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Monday, July 17, 2006

Thank you, guys. You rock!

Those who read three of my earlier posts (Two Inspiring Refusals, the one on Principles, and Another Inspiring Refusal) must know that nothing gives me greater pleasure than seeing people thumb their noses at authority, as long as it is for a good reason (not too difficult to find, given the nature of almost all authority). So, I am pleased to quote another such incident.

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. This year, however, five Communication Design honorees decided to decline the invitation. They wrote a letter to Laura Bush explaining why. Here is the letter that 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, sent to the White House:

Dear Mrs. Bush, 
As American designers, we strongly believe our government should support the design profession and applaud the White House sponsorship of the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum. And as finalists and recipients of the National Design Award in Communication Design we are deeply honored to be selected for this recognition. However, we find ourselves compelled to respectfully decline your invitation to visit the White House on July 10th. 
Graphic designers are intimately engaged in the construction of language, both visual and verbal. And while our work often dissects, rearranges, rethinks, questions and plays with language, it is our fundamental belief, and a central tenet of "good" design, that words and images must be used responsibly, especially when the matters articulated are of vital importance to the life of our nation. 
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. 
While we have diverse political beliefs, we are united in our rejection of these policies. Through the wide-scale distortion of words (from "Healthy Forests" to "Mission Accomplished") and both the manipulation of media (the photo op) and its suppression (the hidden war casualties), the Bush administration has demonstrated disdain for the responsible use of mass media, language and the intelligence of the American people. While it may be an insignificant gesture, we stand against these distortions and for the restoration of a civil political dialogue. 
The letter was signed by Michael Rock, Susan Sellers, Georgie Stout, Paula Scher and Stefan Sagmeister.

Enough cheer to last me a long, long time.

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Blogger MAHARAJADHIRAJ said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

18 July, 2006 04:15

Blogger MAHARAJADHIRAJ said...

Looks like good ole Manmohan Singh is taking lessons from Bush and Co in manipulating the media... first there was an announcement about the 'Broadcast Bill' meant essentially to gag the media and now comes a block on 'free speech' by blocking blogs at blogger and typepad in the name of cracking down on terror outfits. How Bush-like is that!
For more on the blog block go to:

18 July, 2006 04:16

Blogger the olive ream said...

Bravo to all five for taking a stand and sending out this letter.

ZAK thanks for this brought a smile to my face and a type of joy that one rarely experiences these days. Questioning authority is great but thumbing your nose at it for the right reason is even better!

18 July, 2006 12:22

Anonymous Ghazala said...

Zak, another brilliant post - as usual. The olive ream has very succinctly penned what we all feel about questioning authority for the right reasons. Aung San Su Kyui ( i've probably got her spelling wrong ) has done it for years and has the World's attention focused on Burma and its problems - but hats off to her for her principled stand too.

19 July, 2006 09:59

Anonymous hira nabi said...

reading this made my day =)

28 July, 2006 12:41


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