One day during Austin's SXSW Film Festival in March, director Gary Hustwit and I sat down in what he called "a graphic design hell."

One day during Austin's SXSW Film Festival in March, director Gary Hustwit and I sat down in what he called "a graphic design hell."

The festival's filmmaker lounge was plastered with promotional posters for dozens of films. Some stood out with good design; others not so much. What united them all is what interests Hustwit: design used as a means of communication.

"That communication can be in the form of an advertising message or a product or object," he said, "because those objects are part of the story we're writing for ourselves and why we choose certain things. It's a reflection on our culture and us as individuals."

Hustwit's first documentary feature, 2007's Helvetica, unlocked the world of graphic design with a single, very familiar font. The critically acclaimed film hit a particular nerve among graphic artists, who were hungry for a portrait of their profession and helped spread the word nationwide.

His follow-up, Objectified, tackles something a mite bigger: the people and ideas behind the objects we use every day, and our relationship with this stuff.

In a style as clean, compelling, functional and enticing as the products featured, Hustwit explores such things as the evolutionary process of a potato peeler handle, the streamlining techniques of Apple Inc. and the philosophy guiding well-known brands like Umbra and IDEO.

At SXSW it drew a sold-out crowd to the festival's largest venue, and in New York last weekend Objectified became the highest-grossing independent film in the country on a per-screen basis.

Hustwit's rollout schedule also includes a return visit to the Wexner Center, where he'll introduce the film before screenings on Friday and Saturday.

As he explained in Austin, "Instead of being about one thing that sort of opens up this whole world [as with Helvetica], Objectified is the other way around. It's about everything, this whole manufactured environment that we've created. ... Someone might be designing a car or a toothbrush, but I think the creative process, the issues they're facing and the way they approach the projects is very similar."

Past the design and production phase, Hustwit goes on to consider the economic and environmental impact of these objects.

"It's a movie about the people who make all this stuff, but it's also questioning why we need all these things, too," he explained. "I think the more people know about the way the things they buy are made, the more they'll take that into consideration when they make purchases. It makes us reevaluate our relationship to all this stuff - why we buy it, why we think we need it and how our economy is apparently completely based on us continuing to want and need it."

Questions about marketed obsolescence and environmental responsibility, which hit home for Hustwit during production (now, he said, "If I'm buying a chair I want it to last for 40 years"), arise naturally from his filmmaking approach. It values discourse with audiences, and questions raised over questions answered.

"Some people have the perception that if they go to a documentary about a specific subject, it's going to answer all their questions about this subject very comprehensively," he said. "I would think that was the worst documentary in the world. I think documentaries are great for provoking thought and trying to connect the subject matter to [viewers'] own lives.

"Get all these interesting industrial designers around the table and what are they going to talk about? Of course they're going to talk about sustainability, form, materials, marketing, consumerism and all these other things. I just try to bring the public into that conversation."

Read more from "Objectified" director Gary Hustwit on the Bad and the Beautiful blog at ColumbusAlive.com.