Johnny Kelly's short film demonstrates design in everyday life

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Johnny Kelly's short film demonstrates the role of design in everyday life

Irish designer Johnny Kelly has debuted a short movie that attempts to show how design impacts on everyday life using basic shapes and without words (+ movie).

Shape movie by Johnny Kelly

Directed and designed by Kelly, Shape was written by graphic designer Scott Burnett, who is creative director of Dublin-based Studio AAD. The movie shows a day in the life of a nuclear family, but also illustrates some of the changes that happen over time "so slowly that we never really think about them", Burnett told Dezeen.

Shape movie by Johnny Kelly

"The characters are actually affecting the changes themselves in the film, everything changes and shifts to suit their needs," said Burnett. "They're very much part of the changes, the daughter understands this and has more control, the Dad doesn't so is hijacked by a series of chairs."

Shape movie by Johnny Kelly

Commissioned by Pivot Dublin as part of its remit to promote the value of design, the brief for the film included a stipulation that no text or voiceover be used so it could be understood universally.

Shape movie by Johnny Kelly

"Having tried to explain design, and particularly its value, to everyone from sisters and grandmothers to politicians and CEOs, I know that it usually takes about ten seconds until people start to glaze over," Burnett told Dezeen.

Shape movie by Johnny Kelly

"In the end we did the only sensible thing and decided not to try and explain design, but just to show it. Its prevalence, its impact, its role in everything we interact with."

Shape movie by Johnny Kelly

The film is set to be used in schools and classroom in Ireland as part of the MakeShapeChange campaign to raise awareness about design. This informed the style of the graphics, which aim to create something that is immediately understandable for a young audience.

Shape movie by Johnny Kelly

"I like that it is simple enough to be watched small on a phone, in fact you could probably watch it at postage-stamp size and it would still make sense!" Kelly told Dezeen. "When it comes to characters, I find the simpler they look, the more you empathise with them. So I started with a square, circle and triangle and went from there - Saul Steinberg has a lot to answer for."

Shape movie by Johnny Kelly

"In a lot of ways, all we did was animate the idea that good design is invisible, which is the bit that's always hardest to communicate to people who aren’t designers," explained Kelly. "They get the 'designer' stuff, the added extra, all bells and whistles version, but it can be really difficult to explain the invisible bit."

"We didn't want to highlight supposed 'good' or 'bad' design - that's not the aim with this film. Rather we wanted to show how almost every thing around us has been designed, and can and will be re-designed," he added.

Shape movie by Johnny Kelly

Pivot Dublin – the organisation behind Dublin's bid to be named World Design Capital 2014 – worked with Dublin City Council to commission the project. Despite coming runner up to Cape Town, Pivot has continued with its original plan to promote the value of design in Ireland and is collaborating with other design capitals to use Kelly and Burnett's film internationally.

Here's some information about the film:


As part of PIVOT Dublin, the city’s bid to become World Design Capital 2014, project initiator Ali Grehan thought that a simple animated film, that somehow explained what design was, would be a great way to expand the conversation, providing a way in for the wider public. Post bid, PIVOT Dublin has continued as planned to promote wider acceptance and use of design as a tool for positive change.

In 2012, Ali approached director Johnny Kelly to collaborate on making the film, and he in turn approached designer Scott Burnett to help write it. The challenge was to show what design was, and why it's important in a way that could be understood universally, so without language. Simple. After exploring several ideas the team did the only sensible thing and decided not to focus on design at all.

Shape movie by Johnny Kelly

MakeShapeChange is a project to get young people thinking about how the world is made around them and where design fits in. It’s grown from a film to a website to an education programme.

'Shape' is the short film at the heart of the project, highlighting the changes happening around us that we don't ordinarily notice, and how they affect us. The website hosts the film and provides a prompt to Think Design. Breaking the film into a series of scenarios, it presents design within wide contexts, prompts curiosity and identifies some of the practitioners working in these contexts.

As part of the project we’re developing an initiative to get designers into schools to talk about what they do and the difference it makes. And to come full circle, while Dublin came runner up to Cape Town for World Design Capital 2014, both Cape Town and previous host Helsinki are keen to collaborate on projects that use the film to educate, connect and explain. We hope this network will grow to include more partners.

The project was commissioned by Pivot Dublin and Dublin City Council.

Shape movie by Johnny Kelly

Directed & Designed by Johnny Kelly
Written by Scott Burnett
Produced by Ali Grehan
Production company: Nexus
Nexus Producer: Isobel Conroy
Animators: Felix Massie, Joe Sparrow, Alex Grigg and Johnny Kelly
Gif Wrangler: Alasdair Brotherston
Editor: Steven McInerney

Thanks to Mark Davies, Sergei Shabarov and Chris O'Reilly
Special thanks to Cllr Naoise O'Muiri and Dublin City Manager Owen Keegan for their support

Music & Sound Design: Antfood
Ensemble: Andrew Rehrig (flutes), Will Bone (trombone, trumpets, tuba, baritone sax, tenor sax I, clarinets), Jesse Scheinin (tenor sax II), Wilson Brown (pianos, guitars, synths, percussion), Chris Marion (strings)
Composition and Arrangement: Wilson Brown
Sound design: Spencer Casey, Charlie Van Kirk, Wilson Brown and Pran Bandi
Final Mix: Andy Baldwin