There in the heart of Silicon Valley people line up on the sidewalk outside the Stanford Theatre to see “old” movies along with other people. Streaming is fine, and there are myriad ways to consume all forms of media, but folks still crave the communal experience of going to an old fashioned movie theatre. There’s so much now that people can do without leaving the comfort of their own homes that it’s important to design and create appealing and inviting spaces to get them to leave the comfort of their own homes! Though some may say that the town square has gone electronic with the advent of social media, drawing people out into the world to take part in it and all it has to offer is important for human development and for democracy.

Even within the comfort of one’s own home, communal space takes greater precedence now than in the past. In the American south where I grew up, most homes used to have a front room formerly known as a “parlor” or living room that was used only for dressier occasions and a den for informal lounging or family time. Now there’s rarely a parlor or formal living room anymore and the family spends time in a more comfortable multipurpose open space wired for all forms of electronics and furnished for quality down time. The kitchen has now become a type of family room as well and in many cases everyday appliances that used to be sequestered away in a laundry room or basement now proudly take center stage. Remember the original designer jeans circa 1980’s such as those by Calvin Klein (famously modeled by Brooke Shields), Gloria Vanderbilt and Jordache? The teens and pre-teens that once bought those items with such fervor now put equal emphasis on designer washers and driers, refrigerators, dishwashers and stoves—even water faucets. Whatever it was about the aforementioned designer brands that made those young consumers willing to spend more to get just one pair of Calvins as opposed to several pairs of non-designer jeans is applied to everyday items that will make life more pleasant, efficient and stylish for themselves and their families. It isn’t just functionality that counts but style as well, and designing for the future means offering the best of both.

Today, DJ’s sample music from various artists to put together a whole new sound, and designing fashion  for the future involves sampling from the best of the past. A Chanel jacket worn to a tea party in a Parisian garden is still recognizable as a Chanel jacket worn to a hip-hop concert in Atlanta. The design makes it classic; the change in venue and unique style and taste of the person wearing it makes it thoroughly modern, and that ensures its timelessness. Sometimes a clean break with the past is warranted but the best of design remains and the best designers will be those who sample from that reservoir of vision and artistry and make it into something new for the next generation. To abandon the past completely is like leaving fantastic footage on the cutting room floor, and in the fashion world, even when some claim a style is over, that usually turns out not to be the case. How many times have I read that the 1970’s/ boho/ hippie look was dead forever only to see it come roaring back the next season? There’s a reason why certain looks and styles return again and again, remixed, and welcomed as the latest thing—it’s worth remixing and updating, and in the new form it is the latest thing. How many magazine articles have I seen about Faye Dunaway’s iconic “career bitch” look from Network, or the gangster chic style of Bonnie & Clyde? There’s a reason why fashion magazines keep coming back to the landmark Maysles Brothers documentary Grey Gardens for inspiration: Little Edie is a genius at fashion sampling! She knows how to wear a sweater as a turban or a skirt, accessorize with a fabulous brooch from her debutante days, tights and pumps and voila--“the best costume for today!”

Even in this ultra-modern age those from millennials to Gen-Xers are seeking out reboots and throwbacks in fashion, music, film and television, whether from the ‘70’s, ‘80’s, or 90’s. Vinyl is making a comeback (I’m thinking of record albums here rather than clothing but if you’re into the punk look, take your pick). As people move into the future they want the new but they also want that connection to the best of the past, for both inspiration and for raw material.

Back to where I started at the Stanford Theatre in the heart of Silicon Valley, where film fans young and old come together at a fabulous old-time movie palace. The kids might’ve been watching Star Wars at the multiplex last night, but they’re here to watch the silent Harold Lloyd film Safety Last tonight, as the lights dim and the mighty Wurlitzer organ plays down front. Somewhere nearby someone’s just launched a new app that might change the world, and a couple of train stops away Google is testing its latest robot. And the beat goes on and on.