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Joshua Distler

This is a great step forward! I want to share a an open letter that I wrote just after the election in 2008. Good luck with next steps and keep me posted!


Dear President Obama,

As an American designer who has spent a considerable amount of time both traveling and living in Europe, I have personally experienced the difference between standard of living and quality of life. In America, we work more hours than nearly every country on earth and as a whole have more wealth. Yet, in our struggle to keep our heads above the ever-rising waters of debt and rising costs we often overlook the quality of our lives.

Call it the frontier mentality or the continual crisis mentality, it is a feeling of short-term urgency that fuels the drive to be great, to innovate, to be something more. I think it defines us as Americans. But it also keeps us short-sighted, over worked and I believe in many cases unfulfilled. I think that it is this continual crisis mentality that makes us susceptible to manipulation through fear; the kind of manipulation that has been dealt so expertly by the Bush Administration. It allows us to accept the easy path instead of what we know in our hearts to be the right path. I think that it’s time we begin to mature as a nation and move away from our collective frontier mentality.

As a member of the middle class, I feel that we are a nation of orphans; a people whose government shows us every day that we are not cared for and alone. It tells us that we are a people who must look out for ourselves because nobody is looking out for us. When I look at our money, at our Post Offices, our embassies and our government publications I can see that the American government pays little attention to the fact that the Post Office hangs hand-written signs or that government forms are confusing and frustrating. I can see that the government does not care how its people experience it. As a designer, this relationship, or lack thereof, is exceptionally clear. I believe that for non-designers, a sense of abandonment and decline is also felt, but on a more subconscious level. In either case, the disconnect exists and pervades our sense of American existence everyday.

Of course, in the midst of the current financial crisis it is more than fair to say that changes like public health care and tax support for the middle class will take us a long ways towards a better standard of living. But, as a designer, I also want to emphasize quality of life: the ease with which we live our daily lives, and the contentment we feel as a result of a life well-lived. In the commercial world, design is a kind of personal note that a company uses to show that they respect their customers. And it’s not just market appeal; design is shorthand for saying that someone else has taken the time to care about how we experience something. Design is also about building something great with the resources you have. I feel that Including design and art in the dialog that the government has with the public will go a long way towards creating a relationship based on reciprocity and ultimately helping to fulfill the promise of democracy.

Please consider committing a small amount of funding to establishing a department of design and staffing it with designers and design advisors who come from outside the Beltway. Use this department to make sure that the work happening on the ground is smart, efficient and beautiful. Design is not just the note in the lunch box that shows respect. Design IS innovation. It is a very concrete way to show that things will be different from here on out; for America this would be a dramatic change. Imagine carefully considered and designed governmental buildings, forms that are not only decipherable and easily navigable, but also a pleasure to complete. At first design can be the coat of fresh paint that acts as evidence of change. Later it will be a lasting improvement to the quality of our lives because it will show us all that our government not only cares about what we have but how we live with what we have. You have realized this beautifully in your campaign. Don’t let it end now that you're elected.


Joshua Distler

Siobhan Gregory

This is so exciting. I agree that it is a challenge to pick just one proposal to vote on. There are some crucial topics on the table. This list nicely illustrates the breadth of issues that the field, and we as individual design entities, are faced with at the moment.

Joe Schwartz

The comments here are very insightful and should continue - any discussion on this subject can only lead to improvements in the formulation of some kind of formal design policy. Detractors will say that a formal policy is exactly what we DON'T need, because it will lead to more government interference. I say that anything that we do to raise awareness of our dearth of design quality is worth the effort.

As for the comment that design education in K-12 schools should not be a priority if we can't achieve a 100% literacy rate, I agree. But I am one of those people who believes that design education doesn't exist in a vacuum - that it can be used as a tool in curriculum and lesson planning to help us get closer to our academic goals. Arne Duncan himself stated that standardized testing is ineffective in determining the success of a student's progress. Yet, much of our educational efforts and funding goes to establishing classes that teach to some kind of a test. I know that if my life was evaluated solely by my knowledge of literary and mathematical facts, I would be determined to be a poor excuse for a human. To expect our children to answer to the same parameters is unfair. Of course language arts, math, science and history are essential subject matters. But many students consider the standard "teaching from the textbook" method to be boring and uninspiring. Injecting some design education into lessons to show the practical application of each of those subject matters will help keep the students interested and involved.

In regards to the comment that we need business and government leaders to accept the use of design as a business and innovation tool, check out books by Daniel Pink and Richard Florida, as well as the magazine Fast Company. There you will see that business already sees design as a tool to help us get out of our collective economic slump. As for informing government leaders, that is what I believe this National Design Policy initiative is for - to tie together the business and creative communities and gain government support for our efforts to show everyone what we believe in - the power of using design to facilitate major change.

Roy Luebke

Education for design thinking is fundamental and I am not opposed to it at all, however, in the short term we need to focus on business leaders and government leaders to show the power of design and structured innovation approaches. Once more momentum is gained, then take it to K-12 education. With the new Office of Innovation recently announced in September reporting directly to the US Sec. of Commerce, business success and adoption of design thinking will lead a rising tide for all of us.


k-12 education is winning? we can't even teach kids to read or fund schools' BASIC needs and we want them to groom innovators? please.

John Nordyke

I am hoping that a vote for a 'big one' would then allow many of the other issues to follow under its authority.

"Awards" "events" "commissions" ...are business as usual. The education, funding and community design level initiatives are the types of things that will get more engagement from a broader audience (including those not in the design fields) and that's where we can start some momentum. Regular Joes have to start seeing for themselves what a difference design makes in their lives.

Preferential voting, a ranking option or perhaps even a shorter lists that sorts/randomizes choices would probably yield better/more accurate results.

Nancy Frishberg

I agree that there are several great choices.

As I read through I thought you might use preferential voting in order to get more granular responses from us, and be able to judge not merely the *single* most popular initiative, but the several ideas that we like most. (e.g.

Louise Sandhaus

This was so hard! Like choosing which of your children will live. Can I vote several times??

Joe Schwartz

I won't be so bold to assume that I had any influence on this since it was my proposal in the video submissions earlier this year, but I am SO pleased to see an option for the inclusion of Design Education in K-12 education.

I'm working on my MFA Design thesis with K-12 Design Education as my subject, so I'm pleased that it would be considered as an option. I'm receiving good feedback for my efforts from educators across the country like Dr. Martin Rayala from Kutztown and Steven Heller from SVA, so these are all good signs.

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