Stefan SagmeisterPaula ScherDesign Observer
The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum
began the National Design Awards in 2000 to honor the best in American design. In the museum's words, the program "celebrates design in various disciplines as a vital humanistic tool in shaping the world, and seeks to increase national awareness of design by educating the public and promoting excellence, innovation, and lasting achievement."If design has an Oscar, the National Design Award is it.
The honor is taken seriously. Nominations are solicited from advisors in every state of the union. The submissions of entrants are reviewed with great care over a two-day period by a panel of judges (which included me this year). Three individuals or firms are announced as finalists in each of six categories: architecture, landscape architecture, interior design, product design, fashion design, and communication design. Finally, the winners in those categories are announced, along with special awards that include honors for "Design Mind" and Lifetime Achievement.
Because the Awards program was originally conceived as an official project of the White House Millennium Council, the First Lady serves as the honorary chair of the gala at which the winners are celebrated. She also traditionally hosts a breakfast at the White House to which all the nominees and winners are invited. That breakfast was today.
This year, however, five Communication Design honorees---Michael Rock, Susan Sellers and Georgie Stout, from this year's winning firm, 2x4, and Paula Scher and Stefan Sagmeister, respectively finalist and winner for 2005-- decided to decline the invitation. They wrote a letter to Laura Bush explaining why.
We understand that politics often involves high rhetoric and the shading of language for political ends. However it is our belief that the current administration of George W. Bush has used the mass communication of words and images in ways that have seriously harmed the political discourse in America. We therefore feel it would be inconsistent with those values previously stated to accept an award celebrating language and communication, from a representative of an administration that has engaged in a prolonged assault on meaning.Design Observer
concludesThe Cooper-Hewitt is an extraordinary institution, and every designer in this country should be grateful to the role it plays as an advocate for design. And although it's part of the Washington-based Smithsonian, its future is never as secure as it ought to be. But isn't it appropriate that the museum be, as it has been here, a focal point for dissent as well as celebration?