The designer’s guide to Netflix: 12 must-watch shows and movies

4 min read
Dominic Vaiana
  •  Jul 23, 2019
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Aside from being a go-to source for procrastination, Netflix is also a treasure trove of inspiration for designers. With their library being updated almost daily—remember when Orange is the New Black was the hot show?—it’s hard to keep up with what’s really worth watching.

From neuroscience to documentaries to lost footage, all of these shows will spark your imagination and leave you amazed at what the human mind can accomplish.

If you decide to binge them all in one week, don’t blame us for falling behind on your projects.

1. Abstract: The Art of Design

Created by: Scott Dadlich

Seasons: 1

Episodes: 8

Runtime: 42-48 minutes

This Netflix original docu-series, created by former WIRED editor Scott Dadlich, is a global sampler of the men and women who animate everything from screens to shoes. Each episode stands as its own documentary film, highlighting design visionaries like Nike designer Tinker Hatfield. Abstract isn’t just about storytelling, though: it illustrates the intent behind the amazing objects around us—which many take for granted—and the decisions from which they originated.

Our favorite episodes:

“Paula Scher: Graphic Design” — Abstract documents the work of Paula Scher, an American graphic designer who served as the first female principal at Pentagram.

“Christoph Niemann: Illustrator” — Over the past two decades, Nieman has sketched everything from New Yorker covers to Google’s “Doodle of the Day.” This episode is a window into the mind of one of the world’s most successful illustrators.

2. The Creative Brain

Directors: Jennifer Beamish, Toby Trackman

Starring: David Eagleman

Runtime: 52 minutes

To some people, creative genius might appear to be a superpower reserved for an elite few. But David Eagleman makes it his mission to dispel that myth in his documentary The Creative Brain

Eagleman, a neuroscientist and professor at Stanford University, taps into the minds of creators like prolific architect Bjarke Ingels and musical artist Grimes to unravel their thought processes and explore how each of us can unleash our own creative breakthroughs.

Eagleman’s premise is that being original isn’t about pulling ideas out of thin air: it’s about cobbling together existing ideas to create something remarkable. 

3. The Pixar Story

Director: Leslie Iwerks

Interviewees: Steve Jobs, Tom Hanks, Michael Eisner, and more

Runtime: 88 minutes

In the mid-1980s, a trio of Bay Area idealists combined their talents in art, science, and business to launch a company that would define entertainment for the foreseeable future. Those three people were Ed Catmull, John Lasseter, and Steve Jobs. Their company was Pixar.

The Pixar Story takes viewers behind the scenes to witness the creative struggle and determination that fueled the next-level animation technology which revolutionized Hollywood. The film stitches together never-before-seen footage and exclusive interviews with pivotal people including Tim Allen and Tom Hanks to chronicle Pixar’s journey from startup to paradigm shifter.

4. Jeremy Scott: The People’s Designer

Director: Vlad Yudlin

Starring: Jeremy Scott, Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, ASAP Rocky, and more

Runtime: 108 minutes

How do you go from farm boy to creative director of one of the world’s most prestigious fashion brands? Just ask Jeremy Scott.

Growing up in rural Missouri, Scott had dreams of becoming a fashion icon. But before realizing that dream, he would endure constant rejection, ridicule, and even homelessness before his crowning achievement: becoming Moschino’s creative director. This rags-to-riches documentary encapsulates the grit required to carve a name for oneself as a creative, with fascinating detours into the minutiae of the fashion industry.

5. The 100 Years Show

Director: Alison Klayman

Starring: Carmen Herrera

Runtime: 29 minutes

Carmen Herrera sketches every morning beside the window of her New York City apartment. A world-renowned painter, her minimalist works are on exhibit at major institutions such as MoMA and Tate Modern. London’s The Observer dubbed her the “discovery of the decade.”

The craziest part? She’s 104 years old.

Born in Cuba in 1915, Carmen Herrera is the oldest contemporary artist on earth. However, her work was stifled until the early 2000s. She didn’t even sell her first piece of artwork until she was 81 years old. The 100 Years Show chronicles the misfortune of Herrera’s talent being overlooked because of her gender and nationality—but the story is undeniably inspiring as it illustrates Herrera’s creative endurance and the power of art to sustain itself for a lifetime.

6. They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead

Director: Morgan Neville

Starring: Orson Welles, Frank Marshall, Peter Bogdanovich

Runtime: 98 minutes

Orson Welles was dubbed Hollywood’s golden boy after directing Citizen Kane. A perfectionist and cinematic visionary, Welles was held to a higher standard than any other director of his time. After struggling to uphold his reputation, The Other Side of the Wind was poised to redeem his career, but he died before completing it. The incomplete film remained locked in a vault for nearly four decades—until 2018.

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead is a riveting snapshot of Orson Welles’ creative genius and his attempt to create a genre-bending film, or what he called “a departure from [traditional] movie-making.” If this documentary doesn’t give you an appreciation for Welles’ creativity, it’s certain to instill a sense of urgency to act upon your own creative impulses.

7. Blurred Lines: Inside the Art World

Director: Barry Avrich

Starring: Marina Abramovic, Katherine Arnold, Amy Cappellazzo, and more

Runtime: 84 minutes

How does talent find an audience? How does power decide access? What—if anything—is a fair price tag to place on creative ingenuity?

These are the questions Blurred Lines explores through the eyes of renowned artists such as Julian Schnabel, and the powerful players who propel the commercial art industry: insiders from MoMA and Art Basel, gallerists, traders, and more. If you want a candid, amoral look inside the cut-throat business of elite art, grab some popcorn and press play.

8. 44 Pages

Director: Tony Shaff

Runtime: 90 minutes

For more than seven decades, Highlights has shaped the lives of kids from the baby boom generation up to today’s digital natives. The family-owned magazine is an anomaly, with its print edition thriving since 1946 without having sold a single advertisement.

This heartwarming film documents the decisions that go into designing, writing, and producing each 44-page magazine as well as how Highlights is transitioning to the screen while preserving its tradition. Despite the lighthearted tone, the film is packed with insights into product-market fit and how to create work that stands the test of time. 44 Pages oozes nostalgia, so get ready for a trip down memory lane. 

9. Print the Legend

Directors: Luis Lopez and Clay Tweel

Runtime: 99 minutes

Since 1986, 3D printers have built engine parts, braces for teeth, and even artificial human organs. But now, well into the 21st century, 3D printing is ramping up to be the next wave of the technological revolution. It’s a gold rush, but the question remains: which creators will come out on top?

Print the Legend looks behind the scenes at four competitors—3D ystems, Stratasys, MakerBot, and Formlabs—as they race to elevate 3-D printing from a fringe, tech-nerd niche into a mass-market consumer product that anyone can have on their desktop.

10. Have You Seen the Listers?

Director: Eddie Martin

Starring: Anthony Lister

Runtime: 86 minutes

Anthony Lister was destined to be an artist from childhood. Growing up in Australia, he reveled in the street art that surrounded him, and his parents encouraged him to draw whatever popped into his head. Lister quickly became an international icon, selling his works for five-figure checks and rubbing elbows with celebrities such as Paris Hilton. But as Lister built his career, his family life crumbled.

In Have You Seen the Listers? Anthony opens up about his complicated relationship with fame, his inner demons, and his struggle to subvert conservative Australian culture through art. The film is a must-watch for up-and-coming creatives to see the flip-side of stardom.

11. Floyd Norman: An Animated Life

Directors: Michael Fiore and Erik Sharkey

Starring: Floyd Norman

Runtime: 94 minutes

When Floyd Norman was a kid, he heard he could never have a career at Disney’s studio. “They don’t hire blacks,” is what his peers told him. Norman wasn’t having it though, and within a few years, he was animating The Jungle Book as Disney’s first black employee. During his tenure working under Walt Disney, Norman floated between animator, layout artist, storyboard artist, and writer until he was let go in 1965. But his creative tank was far from empty. 

This documentary blends interviews and archival footage to tell the fascinating story of Floyd Norman the animator, but more importantly, the story of Floyd Norman the man—who paved a path for black creatives in show business.

12. She Makes Comics

Director: Marissa Stotter

Starring: Kelly Sue DeConnick, Karen Berger, Jenette Kahn, and more

Runtime: 70 minutes

It’s no question that female creatives have been—and often still are—overshadowed by their male counterparts. But one niche industry in which women’s creative achievements are most impressive yet vastly underappreciated is comic books. 

She Makes Comics is comprised of eclectic interviews including underground comic artist Joyce Farmer, Comic-Con administrator Jackie Estrada, and a host of writers and critics. Uplifting, thought-provoking, and fearless, this documentary adds an important perspective to the conversation about gender equality in the creative field.

Got more suggestions for us?

We could spend all day exploring Netflix’s library, but that’s a dangerous rabbit hole to go down. If there’s a Netflix show or movie that designers need to watch, let us know on Twitter @InVisionApp.

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