Michael Bierut | Essays

Regrets Only

Invitation, designer unknown, 2006

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 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.

2006 finalist Chip Kidd was also asked to sign. But Kidd questioned the appropriateness of the gesture, said so in an email to the group. "The real issue here is that we were not invited to a rally in support of the war in Iraq. We were invited to recognize the National Design Awards, in our nation's capitol, in an extraordinary building that is a cornerstone of our history." He added that, like them, he was opposed to the Bush administration's policies, and pointed out that, also like them, he had created and published work that had expressed those views in no uncertain terms. But, he added, "it is that ability (hey, the freedom!) to make and send meaningful messages that we are supposed to be celebrating."

Kidd concluded, "Of course I respect your decisions, as I hope you all know how much I respect you and your extraordinary talents. But as graphic designers, we rightly complain that those talents are too often uncredited and taken for granted. Personally, in this case, I think it accomplishes more to stand up and be counted than to stay away."

Accomplishment, as defined here, is nothing if not relative. Hosting a breakfast to honor the National Design Awards is hardly a public relations coup for the White House, and the attention that design gets from such a gesture is pleasant but not exactly transformative. Likewise, the erosion of the George Bush's approval ratings are unlikely to accelerate just because a handful of graphic designers take a stand, no matter how principled. What we have here, then, is a symbolic protest to a symbolic event.

The commitment of the Bush administration to design has been negligible, unless one considers made-for-television stagecraft and obsessive typographic sloganeering worthy additions to the design canon. Mrs. Bush's remarks at the 2002 White House brunch are gracious and polite, but don't go much beyond saying that, well, design is nice. Speaking of the grandeur of the White House itself, she said, "Thanks to the dedicated work of design experts, we have landmarks like this one, places that are so well loved, lived-in, and preserved that many generations are able to experience its stories and offerings. Design, in all its disciplines, is the world's greatest facilitator — it allows us to enjoy life and all of its pursuits."

To find real commitment to design, you have to go back: not to the Clintons, who helped initiate the Awards, but nearly 30 years earlier, to a time when that commitment was clear and unequivocal. Here's a quote from the President of the United States, circa 1973: "There should be no doubt that the federal government has an appropriate role to play in encouraging better design."

That was none other than Richard Nixon, launching the first Federal Design Assembly in 1973. Under the theme "The Design Necessity," it was the first of four conferences to bring together over 1,000 architects, product designers, interior designers and graphic designers and public sector managers to discuss how design could be used more effectively by government on every level. Part of the NEA-sponsored Federal Design Improvement Program, it remains a high water mark in government commitment to design in this country, creating legacies that include the conversion of the Pensioners Building into the National Building Museum and the enduring graphic program for the National Parks Service. What does it mean that we gained a design advocate in the man who many considered — until recently at least — the worst president in the last 100 years?

In the days leading up to the breakfast, emails flew and tempers were raised. Interestingly, the controversy appeared to be confined to those of us who practice what the Cooper-Hewitt calls communication design; if any architects, product designers, interior designer or landscape architects had any qualms about attending this event, they've remained silent. This may be our collective professional guilt: after all, George W. Bush owes his election, at least in part, to one inept amateur graphic designer in Palm Beach County, Florida. But there may be something more.

At their best, architects create buildings that outlive the patrons that commissioned them: the grandeur of the White House, invoked by both Chip Kidd and Laura Bush, can be experienced by contemporary visitors who need not know or care about George Washington or James Hoban. Similarly, the creations of fashion and product designers are perceived on their own terms once they're out in the world. But a piece of graphic design is more than an arrangement of lettering and images. It's also a message. And graphic designers, "intimately engaged in the construction of language, both visual and verbal," cannot escape the fact that — no matter how slippery — language, in the end, means something, or at least it's supposed to.

The 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?

Laura Bush was right about one thing, and no one knows it better than graphic designers: design is a facilitator. Now, more than ever, we should be aware of what we choose to facilitate.

Posted in: Politics

Comments [224]

It is truly a shame that the posturing graphic designers cannot get over themselves and their access to 15 minutes of fame by enjoying their time in the spotlight. While they are showing their ass by snubbing the gala, they will not be remembered for their art... more likely they will be remembered for a hollow protest (for all of 15 seconds). Seems like every chance someone gets, they try to throw a little mud at the President. Silly.

I would have been more impressed if they actually refused the awards. Sagmeister and Co. want to have their cake, and eat it too. They will accept the award, but won't attend the ceremony for moral reasons? Give me a break. Designer's with strong political points of view have been waiting for this opportunity to let their voice be heard. Actually, they haven't been waiting, as this site proves again and again as it confuses design with politics on a regular basis. At least this post has a legitimate reason to raise the political issue. Regardless, I think declining the invitation is an empty gesture.

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.

I disagree. The Bush Administration has used the mass communication of words and images in a way that the undersigned DO NOT LIKE. Please. Get over yourselves.

Unfortunate that Kidd feels the need for a photo op with The Decorator to validate "Book Two".

We're all whores for press I suppose. Yours truly was invited to Clinton's White House back in 1999 after being "awarded" The National Campaign Against Youth Violence identity which has since been laid to rest by the current administration. As per usual, when it came time to lube our cigars I was informed by the agency (Foote Cone Belding) and design firm (Templin Brink) who hired me to task that I
was too much of an embarrassment to board the plane, mush less receive credit when it won "best of" category in HOW. But enough about me.

If I were given the chance to attend the White House again, to be honest, I would accept. Then take a giant dump in the Rose Garden.
felix p sockwell

When there is an attack, that is when we see the conservative readers come out.

I'd have to disagree with John on the use of words by the Bush Admin.

"Mission Accomplished" or "Mission Accomplished" Which one looks better?

Remember that one? I mean it may not have been the pinnacle of typographic excellence, but it was a empty declaration of success. Obviously, it's the glaring example, but with all the "success" we have achieved in Iraq since then that statement has becoming ultimately untrue and at the time was misleading.

Why would that not be an improper use of communication?

I agree with commenter John above. I do not believe this has anything to do with Bush's alleged "mass communication of words and images in ways that have seriously harmed the political discourse in America."

As a design professional who has paid close attention to recent politics, I've found it easy to understand the administration's positions when they aren't filtered through third-parties. There is no justification for claiming that Bush has "engaged in a prolonged assault on meaning." His meaning has been clear -- these award recipients just do not agree with what is being said.

This is about partisan politics, not communication ideology, as indicated by their statement: "we are united in our rejection of these policies." To claim that their reason for declining is the abuse of media communication is itself an "assault on meaning."

This is really too bad, I had a rather high opinion of Paula, she comes across as more polite than that. Had the President actually been in attendance I would have understood the appropriateness of the protest. You just don't beat-up on the First Lady. It's considered bad form. But I suppose when it comes to politics rage takes over reason. and integrity develops two sides. Given the current strident, but even split in political opinion these days - your damned if you do and damned if you don't.

I'm sure those who declined invitations will be surprised by the fuss, given the weight of left wingers in the design biz. I know at the past couple of AIGA conferences, I as a middle-of-the-road conservative, have felt somewhat uncomfortable at the leftist comments during many sessions. So, I doubt they will suffer the retribution slung at the Dixie Chicks for their political transgression. Despite the White House efforts design is just not that visible (pun intended).

John, do you understand that one of the signs of the degradation of public discourse that the designers were criticizing is the move you made in your post? Here, I'll spell it out for you:
The designers first express their shared belief that "words and images must be used responsibly, especially when the matters articulated are of vital importance to the life of our nation." Their statement that they have otherwise diverse political values among them further claims that these beliefs are, or should be, widely shared, even among those who would otherwise argue over politics.
Then they make a series of evaluations of the state of public discourse today--that in politics, words have been distorted, the news media manipulated or silenced, about those important events, beyond what one would expect in the rough-and-tumble of normal politics.
Then they state that they believe the Bush Administration has caused (many of?) those problems, and that to accept an award for their work at the White House would indirectly lend their support to the administration, and hence to contradict their values they share as they stated them.
They then conclude that it would be best for them not to attend the dinner. (I see nothing in their letter either accepting or declining the awards.) They recognize and write that theirs might be an insignificant gesture to others, but not so to themselves, because it was the one best in line with their values.
So, there are clear statements of value, and clear and provable or disprovable claims about the world in their letter, arranged in a way to invite a reader to test those claims and reach the same or different conclusions.
You, on the other hand, without evidence or argument, refuse to engage any of these claims, and summarily reduce their letter to a product of an emotional state based on unreflective ideological preferences. Your comment is a wonderful example of the kind of mindset that reduces any and all claims about the world to nothing more than pure statements of interest and ideological allegiance.
We've seen this kind of world based on this mindset before, for example in the writings of the German legal philosopher Carl Schmitt, who reduced all politics to nothing more than the struggle between friends and enemies.
Find the Wiki entry for Schmitt and ask yourself how that kind of mindset plays out in history. Does your comment honestly represent the kind of world you'd like to live in?
Maurice Meilleur


The reason many people believe "Mission Accomplished" was an empty declaration is based on an incorrect assumption that Americans/Westerners were the target audience for that message. They were not.

The target was Iraqis, both those that supported the Hussein regime and those that didn't, and it was a message that the regime had fallen. The intent was, of course, war propaganda, especially toward any remaining Iraq regular military that thought it should keep fighting. Bush flying onto the ship was also part of this propaganda. A military leader arriving in-theater to celebrate victory with his troops is an ancient and powerful ritual not seen much any more, and this one was televised to reach as many Iraqi eyeballs as possible.

Once one recognizes who the target of "Mission Accomplished" was, it becomes easy to understand the intent. Whether it was improper or not depends on one's view of the properness of using propaganda against an enemy. As to effectiveness, we rarely discover the statistical value of war propaganda, although I submit that if the possibility existed that this would get any Iraqi military to lay down arms then it was a worthwhile endeavor.

What if anything is the administration's direct involvement in the awards? So far as I can tell(from the little I know), it's limited to funding, and that as just one more thing that's been inherited from some prior administration. A filthy lucre argument wouldn't likely hold up too well, as the government is surely funding lots of other things that are being happily accepted.

If the above is fairly accurate, then I don't think I see much of a conflict in accepting the award but refusing to have nibbles with the President's wife. MSwaine: Unless Mrs. Bush has spoken publicly against the government's actions, it doesn't seem that unreasonable to deny the invitation.
Refusing the award outright might be the "bigger" statement, but I don't have the impression it'd be truer in any significant way.

The "Mission Accomplished" photo op was not an Iraqi only exercise in propaganda. It was carefully orchestrated by Karl Rove, etc, and took place within Helicopter Range off the California Coast. It was not in the "theater" as you have claimed. But that is not really important.

What is important is the use of "information" that the administration uses to sell its ideas to the people and Congress. It does not take a leftist view of politics to understand that the Bush administration has bent information and muddied communication to fit its political ends. That is why the designers are protesting. Seeing that most people don't ever get the chance to say something to the president that might actually get heard, I see no problem in protesting a design awards dinner. I would hope that anyone who disagrees would do the same (as many Poets did in 2003) The idea that free speech is inappropriate during certain times and the president's wife should be off limits are the exact reason our country is where it is. If only Congress could take a stand they believe in and speak their minds like a couple graphic designers have chosen to do then there might be a real political dialogue in this country. Instead we are left with listening to talking points being lobbed across the aisle, and in the blogs.

This debate should be shifted to the core of the argument which is the use of design and language by the administration and what that means, not whether or not a couple designers had breakfast with the first lady.

This debate should be shifted to the core of the argument which is the use of design and language by the administration and what that means

In the interest of debate, I agree and submit that this cannot be done to satisfaction.

"Language" of any administration is interpreted by reporters, editors and pundits of both sides, often before it even gets to the ears of We, the People. Even when we hear speeches live, follow-up punditry begins the spin and redefinition process. I think politics has become more divided in recent years not because of a widening ideological split in the country, but because we have, for the first time, 24-hour televised filtering and interpretation of political discourse that is spinning in both directions.

Language is losing meaning in politics. The speaker is partisan, the reporter is partisan, and the end reader is partisan, which has always been true. But recently, language seems to be devolving as an effective communication tool in politics because many people no longer try to understand the intent of the communicator. People are instead reading their own biases into communication, selectively editing out portions or reinterpreting words, until the communication fits their world view.

Clinton said that it depends on what the meaning of "is" is. Partisans on the right cried foul, partisans on the left cried brilliance. This is just one extreme example of how language is becoming ineffective when partisans can alter the meaning of language and people holding a similar partisan view agree. It's been devolving for at least a decade, it just wasn't as noticable because the stakes weren't as high. And both sides are contributing.

It is a pathetic site to be seen when some of the most talented designers of our time are unable to get over themselves. They take full advantage of the ability to dissent, and because of their extreme left views fail to see that because of the current administration, millions of previously oppressed people are now able to participate in the democratic process. Now that the WMD's have been found, a brutal dictator is gone, a savage terrorist is killed, and we are fighting terrorists in their backyard and not ours... you would think a little respect could be paid. They could easily accept this honor, not as politicians, but as designers... if only they could get over themselves.

Wait, they found the WMD's?
How did I miss this breaking news?

(Not to sidetrack the conversation... oh, darn, I just did...)

so these designers didnt want to break bread with the first lady of the worst administration in US history. whats the problem here? im not exactly sure what michael bierut's point is. is he being critical of the designers for not taking the chance to align themselves with power? they had a political opinion about the president, had the opportunity to be vocal about it, and acted according to their beliefs. they exercised their rights as citizens. i dont understand why this equates with arrogance, given the current political situation.


Is your name actually Bill Frist?
If not, you and "Doctor" Frist are the ONLY people who still believe that we found WMDs in Iraq.

I may not be able to see your cheery assessment of the administration, but I am able to see:

1. The death of over 2,500 (and still counting) American soldiers in a war that was "Accomplished" over THREE years ago.

2. The estimated death of over 38,000 Iraqis.

3. Growing instability in Afghanistan (you might remember that was our ORIGINAL goal, since that was where Osama Bin Laden was hiding - remember him?) due to our Iraqi diversion.

4. Lack of attention to (and terrible policies toward) other SERIOUS threats Iran and North Korea.

5. Our worsening reputation around the world due to instances of torture, rape, and "black sites" that ignore law and human decency. (Our capitalistic economy relies on world trade, so don't tell me it doesn't matter)

We are CREATING terrorists - not stopping them.

I do agree with you on one thing:
These designers are taking full advantage of their ability to dissent.

Nothing could be more American.

I know it is easy to misinterpret these views as just signs of ego, however I dont believe designers, as intelligent and well respected as they are, got together to show the community what rebels they are,

if we look at their options (in terms what else they could of done in regards to this invitation) we will see that they are not left with too many choices,

yes they could have accepted the invitation and gone to the white house, but seriously we must examine the circumstances and environment/situation that they would be faced with in order to see if they would ever get an opportunity to make an effective statement. It certainly wouldnt be in laura bush's rose garden sipping tea,it would be through their work, which so far they all seem to be pursuing,

do you truly believe that if these designers folded their hands and went to this event that we would even be sitting here discussing this important matter, it is because of this letter, as ineffective a gesture as it seems to many of us, that this topic has surfaced again, if we believe in these views we must be reminded time and again to act accordingly, in addition to this many designers are not natural born politicians and with leftist views in a conservative government things can get misunderstood very easily.

Support is needed in order to keep us alert and pumping out work that speaks to everyone about these issues and morals. At times it is better to observe and speak through your work rather then say things that you may regret because when dealing with an extremist government words that do not bear value and meaning to the bush administration hold their own consequences.

(unless you get an opportunity like stephen colbert on live television in front of millions, which I dont things this event got)

I really dont think this is a matter of getting "over themselves" , in fact if you look at the semantics, and structure of the letter you will find that it was probably re-edited many times and written by someone who knew exactly what to say, perhaps even a lawyer...

its always intersting to not that when these things occur it creates a chain reaction through out the whole community and gets the wheels turning again, and thats always a great thing.

I dont think the point is to act like savours because honestly I dont think its going to happen at a ceremony, it happen through gradual shifts in the market and the way we construct and percieve this world, what better way to change things then that, there are many forms of protesting, it doesnt have to always be face to face, in fact the most effective ways of protest are usually silent in form.

Somewhere in my reading of the past week, I came across a beautiful consideration of Gandhi's fasts. The author suggested that Gandhi didn't fast to change his opponents, but to change the ones closest to him. An opponent wouldn't care if he ate or not, but a loved one would.

The message of the "NDA Five" is nothing new to Laura Bush; since she's been in this position before. A 2003 White House symposium on Walt Whitman, Lanston Hughes and Emily Dickinson ("Poetry and the American Voice") was cancelled upon discovering attendees had solicited anti-war poems for presentation at the event.

But the following controversy prompted anti-war readings across the country and brought greater press coverage than if the symposium had happened. A poetry collection was published the following year, and the website which was created to handle the large number of submissions continues to this day.

So consider the NDA Five's boycott as a fast, meant to change the hearts and steel the resolve of those who know them, love them, or just admire their work.

In the words of Adrienne Rich: "Poetry means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holds it hostage ... A President cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored."
m. kingsley

Ignoring all the political hyperbole for a minute, let's get down to the REAL unanswered question here:

For a design award show, why does the invitation suck so bad??

Kidd was particularly gracious, and I agree with his approach. Snubbing the First Lady does little, beyond getting a few headlines here and there.
Jack Yan

I feel split in my opinion as to what the five designers wrote in their letter and what they did (accept the award, but not attend the ceremony). On one hand, I find their letter to be a well-articulated distillation of my own feelings on the matter. On the other, as has been pointed out, this seems like a hollow gesture with little reach. Ultimately, I think it's a bit of both.

For that reason, and others, I'm inclined to agree with Kidd. The awards are a federal program that recognizes design excellence and are valued enough to involve the Office of the President, even if those recognized are dissenters. That alone demands a degree of respect. However, the most valuable outcome of this situation is likely not the designers refusing, nor other designers going, but the discourse sparked by both sides respectfully making their cases and standing behind their beliefs to challenge the rest of us to think and act critically.

In that way, no matter what your view, we can add to the higher aim of constructive discourse about design and perhaps even politics. Though I see we're faltering on that second count already as this thread begins to spin...
Chris Rugen

I fail to see the corellation of attending a function at the white house with I agree with the white houses policies? This wasn't the George and Laura Bush Design Awards for promoting the war on terror and even supporting this administration. This a national recognition of professional excellence. The awards had nothing to with the actual message or language presented in the award winning designs, rather the manor in which the message was presented. I'm sure Laura Bush doesn't agree or condone half of the messages presented in the 5 designers work, does that mean that she has the right to refuse offering an invitation to the event because she doesn't agree with the message? How absurd!

By refusing the invitation the designers are saying the their own polictical baggage is much more important than promoting the value and importance of excellent design in our nation. I can count on one hand how many people I have meet that can rightly explain what graphic design is, and I have yet to have someone know what an industrial designer does. Purhaps we could take the long view here and take advantage of the opportunities to promote our professional field when given the chance, dispite our own political views.

By refusing the invitation the designers are saying the their own polictical baggage is much more important than promoting the value and importance of excellent design in our nation.

I think you're almost exactly right. I think they're saying that there are things going on right now that ultimately are more important, and that that design is being used to make them worse.

Couple (non-rhetorical) questions:

Why do we (graphic designers) love to preach to the choir vs. convert the masses?

And why are graphic designers so singular in their political views?

I don't really see an issue with a symbolic protest to a symbolic event - it is a completely appropriate response. Letter to letter. Invite with stated intent, decline with stated intent. By now this is most likely a common thing for the Whitehouse to receive and I highly doubt it will have any impact on the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, or design recognition as a whole. I think it is a completely positive action that designers who are recognized for great work will also be recognized for a strong political conscience, as public or private an event it may be, rather than the complacent "stand up and be counted" as Chip Kidd states.

Celebrating the "freedom to create meaningful messages" is indeed a great event, but if the "we" involves designers AND current administration (all those involved in the ceremony) then I fully support the protesting designers choice to reject celebrating the freedom to create meaningful messages with an administration that shows no ethical responsibility towards integrity of meaning, and the conscious self-serving manipulation of signs in the public domain.


I don't see the problem with accepting the award but refusing to attend the ceremony. The winners were selected by an independent panel under the auspices of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, nothing to do with the first lady. Why should these designers subject themselves to be part of another Bush photo-op?

So where did they find the WMDs? The discovery must have coincided with England getting knocked out of the World Cup - it wasn't covered here!

The award wasn't given by an evil organization - so by all means accept it. Choosing not to attend the gala isn't simply about politics - I mean, I wouldn't go to anyone's dinner party, smiling politely to their face, if I thought they were assholes - or evil.

A point of clarification: The National Design Awards are bestowed by the Smithsonian Museum's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum - not by the President of the United States. Last October's awards ceremony at the Cooper-Hewitt did not involve the White House or the current administration in any way. Yesterday's White House ceremony was a photo op to promote design awareness and further "honor" the awardees. There is nothing contradictory about accepting the award and declining Laura's brunch invitation. The integrity of the intelligent letter by Michael Rock, Susan Sellers, Georgie Stout, Paula Scher and Stefan Sagmeister cannot be denied.
Katherine McCoy

For the record, Laura Bush is not just the host of a breakfast in Washington. She is the honorary patron of the entire National Design Awards program, as noted in the first paragraph of the press release announcing the 2006 awards/nominations for 2x4 and Paula Scher, and for the 2005 awards/nominations for Stefan Sagmeister, Paula Scher and Katherine & Michael McCoy. Laura Bush is also listed in the program booklet, and named from the podium, at each year's dinner in New York City, as she was at the dinner where Kathy McCoy accepted her award.

Given these facts, such distinctions seem hollow and, frankly, sanctimonious.
Clarence Clyde

For the numb-skulls who want the designers to get over themselves: It takes a certain amount of luck and skill to get to the point where you're actually able to steal enough time on the big podium to say what needs to be said about what's going on in this country: If you're too small-minded to recognize that, feel free to stick your head back into the sand- maybe you'll find the WMDs down there. Maybe they're not on the same scale as a Bono or a Michael Stipe, but any opportunity to declare righteous indignation should be taken full advantage of, and Rock, Sellers, Stout, Scher and Sagmeister are to be commended.

While I realize it is a futile fight, I'll attempt to bring us back to one of Michael's other points.

I was an intern working for the National Park Service's Center for Interpretive Design. It saddens me that due to budgetary constraints the intern position within Publications and Wayfinding is no longer offered consistently. It was my first internship anywhere, and I can confess that it was the best possible experience for any new designer in the field — and now it is no longer available to students.

Most of the designers there are no longer being replaced as retirees leave. Jobs are being farmed out to lowest bid contractors, most of whom ignore or blatantly disregard the system institued by Massimo Vignelli and the FDIP. What Michael calls "enduring", I call "on rocky grounds." The Unigrid (On which almost all Park Service work is founded) is, by many accounts, considered Vignelli's most successful project — it is one of the few that has really stood his idea of "timelessness." Having roamed the publication offices and having seen work done before its inception and after, I can wholeheartedly agree. The Unigrid system simplifies the creative concerns of the designer, therby allowing them to focus on content (designers and content in the government — think about that). Because of this, the NPS brochure system is one of the most logical and direct communication of meaningful content, given to a universal audience that can learn and enjoy regardless of financial restrictions. While I admit to 100% bias, I can think of almost no other program that encourages this to such a broad extent.

When I started as an intern there, there were huge budget cuts on the Publication department. During a time of increased costs in printing and design, the budget was cut substantially ($millions). This was during the time of the "war" in Afghanistan. It is probably safe to assume not much has changed.

Who loses? Not the designer. The people. The American citizen and the world traveler, who now has to pay for information and the enjoyment of parks set aside to learn from. Theres even a few military installations so that you can learn about the ill-effects of war . . .

You are all welcome to your opinions on politics, but realize that each opinion has consequences — many of which affect our lives and ou profession. I personally would rather see citizens of the world benefit from properly communicated knowledge of our great history and natural surroundings than build another bomb with which kill fellow humans. But what do I know, I'm just a designer.

When it comes to design and its role in the lives of every American citizen, I'll take Tricky Dick.
Derrick Schultz

For my part, I applaud the efforts of people in the public eye who stand up for their convictions.

As we see here, they will have critics to face, but they chose to make a very visible statement
despite that.

I agree wholeheartedly with both their opinions and their actions.


The problem with the letter is that it is weak and polite to the point of being totally ineffective. These people, like many others, obviously hate Bush. Be realistic OK? And probably Laura Bush too - she is party to the actions of her partner in life. We live in a polarized nation. Assumption? Of course, let's be honest with ourselves, if you wanted to be 'respectful' of Laura Bush, you would show up. They, like many others, don't want to set foot in the White House because they detest everything this administration stands for and would be embarrassed to be immortalized, smiling like morons alongside this particular First Lady in the mandatory photo ops. I don't know what Sagmeister has to lose by being the honest no-bullshit rockstar that he is capable of being - he's built his career on it - but he's not speaking his mind on this matter. Thumbs down on the letter, they went waaaaay to soft! It has neither the honest impact nor the genuine respect that a great statement could have.
andrew kueneman

The letter from Sagmeister & co. is beautifully written. I doubt Mrs. Bush will show it to the President and he is the one who needs to ponder its meaning. But then again he does not ponder —he panders.

Its shameful to see these people completely miss the point. Not everything has to be about Bush. This is the nation honoring some of its talented designers. It has nothing to do with politics.

you are not rebels
you are not making a statement
you are rude
you are blinded by hate
get over yourselves...

Thank you Mrs. McCoy for clarifying so eloquently.

And what they hell is with all the political backlash? This whole country seems unhealthily averse to any actions which might promote a specific political belief. Talk about needing to get over ourselves. Can we get over our fear of standing up for our beliefs and in the value of an open discourse? Everyone of us has an opportunity and responsibility to "use" any situation we find ourselves in as a means to communicate those beliefs we think are important. It may be grandstanding but Jesus! its about damned time. And don't lean on the "its a design award and politics have no place there" argument. As long as we are bombing and killing innocent civilians and subversively undermining the Constitution, then I believe political views should be a living part of EVERY aspect of our lives. From what we eat, buy, watch, promote etc.

and lastly...
"don't beat up on the first lady"? Are we effing serious? She deserves everything she gets. We all do. Karma is a bitch.

r agrayspace

I doubt Mrs. Bush will show it to the President

Heck, I doubt Laura Bush will even see this letter herself. I'm sure she has a special assistant just for opening letters, and another one for reading them. I suspect the First Lady will receive only the information that "the following will be unable to attend..." with no explanation why.

Seeing as how wearing a peace T-shirt is enough to get you arrested and in the news - or at least the blogosphere - these days, maybe all the designers should have showed up to the party with their message emblazoned across their chests instead.

I believe more would have been accomplished had those who won accepted the warm invitation, and then spoken of these things once they arrived. One's personal political agenda should not keep them from accepting an invitation for the sake of making a feeble statement for others to wallow about. More could be accomplished through attending and explaining respectfully their feelings. It is amusing that designers, just like celebrities, continue to assume others care about their political opinions more than a layman's, and they continue to voice their malcontent, instead of finding solace in their own consolation.
Gavin Wassung

Laura Bush's remarks from the awards breakfast yesterday can be found here. Worth reading.

Michael Bierut

If you were reading a history book and saw that the majority of recipients of the 1939 Nazi National Design Award declined to attend a breakfast with the fuhrer's first lady, would you consider them trite and pompous?

Not that the 3rd Reich should be likened to our current political climate, but the point is to try and see the designers' statement in an historical context. (And as far as history goes, WW2 is common known denominator.)

Regardless, I think they would have succeeded much better if they had simply refused the breakfast on their political beliefs as opposed to a perceived and somewhat hokey Bush administration 'assault on meaning'.

Then again, by not doing that, the letter becomes instant kitch. And every good designer likes kitch, right?

Absolutely correct. They were very polite in using the term "mission accomplished" but in reality their underlying message was that they disliked all their lying that they spew every single day about everything.

I just wanted to share a few notes, now that I've returned from the event yesterday in Washington and it's still fresh in my head. I'm sure this will change no one's mind, but that's not really why I'm writing it.

First, thank you Michael for your eloquently written piece. I don't agree with all of it, but it's even-handed and brilliantly articulates a lot of things that are very hard to put into words. It's inspired a lot of healthy debate and that's all to the good.

The event itself at the White House was for me, as expected, a profoundly moving experience. From an admittedly sentimental point of view, the very idea that I was there because of what I've worked on for the past twenty years was like something out of Horatio Alger. One minute I'm doodling Batman in the margin of my 4th grade math book and the next I'm standing in the Blue Room, chatting with Robert Downey Jr (more on that below).

A few observations, for what it's worth:
* As far as I could tell, no one in any of the other categories boycotted the event. The only other no-show I noticed was Mayor Daly of Chicago (honored for his "green" building efforts), but I hear he has a day job.
* A very interesting, bittersweet fact about JFK's presidential portrait was pointed out to me by an attending Marine in full dress blues. In all of the portraits the subjects are looking directly at the viewer (Clinton's is surprisingly NOT well painted, btw), but not Kennedy's. His has him looking pensively down at the floor, as if deep in troubled thought. As all the paintings are done after the subject leaves the office, in this case they had to use a photograph for reference, and Jackie chose one from the Cuban missile crisis. The effect is heartbreaking. Perhaps this is common knowledge, but I had no idea.
* Re Mr. Downey Jr, he was there at the behest of a friend who was one of the winners. Since I had just done a poster design for one of his up-coming movies (FUR), we actually had something to talk about. Very smart and cool (surprise surprise). He had his eerily beautiful little son India with him, who was bored to pieces.

Undoubtly the highlight of the ceremony was when Laura Bush recognized the legendary ceramicist Eva Zeisel, aged 100 and sitting less than ten feet away from her (and looking damned good for triple digits), by recounting a recent large gift of Zeisel's work from the prime minister of Hungary. It was a symbol, she said, of the friendship between the two countries, and would be placed in the White House archives to mark the Hungarian-born artist's place in history. Zeisel was beaming.

So, some of you may be thinking, did Mrs. Bush even know who Zeisel was ten minutes before the ceremony? I certainly think so, but whether she did or didn't isn't the point. The point was a truly deserving, visionary, hard-working woman was being honored and recognized in her lifetime, and will be for the forseeable future.

And I was proud to be in the room with her, and I will never forget it.

Chip Kidd

Daly probably had a court appearance. (*ahem*)

Nice to see a follow-up from someone directly involved.
Not that it's worth anything, but I saw Chip's position as being as internally consistent as the others', which is generally the more important feature when you're dealing with something necessarily rooted in pure opinion like this. It's not very likely anyone's going to have their mind changed, but if their argument just doesn't make sense, the situation is impossible.

I find the assumptions and accusations being made in many of the comments here...odd, and would like to second thanking Katherine McCoy and Chip for the details. It's rare (for whatever reason) in these threads to have actual involved parties respond.

While I can't comment for all of us who signed the letter, I will state my own feelings here. I deeply protest the manipulations of this administration. I protest them every day of my life. I couldn't be a willing participant in a White House ceremony now, even when its all about design, even if Mrs. Bush delivered a simply lovely speech, even if she mentioned seven major typefaces by name and pronounced them right. It would be too hypocritical for me to attend. I can't compartmentalize my feelings that way. That others can is fine for them.

The letter was an honest expression of protest. It was written as clearly and elegantly as we could muster. I know the protest is fultile, but I have to continue to do so when I have the opportunity. To not do so would mean that I have given up, and there is no hope for change. When I lose that hope, I lose everything.

The depressing thing about reading this blog has been the recurring theme that there is something phony, inappropriate or self-aggrandizing about protest. Protest, peaceful protest, is appropriate response to grievous wrongs. Sometimes it is necessarily impolite. We don't do enough of it. Please join us when you can.

Paula Scher

This post, and the debate it has created, is fascinating, particularly for someone reading from outside of America.

However, I think people have misinterpreted the letter as some kind of statement intended to represent the design industry as a whole. We can dissect this letter whatever way we like, but at the end of the day, this was just personal correspondence - made public.

The way I read it, the letter was simply a note from 5 designers (expressing their belief) to the First Lady. I doubt their intention was to publicise it, or have a debate about it, or turn it into a statement for anyone other than the five involved. (Perhaps I am wrong. Mr. Bierut, were you asked to publish the letter by the 5?).

I commend all 5 designers for the stand they took. I offer the same support to Mr. Kidd. Each of them followed their personal beliefs with respect. As strange as it sounds, it can often take courage and commitment to simply that, let alone mount a protest.

KF, since you asked:

I learned about the letter, and Chip Kidd's response to it, and asked permission of the six designers involved whether they would allow me to publish the correspondence here as a way of bringing the debate to a wider audience.

I haven't been surprised that there are differing views on whether the letter was an effective tactic, or whether it was futile, or impolite, or even that some people think there actually were WMDs in Iraq.

On the other hand, I have been surprised at — and disappointed by — the contempt expressed by a number of writers towards peers who use their "fame" to take a public position about something other than spec work.
Michael Bierut

On the other hand, I have been surprised at — and disappointed by — the contempt expressed by a number of writers towards peers who use their "fame" to take a public position about something other than spec work.

Bravo, Michael, bravo.
debbie millman

I'd like to thank KF for his clear perspective of the letter's circumstances, and refer them again to Mr. Bierut in regard to his comments concerning contempt. I do not have contempt (such a strong word) for those who wrote the letter, rather I disagree with those who feel that this would be an opportunity to "take a public position" on something. It was not in the eye of the public until you published the private matter on this post. I do not see the importance of the letter as a form of protest, because the target audience for their protest was available to speak with. It seems that this was a perfect opportunity to get together with those in question and discuss any issues had by the parties involved. I refer you back to my previous comments: The writers of the letter are discontent with the current administration. How is their opinion any more important to the public than a layman?
Gavin Wassung

Two more points of clarification seem necessary, in light of Clarence Clyde's earlier contention that Laura Bush is central to the award, and recipients and nominees are hypocritical and sanctimonious to avoid contact with current Presidential administration.

The award certificate reads exactly as follows: "Cooper-Hewitt National Design Awards 05"; the award name and recipient's name; 2 signatures, identified as "Paul Warwick Thompson, Director, Cooper-Hewitt, National Museum of Design," and "Lawrence M. Small, Secretary, Smithsonian Institution;" and finally "Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum." That is all. No mention of anyone in the White House.

These awards precede the current Bush administration and transcend any one Presidential administration. The first line of the "What are the National Design Awards?" at www.nationaldesignawards.org/about.asp states: "The National Design Awards were conceived in 1997 by the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum to honor the best in American design."
Katherine McCoy

I disagree with those who feel that this would be an opportunity to "take a public position" on something.

This is one of the points that's been bothering me throughout many of the comments. Everything in the letter reads like a personal(if collective) statement to me. The fact that Michael published it doesn't inherently change that intent, yet many people leapt at the opportunity to accuse them of trying to make some huge Public Thing of it—while simultaneously pointing out that nobody would notice or care—even though it was only recently questioned and revealed that this was even done with their permission(note: not initiative).

It seems that this was a perfect opportunity to get together with those in question and discuss any issues had by the parties involved.

While this sounds reasonable on the surface, I have serious doubts that Mrs. Bush, or anybody else of import, was actually available for a real discussion at this thing.

We should remember that the letter of boycott above "applauds the White House sponsorship of the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum." These designers are not questioning the value of White House support of the National Design Awards. Nothing in the letter trashes the First Lady. These designers are simply opposed to the policies of this particular administration. "We stand against these distortions and for the restoration of a civil political dialogue" is not the language of people wanting to create a drama by not having eggs at breakfast with someone named Laura.

So now the letter has been sent. In October, there is another event — a fancy dinner in New York where the winners will receive trophies. Laura Bush will not be there. However, she is the honorary patron of the event, and will be mentioned onstage, in the program, and, as she was when the awards were announced, in all press releases.

Ms. McCoy is defensive in suggesting that the awards are not, as they are formally defined, under the honorary patronage of the First Lady. In 2000, that meant Hillary Clinton. However, at the event where Ms. McCoy accepted her award, it was under the honorary patronage of Laura Bush. That was the language from the podium, in the program, and in the press releases, readily findable on the CH-NDM site. (That the President didn't personally sign her certificate is a silly rebuke to the published press release cited.)

As she notes, "These awards precede the current Bush administration and transcend any one Presidential administration." But preceding and transcending also includes the same Bush administration that was the official patron for her award. While willing to accept the award, she is clearly uncomfortable a year later acknowledging an important detail -- that Laura Bush was the honorary patron of the National Design Awards program that gave her an award.

Those boycotting this year's awards don't seem to be making such silly distinctions.
Clarence Clyde

Bravo! >clap!< >clap!<

Good job.

True patriots.
E. Smith

Is designobserver turning into fark?

Think this idea all the way through: Someones' political standpoint makes them despicable, and they should be boycotted. Ultimately: Would you be happy if you "won", and all designers had your political point of view, and noone would work for the "opposite side"? That seems totalitaritan and fundamentally undemocratic, no?

The fundamental idea of the boycott seems designed for division and partisanism, not collaboration and respect. Good for the PR for the five designers, but not good for very much else.

Here is another example of accepting an award AND making a 'symbolic' gesture:


Was this gesture "futile", "impolite", "rude" ???
Maybe they should have been told to "get over themselves".

People need to stand up for what they believe.

In 2000 I was invited to have breakfast with Bill and Hillary. It was a small business function. I am a hard right republican and did not and still do not like the Clintons. I attended anyway because "they" were the president of the United States. I had breakfast with them let them know what I believe. My skin was crawling and I hated most of it except when Hillary made a joke and no one laughed, not even Bill.

Bottom line: You blew your one only chance to go to the White House, you did not make a statement and you completely missed the point of the whole affair. Keep blabbering about how you stood up the first lady and you will quickly find yourself alone irrespective of your political beliefs.

Tyrone, your experience with the Clintons doesn't sound exactly rewarding, dignified, principled, or even pleasant. Why in the world would you recommend it?
Tobias K

Why do they hate freedom?

It's too bad The Fab Five didn't take this opportunity to pull a Steven Colbert


Another recipient, who attended the event at the White House, chose a different form of protest. Paolo Soleri, the legendary architect, was the Lifetime Achievement recipient for 2006. (In reference to Chip Kidd's previous comment, Eva Zeisel was the 2005 recipient for the same award). Soleri chose to hand out a single type-written page on his Foundation's letterhead — a manifesto that can be read here.
William Drenttel

Adrian wrote:
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.

>I disagree. The Bush Administration has
>used the mass communication of words and
>images in a way that the undersigned DO
>NOT LIKE. Please. Get over yourselves.

Personally Adrian I think you are missing the point. The Designers who are protesting (and yes, while I think they're not going far enough by refusing the award and starting their own "Oscars" event with a completely different parent organization) are saying that there are consequences to abusing our craft. There's a lot more here than simple dislike for what's been done. It's saying something that's absolutely true and history so far proves out -- this administration uses our craft in a harmful manner. They follow their own rules rather than the law of the land, and abuse communication left and right to conduct their policies. So long as that happens there is a cause and effect relationship. They lie, Americans are hurt by it, and the value of the Presidency and our country goes down the tubes with it.

I respect those that 'boycotted' this event however...

what if someone like Lance Armstrong (also opposed to the war) declined meeting the President for a meeting on cancer research or someone like Bono declining a meeting for cancelling 3rd world debt?

It's hard to pick and choose when and where to a cog in the system and when to be a monkey wrench, and frankly I think it's a bit delusional to think you can. I think it's arguable that all money and power comes from one place: people that already have it. To be queasy about this is to choose to not see the reality of the world since time began. An artist's obligation is to care about being a better artist, first and foremost. If you can fuel your own work, and further your own cause(s), become more powerful and have more influence on your opposition then do so, especially if those who you consider enemies are giving you help. I find nothing wrong with the letter or the choice to send it, other than I think it's the safe choice, and therefore a strategic misfire. The closer you get to power the more opportunity you have to subvert it. It's more comfortable to play with your friends and the like-minded, but real change usually involves the tougher stuff.
Tom Dolan

Isn't it strange that most people would acknowledge the power of a lone vote to be meaningful, but when it comes to protest it supposedly means so little? I'm glad these designers declined the invitation to break bread with the current administration. Ultimately, these decisions are personal ones that have political meanings. It's a matter of personal ethics. Not "liking" the policies of the administration in power is certainly a good enough reason, and there are many such reasons with the Bush administration. If I had the opportunity I would have also declined to attend this event, although my reasons would have been different. For me the Bush administration's spearheading of the recent Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage would have been reason enough. It's no more complicated than asking if I wanted to attend a cocktail party with the Klan.
Andrew Blauvelt

...or that due to a downsizing in printing performance enhancers, pulp grades, workers wages and lack of coastal security, 99% of American book jackets are printed in China.

Chip Kidd isn't the US Undersecretary for Cancer, my friend.
felix p sockwell

This is a great example of withdrawing our complicity.

In my book (and my blog, both called) We Do Not Consent, I write a lot about the Consent of the Governed being taken for granted. This Consent, according to the Declaration of Independence, is the source of government's "just Power." We must not allow this Consent to be assumed. We must withdraw our Consent, and our complicity. High praise to you for this letter.

Dave Berman
We Do Not Consent, the book, free .pdf download
Dave Berman

"The closer you get to power the more opportunity you have to subvert it."

I agree with this, and the letter to Mrs. Bush may have been a strategic misfire (doubt it though), but I don't think it was a safe choice. It takes some guts to single yourself out and stand up to the powers that be.
Steven K.

To Tobias K

I went becuase I had a chance to meet the president of the United States. It was not all that bad, its just that Hillary gives me the creeps.


I want to publicly respond to some of the previous posts with some thoughts I have conveyed privately to my colleagues. I don't feign to speak for my four co-signers.

For me, the letter was a personal decision. Michael Bierut asked to publish it because he thought it would generate debate, which it has, and that is useful. But I think the decision to sign is one that we all made privately for our own, somewhat divergent, reasons.

The Award is bestowed by the Cooper Hewitt Museum, a place I frequent and support without reservation. I understand the practical and political reasons why it is useful for the National Design Award to have the imprimatur of the White House. But it seems that there is, in several of these posts, a basic misunderstanding of synecdoche: in this case the phrase "The White House" stands for the Bush Administration. The invitation was at the behest of Mrs. Laura Bush, not some sepia-tinted embodiment of American Democracy.

My objection to the connection between the Bush Administration and a "Communication Design" award is not related to my position on Iraq or the environment. It's a specific and focused rebuke. In a withering New Yorker editorial David Remnick (who supported the Iraq intervention by the way) notes: "More than any other White House in history, Bush's has tried to starve, mock, weaken, bypass, devalue, intimidate, and deceive the press, using tactics far more toxic than any prose devised in the name of Spiro Agnew." The idea that this Administration is sponsoring an award recognizing excellence in communication design is as hollow as it would be standing for environmental sensitivity, Gay Rights, the Geneva Convention or transparency in government. The event is classic Bush political theater: to celebrate and take credit for the very thing the administration is eviscerating.

While I support and value the concept of the National Design Award and stand behind the Cooper Hewitt, I don't feel that compels us to become a prop in a White House photo op. I don't get why we need "recognition" so badly. I have no illusions that this peevish act of resistance will have any effect whatsoever: Props are, after all, endlessly replaceable. For me it is as simple as saying I don't want to visit the house of someone whose politics I abhor.
Michael Rock

Felix: 99% of American book jackets are printed in China.


I'm genuinely curious about this, but I also have a hard time accepting a percentage like that on hearsay. (Granted, I think almost every cartoon I watch[shut up] is drawn in Korea by a single studio.) Would it be indicated on the jackets themselves? A random pull from my library only turns up books pointing out printing in the US, if at all.

Susan, they didn't snub the actual award.... they just declined the invitation to take part in a political photo-op.

For what it's worth, we at Random House/Knopf print all of our book jackets in Long Island, NY., with the exception of some of our books of comics in the far east. How did this come up, anyway?
Chip Kidd

This simply is bad form, and indicative of the rude and boorish individuals that participated. I personally would like to see the design department take their crayons to wherever Bin Laden is hiding where their anti Bush statements would be welcomed.
M. Barrington

99% of American book jackets are printed in China.

Read the third comment up from Felix by Ben, then Felix's.
Brian Alter


A military leader arriving in theatre does not detain a returning ship off the shores of San Diego in order to make a triumphant entrance in a flight suit. That is the work of a person who cares more about how things look than about how things actually are.

I think you would do well to read John Dean's new book. It might give you some insight into why you are defending this administration. Your orientation to conventionality and authority is quite telling.

This is part and parcel of the problem with our political system and our culture, and why the two predominant schools of political thought will ultimately be the primary convention that impedes any progress toward dialogue, change, understanding and productive compromise.

While painstakingly worded so as not to sound like a petulant child holding his or her breath until he or she gets his or her way, it's a juicy example of, "We don't like you, or something you've done, so, we're not coming to your party, and we're keeping the gifts we got for you."

As savvy as you folks are, both as designers, and political thinkers, you've failed to see that, despite the fact that Mrs. Bush is part of the same family as the President (with whom you've no small bone to pick in regard to policies and decisions)making her, at the very least, "part of the problem by association", she is able to set aside political differences (of which she most certainly must be aware) to invite you to a party celebrating your talents and accomplishments.

It's a party that's all about you, and all about what you do.

And what do you compassionate, open-minded, freedom-loving, reknowned-for-your-tolerance, liberal thinkers do immediately? You make it about politics. (Apparently, there could be no person of any artistic and/or design integrity who could possibly find him or herself in agreement with the administration, and, if he or she did, he or she would not be able to lay claim to the values which you all have, as a small consensus, identified as sacrosanct in your field) Your response to this invitiation shows that you are every bit as petty, intolerant and self-righteous as the Bible-thumping, warmongering, environment-hating, goose-stepping conservative fascists whose actions your "regrets" are offered to protest.

Red state, blue state, left wing, right wing, conservative, liberal....these identities which have been so unilaterally adopted, and zealously embraced, despite the claims of both to espouse what's best for everyone have produced nothing but ire, distrust, anger, and an insurmountable unwillingness to engage in dialogue, or, for that matter, even polite social interaction: Your refusal to attend this celebration illustrates this fact better than any headline grabbing ideological calamity ever could.

Ironically, while pointing out the "prolonged assault on meaning" perpetrated by this President, you've neglected to call attention to the "prolonged assault on meaning" perpetrated (not only by) Bush's predecessor, William Jefferson Clinton, but every President, Congressman and Senator elected to office during the last 50 years or so.

At the end of the day, what you've done is shoehorned a petty and misplaced political protest into a contrived and insincere grab for moral high ground regarding your craft, and it's unworthy of people who've been given accolades for their work.
Peter Octavian

Because they deserved the award, which was NOT from the White House nor the President or First Lady, they are entitled to it despite their brave and open opposition to the Bush Administration.

As for "inappropriate, etc;" I say bunk. It is not the fault of those who had worked so hard to EARN such prestige that they would be asked to participate in an event that would bolster the notoriety of someone or something that they deeply oppose.

Suppose that they were asked to accept the award at a ceremony while standing in camel feces. Would it be "inappropriate" for them to decline participating then?


They stood up for their values, and they enacted their right to protest policies they disagree with. They took advantage of an opportunity to have their collective voice heard (if it was heard by the intended ears or not). Whether we as individuals agree or disagree with their values and political views is really not the point.

Was it an appropriate forum? It was to them, and so they acheived what they set out to do - to speak out in support of their own values. It's really that simple. To judge them for their values and politics is perhaps hypocritical, and certainly missing the point.

These guys have GUTS! I love them!!!

Don Dachner
Tracy, CA

It is shocking that so many design professionals seem to uphold the concept of propaganda as an appropriate use of language. This White House has made a practice of adapting the English language to address the "less educated masses" in a strategy of smoke of mirrors. As a well-known German once stated: "All propaganda must be popular and its intellectual level must be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to. Consequently, the greater the mass it is intended to reach, the lower its purely intellectual level will have to be."

I agree with the protesters and would have done the same. Freedom of thought is the essence of good design. Great designers can't work with shackled minds.
Ellen Dunthorne

Some of the rumblings here imply that design should be nuetral, outside of, or above politics.

Cmon, DESIGN IS ALWAYS POLITICAL! Design (and technology) are LOADED with bias that has vast social consequence. And get ready, because we are about to enter an age when THAT very fact is thrown in our faces left and right. If you don't get it now, you will soon.

I look forward to it. Maybe it will make design smarter.

I applaud the signees.
Scott Klinker

You can't really answer this question directly at first glance, as it depends on everyone's individual values and the status quo so far seem's to be confusing everyone,
Personally Im still split between who made the right choice, Kidd made a very good point and I like how he represents his political values when the time is right and doesnt involve and mix matters, however the way the fab five declined , as you can with any invitation (which is prob very normal for the white house these days for some of you who gasped at the thought of this) it reminds me of how the corruption of my own government especially after the revolution that swept much of the middle east, and not just iran, forced many to take away support, this was due to the fact that such support might lend a helping hand to a system that continues to damage everything within its own country and in some cases every country from a-z.

So do you go and claim your right place at a ceremony in hopes of making a point and representing the hard work of your fellow design community and thus gain the future importance of recieving support from this government itself, or do you decline the award/invitation and not make any contributions to this corrupted government,

also at that point can you really do much? since your own careers and jobs are fed by this country and therefore abusive system. Sadly, because of the cycle of chain of motives and support I find it hard to completely escape entirely from supported such a governemtn, because whether we want to or not, we still do in some way, and if you live in the city especially, you do this everyday, so for me Im gonna have to go for the silent protest approach, go to your ceremony, speak your mind, represent the importance of the design community and return to doing things that will demonstrate this in a much more effective manner.


...Made me proud to be a designer.

MBarrington who writes:
"This simply is bad form, and indicative of the rude and boorish individuals that participated. I personally would like to see the design department take their crayons to wherever Bin Laden is hiding where their anti Bush statements would be welcomed."

...has been drinking the right wing whacko koolaid. ooo..."bad form"...MBarrington is getting the vapors! It is neither rude nor boorish to take a stand against lies, torture, warmongering and the evisceration of our Constitution. Over 100,000 deaths, the depletion of our treasury and the shaming America in the eyes of the world, is too high a price to pay.
Bush stole two elections and has been a total incompetent surrounded by war profiteers. This is what you support?
BRAVO for those award-winning designers!
Sari Kadison-Shapiro

I have read all the way to the bottom of these comments, suffering through the painfully idioditic for those moments of intelligence and clarity (m. kingsley, agrayspace, andrew blauvelt, katherine mccoy, paula scher, among others), and really there's not a lot left to say

... except that in an unsual twist, this blog has turned into a kind of signing either in support or not of the five designers' action.

So while I have nothing meaningful to add, I would feel remiss not to just say to Stefan, Paula, Michael, Susan & Georgie: It was a conscionable act, and you did the right thing. For what it's worth, you have my respect for doing so.

marian bantjes

If design is a facilitator, then the Bush Administration loves design.

Together, these six companies received more than $1.2 billion in media contracts over the past two and a half years.

536 million
194 million http://www.campbell-ewald.com
179 million http://www.gsdm.com
148 million http://www.jwtworld.com
133 million http://www.frankel.com
78 million http://www.ketchum.com

For a fact sheet on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, visit http://www.democrats.reform.house.gov/story.asp?ID=1006

Leo Burnett was fond of quoting: "When you reach for the stars, you may not quite get one, but you won't come up with a handful of mud either."

I admit that I have not read all the posts hers, but I applaud the designers who signed this letter. I hear you loud and clear.

By refusing the invitation the designers are saying the their own polictical baggage is much more important than promoting the value and importance of excellent design in our nation.

Yes, it's important that we as designers promote the importance of excellent design, and an invitation to the White House is a good platform for that. It's great that their contribution to design has been recognised. But that's no reason to comprimise your own beliefs - if they feel so strongly against the Bush administration, as a lot of people obviously do, then that's up to them and it's just as important that they stand up for what they believe in. I'm sure as many people would have criticised them if they HAD accepted.
Leanne Johnson

First of all, one poster writes:

I respect those that 'boycotted' this event however...

What if someone like Lance Armstrong (also opposed to the war) declined meeting the President for a meeting on cancer research or someone like Bono declining a meeting for cancelling 3rd world debt?

So, what if?

How about some of you stop kidding yourselves. Wrong is wrong, murder is murder, thieving is thieving, lying is lying. Laura Bush is an accomplice to the criminal acts of her husband, so why would I want to attend any function hosted by the White House that involves her? It would be like accepting an invitation from Hitler or Mussolini to attend an event/photo-op sponsored by them. If I was Lance Armstrong or Bono, I would have refused to associate at all with a thug like George Bush; instead, I would have directed my efforts to collaborate or meet with others who really care and were not committing crimes against humanity.

Those designers did a brave and patriotic thing, and this should be another example, even if subtle in nature, of resisting the destruction of our country by this Administration.

Some of you design professionals out there better be a lot more vigilant than you seem to be -- sometime in the future you might be forced to draw and design by command rather than by choice. A "told you so" will not help you then.

Paul Revere

I never understood those people who basically say that artists shouldn't be allowed to express themselves.

I guess the freedom that this administration claims to be protecting starts and stops with the second amendment.

I think they did the right thing.

They did what they felt they had to do and they cannot be faulted for that.

Bush in his way feels rightous in killing thousands and squandering billions of $$$'s.

As far as I am concerned, his wife (Laura) is no less culpable as are all those who prance for their delight at these types of gatherings.

Voices must be raised.

Wow, I am really surprised by the first few comments I read. I must admit I stopped reading after a while because it was really distressing me to see so many members of my profession not supporting the signers of this letter. I guess I was naive enough to think that, because every designer I know (including me) is a liberal who would very much support and applaud the actions taken here, that the vast majority of the messages would be positive.

Well, for what it's worth, I completely applaud their protest, however small. It made my morning to read their letter. I shouldn't have read the comments.

I applaud the signers, too. It took my breath away when I read Micheal's post. No matter what your politics, it represents a personal sacrifice to give up attending such an event.
Nicole Ferentz

I see no issue with accepting an award from an organization which supports one's profession and not wishing to associate with any from the Bush administration. To me they are two separate issues.

I support the signers whole heartedly, but I have my own "pet" issue with the twisting of words by the current administration.

I believ the fact that GWB has made more "signing statements" then any other president. (Where he effectively defines the meaning of passed legislation by writing presidential clarifications of his understanding of the intent of the law he's just signed...of course, he hasn't vetoed a single bill...why would he need to?)

My personal favorite is the promise not to torture prisoners of war signed amid much fan fare with McCain visiting Bush's Crawford ranch and altered the next day to include (roughly) "unless we need to."

This administration has no honor and no honor can be gained by associating with them.

It's unfortunate (but not surprising, especially considering the awardees) that a protest wasn't made on the grounds of this administration's economic policies.
Kenneth FitzGerald

Try Googling "bush administration propaganda" and you will understand why these designers decided not to attend the event. Whether you agree with them or not, they are FREE to make a choice for themselves. Why isn't anyone attacking Kidd? Because there are people who are respectful of others decisions and don't need to criticize by commenting that the folks from 2x4 should "get over themselves". Grow up, children.

The more adolescent comments here, as well as the more farfetched objections (e.g. "don't just beat up the First Lady") are very strange. By and large they can be summed up as far too many people saying "get over yourselves" and making illogical condemnation of the stand the letter authors took.

The dissenting designers have a code of ethics, a moral code and a set of beliefs that conflict with the Bush administration. They are not only entitled to say so, they should be applauded for standing up for what they believe.

To attempt to silence dissent against government or its policies by any means, including peer pressure, is antithetical to the principles of a democracy. To attempt it by using gratuitous, adolescent and over-used "get over yourself" or the scatalogical "showing their ass" type of comment is a bizarre and childish response to a thoughtfully crafted letter written by concerned, conscientious adults.

To the people who throwing rocks at the dissenting designers: if you think we should all march to the beat of a more restrictive public discourse environment, I suggest you move to a more restrictive country which doesn't have democracy as a defining principle -- there are plenty of them to choose from.

While you live in this country I hope you will agree to live by the commonly accepted code of a democracy and encourage its adoption by everyone: we are all free to dissent from the stand(s) our government takes, dissent against government, war, taxes, etc. should be encouraged and its practioners should be applauded for having the courage to take a stand.

When you continue to discourage dissent against government or its policies (whether or not you agree with the form it takes) the time will come when you, yourself, will not be allowed dissent when you find something similarly significant, for yourself, on which to take a stand.

Bravo for standing up for your beliefs. That's what this country is all about. The right of free speech and the ability to speak what one feels even if it goes against what others might feel. Those of you who are complaining about these designers, might want to brush up on your knowledge of the Constitution, the Revolutionary War, and the founding of this country: three areas the current administration knows NOTHING about.

As a group of creative problem solvers you think that we would take the time to come up with solutions instead of bitching about the problems. I think that these designers stood for what they believed in, and that is great, but a next step would be for our community to use our gifts to create concepts of improvement for this nation.

Yes, Michael, but the community and its citizens need to appreciate the problem and our gifts. Or have we been doing a good enough job of educating them? Certainly, this has opened and expanded an already heated debate. So, what's next, and where should it start?
Jason Tselentis

Though the disasters—diplomatic, political, environmental, economic, and ethical—of the current administration transcend the powers of design, that does not mean that designers, or anyone else for that matter, should not take whatever specific context presents itself as an opportunity to exercise their Constitutional rights. I join the many others in commending the awardees for not acting as if it's all "business as usual."
Lorraine Wild


Thanks for your input ... I think that it is essential to the solution that you intamately know the problem, and this debate is a great way to uncover the real problems. These designers acted in a collaborative manner to address the issues, and we also need to act in a collaborative manner to develop solutions with people within and outside of our discipline.

John Dean's book "Conservatives Without Conscience" is a WARNING about how close we are to FASCISM - with ideas of how to fight back and "why" these people just don't "get it".

PROTEST loud and long - in many different ways.
It is not "business as usual" - why play the game like things are not being destroyed???

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."
John Kenneth Galbraith.


And a day later, there's more to prove my point.

Leave it to mindless, knee-jerk idealogues to turn something that is decidedly non-political into an opportunity to grind some political axe.

The point is missed, as so often happens in our system, and it should be cause for alarm. Even this thread has turned into a Bush/Conservative=bad, Liberal=good, stolen election, wah-waaaaaaah, "it's my party and I'll cry if I want to, cry if I want to" bit of left-of-the-aisle rank-closing.

Had this happened during the Clinton administration, with a group of designers bitching and moaning about Clinton's "fast and loose with the truth" semantics, the blue-staters would be in here scolding them whole-heartedly for not being able to set aside politics and graciously accept the laurels of the highest office in the land, and they'd be right. The irony here is that there's nary a blue-stater here, save for Mr. Kidd who understands the real dynamic of this situation. There's some really rich rationalization going on here, and unless you're on board with the boycott, you're a right-wing whackaloon.

That simply isn't the case, and no amount of, "I'm righteous for opposing the amoral machinations of this administration" moralistic grab-assing is going to make it so. There's every bit as much shame associated with the actions of elected Liberals/Democrats as there has been from their counterparts across the aisle. The difference is that now it's the Right's turn under the microscope.

What this group has done isn't brave, or a result of deep conviction. It's a demonstration on how adults can act like spoiled brats. Of course, this happens to showcase the pettiness of the Left, and one would be remiss in neglecting to mention that it comes in just as many Red State flavors. So, while you Looney-Lefties are deriding the Right-Wing-Nutjobs, pause for a moment and look in the mirror. What you'll see is that, as members of our electorate, you're equal party to the political woes which hold our country hostage.

A significant gesture, as had been mentioned by one respondent above, would have been for you to set aside your political differences, and show yourselves to be bigger as people, stronger in character, and appear to represent your organization, your profession, and most importantly, that (what you esteem to be) morally correct political assumptions elevates you above the rank-and-file posturing which has slowed our progress as a nation to a crawl.

Instead, you proved conclusively that you are cut from the very same cloth as Right-Wingers who, for instance, wrote letters of protest about "Brokeback Mountain".

I hope you all enjoy the company.
Peter Octavian

"unless you're on board with the boycott, you're a right-wing whackaloon."

Peter, this is an inaccurate assessment of the discussion. Yes, many have lauded the designers, but that's not the important aspect of the conversation.

The argument isn't whether we agree with the boycott or not, it's simply about their right to protest. Whether you agree or not with the letter, they are still within their constitutional right to write and sign it.

Some feel that they shouldn't even have the right to do that.

It's absolutely an accurate assessment of the discussion.

There's no argument whatsoever about whether or not these folks had the right to protest, Steven. It's well within their rights to protest.

But what they've done is to say that political morality is intrinisic to, and inseparable from, the kind of talent needed in order to walk away with lofty design awards.

"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."

So, while (and despite the fact that) the design world has, with some fair amount of consistency, slagged the administration for it's actions, the First Lady wants to take the time and say, "You folks have some real talent, and we'd like to thank you for it." She's making an apolitical gesture, and these folks are not only not willing to accept, but are not even willing to be gracious in response to the gesture.

No one invited these designers to a policy meeting. No one invited them to be a focus group to determine how designers feel about the actions of this administration. No, they were invited to a party to celebrate their talent, politics notwithstanding. The fact is that they've exhibited an undeniable hubris in asserting that who they are, and what they believe is somehow superior to that of "more common" people ( you know, the kind that don't get invited to the Whitehouse for a breakfast honoring their talents).

Yes, they have EVERY right to protest. What is questionable is that they've elevated there political beliefs above their profession, above their talent, and above common courtesy, while selling the act as something that's a moral requisite for people who find themselves in this line of work. It's simply arrogant, this unspoken but unequivocally intimated suggestion that good designers, those who possess a strong moral center, would not have anything to do with the event.

Sorry for calling a load of crap a "load of crap", but I can't think of much else that fits so perfectly into a crock.

Their right to protest is not at issue.
Peter Octavian

If good deeds (ie: design for public good, charity, so forth) are scrutinized and weighted here (and it should be), you can count the signees in high regard. Perhaps a trivial stance (to Peter) feels more like duty (to others).
felix sockwell

Why is it so hard to understand for some people that the signees simply didn't want to attend a meeting held by someone they didn't like. Should they have went and put on a fake smile?

Would it make it easier for all you haters if the signees were closely related to someone who died serving in Iraq?

"What is questionable is that they've elevated there political beliefs above their profession, above their talent, and above common courtesy, while selling the act as something that's a moral requisite for people who find themselves in this line of work."

Peter, your argument here is solid, but I couldn't disagree with it more. I agree this is a not a right to protest issue, though some comments in this thread have tried to argue that.

But in the global political climate that is currently boiling over, greatly due to the imperialist actions of this administration AND previous ones, I think every citizen has a duty to elevate our political beliefs above our profession, our talent and "heavens to betsy!" our common courtesy. If you hadn't noticed we are engaged in some serious sh*t, and I have a waning patience for proper etiquette.

God forbid we inconvenience our careers or manners in the name of standing up for what could possibly THE defining moment of American politics in the next 50 years.

And lastly this is not a moral requisite for people who find themselves in our line of work but one for every single person in ANY line of work. Sure the signees of the letter cited the administrations misuse of mass communication as the genesis of their protest, but I suspect that is really just sugar coating. When I read between the lines I see a political protest not by a group of communication designers but one by concerned intelligent citizens.

When the Nazis arrested the Communists, I said nothing; after all, I was not a Communist.
When they locked up the Social Democrats, I said nothing; after all, I was not a Social Democrat.
When they arrested the trade unionists, I said nothing; after all, I was not a trade unionist.
When they arrested the Jews, I said nothing; after all, I was not a Jew.
When they arrested me, there was no longer anyone who could protest.
Martin Niemöller

So, Peter, who is doing the "moralistic grab-assing" here? Your comments are a bit too accusatory and inflamatory - the sort of comments that tend to shut down good conversation. It's not about whether I agree or disagree with your arguments, it's the tone that's irksome.

One cannot help but wonder if they would have taken such a principled stand in the name of design if the invitation had come during the previous administration. Can anyone argue with a straight face that the previous administration did not also "use the mass communication of words and images in ways that have seriously harmed the political discourse in America?"

Politicians have always used design and language to win votes and power. This is the way the big ticket political game is played, by both sides. Yet their principles in defense of design seem to only apply to one.

Their problem is that the current administration is using communication design to deliver a message they don't like.

Get over it.
Stephen Macklin

I stand with the honorees. They're right.

Thank you Michael Rock, Susan Sellers, Georgie Stout, Paula Scher and Stefan Sagmeister for being true patriots and role models.
Margaret Williams

...political morality is intrinisic to, and inseparable from, the kind of talent needed in order to walk away with lofty design awards.

Gosh, I hope so.
Bernard Pez

I would love the time to argue for the 5 honorees. Unfortunately, I have to catch a flight.

Thank you Michael Rock, Susan Sellers, Georgie Stout, Paula Scher and Stefan Sagmeister!!!

I'm sorry, Mr. or Ms. Grayspace; this event is not the time to mount a protest.

Even if it were, I question the sincerity of the protest.

This is simply partisan sabre-rattling, and it's disingenuous.

There's an obscure, genre fiction author who, on a regular basis, posts threads entitled, "Any man's death diminishes me", on internet bulletin boards. The threads keep painstaking track of those American servicemen who have fallen during this war. The author's politics are vehemently anti-Bush and anti-Conservative, and these threads are, obviously, less about paying tribute to and encouraging remembrance of our fallen heroes than they are about protesting our military actions in Iraq. At one point I had asked why there had been no mention of American Military personnel who had been killed during our incursion to areas of the former Soviet Union. The inquiry went unanswered. I did, however, receive an inbox full of angry emails accusing me of being mean-spirited and playing partisan politics by calling the integrity of these threads into question.

If it's to be accepted that, "Any man's death diminishes me", why is it partisan-politicking to ask why American servicemen who'd been given their marching orders by Bill Clinton, and had died in execution of those orders were being excluded, or who hadn't ever been awarded the honor of an internet BBS thread honoring them? Could it be that these threads weren't memorials at all, but, as I suspected, thinly-veiled attempts to criticize the administration by pinning the deaths of our young men on Bush?

Of course, the answer was obvious: These folks didn't like that I was pointing out the hypocrisy of what they were doing. As you superfluously pointed out, Grayspace, it's simply not the actions of this administration that have brought our world to a boil, but the actions of nearly every administration for the past century. It is, however, Bush that's in the limelight for this mess at this particular time in history, and he's a Republican. It's a safe bet that the dissenters du jour are Democrats, so, therefore, the protest is going to be aimed at Bush, because they don't like him, and they blame him for the whole ball of wax. Have they aimed that protest at the rest of the government? No. Would they turn down an invitation from Hillary if she were throwing a breakfast? Absolutely not. Would it even matter to them that the ubiquitous Ms. Clinton did some podium pounding about Iraq and Saddam back in the days when it was all the rage? Nope. Clinton and all of the other political talking heads have had latter day conversions, shifted blame from themselves with nary a mea culpa, and thrown it all into the President's lap.

The fact of the matter is that the whole damned lot of them are culpable for this mess, but they've got a scapegoat, and have successfully washed their hands of their part in American Imperialism as it's come to be known in the Year of our Lord 2006. Where was the righteous indignation expressed about the parts played by Republican and Democratic Senators and Congressmen who, at least initially, supported our march to war? There was no mention of anyone but Bush in the letter penned by these deeply convicted, socially-conscious, politically adept, sensitive-to-the-needs-of-all-humanity designers. While we're at it, why isn't there any mention of the atrocities perpetrated by our government right here at home during the last sixteen years of Presidential acuity? Of course, we can blame Bush for the encroachments into our freedoms precipitating from the Patriot Act, but what of the reprehensible policies of the Justice Department under Bill Clinton. What of the escalation of the "War on Drugs" which occurred during that administration which has resulted in the early release of violent offenders to make room in our prisons for non-violent drug offenders? What of the policies of Janet Reno and her attempts to increase censorship of the media? Certainly people who are so deeply "in touch" with communication, with ideas, with expression would find those reprehensible. What of Bosnia? What of the obscene state of the pharmaceutical industry?

What of it, huh?

But see, the lingering effects of the misdeeds of favored parties and/or former administrations are easily forgiven, or forgotten altogether, providing that one spins things in the right way.

Among the nasty emails I've received in response to my comments here, I've seen more than a few recurring themes: 1. I'm an evil (feel free to insert other pejorative, there've been quite a few) Republican; 2. The designers were brave in doing this, and; 3. How remarkable it is when liberals protest something like this.

My responses: 1. Sorry, I'm not a Republican. While I've spent a bit of time and verbiage calling down the liberals, I've got plenty of ire for both sides of the aisle, and have no time for self-righteous hypocrisy. The unvarnished truth of our day is that the political system is in the fast lane to hell because both Liberals and Conservatives are stomping on the gas pedal with equal force in their bid to take control of the vehicle. 2. Brave? If Mrs. Bush had sent the National Guard out to deliver the invitations, placing guns to their heads, and they still declined, that'd have been brave. As it is, their decision to decline was petty, and fueled by a brand of well-spoken hatred, of which, they only wish to own up to half of. 3. Saying that it's remarkable when liberals protest is kind of like turning on CBS at six o'clock, and hearing Katie read the lead story, "In an exciting breakthrough, scientists at UCLA have discovered that fish thrive in water." If it weren't for the thousands of placard-toting, beer-guzzling, patchouli-soaked liberals whom regularly descend on the Mall in DC, Washington would be a friendlier and cleaner place to visit.

With that, I'll leave you to your smug assuredness. When Uncle Sam is rushed to the ER in critical condition as a result of being throttled in equal measure by Blue and Red Staters, just remember, I told you so.
Peter Octavian

It's amazing to me that people are defending the Bush administration by attacking the Clinton administration.

Last time I checked Bill Clinton didn't lead his nation into a foreign war on false pretenses. (A war without an exit strategy, natch.)

Nor did President Clinton declassify the identity of a secret agent because her husband noted some truths about the supposed transfer of uranium yellowcake. (And in so doing President Bush put several other secret agents in danger, as Mrs Plame-Wilson's supposed employer was a CIA front company whose other "employees" were also secret agents.)

President Clinton didn't have a male prostitute inserted into the White House press corps to ask him softball questions. (As did President Bush.)

If Bill Clinton is "The Great Communicator", then George Herbert Walker Bush is "The Great Miscommunicator".
Jeff Gannon

The commenters here who oppose the letter from the winning designers are merely jealous of them. If these right wing nuts had any talent, they would have won and then they could write a letter to the first lady and spew their right wing propaganda, but I doubt if that could ever happen. Bravo to the talented winning designers for their courageous stance against fascism.

Pathetic, pompous, a--holes. Who gives a flying fleck about what you think anyway.

There's that other f word, Fascism. Franklin, you urinate on the graves of the victims of fascism. I'm no fan of W, but your ignorance of fascism is nothing short of evil.

In 1991, STEFAN SAGMEISTER worked for the advertising agency, Leo Burnett.

The Bush administration spent $1.4 billion in taxpayer dollars on 137 contracts with advertising agencies.

The Bush administration awarded Leo Burnett more media contracts over the past two and a half years than any other company.
536 million http://www.leoburnett.com

Stefan do you remember working for Leo Burnett?
And did you spin any political ideas while you were working for the agency?

"Anyone who thinks that people can be fooled or pushed around has an inaccurate and pretty low estimate of people - and he won't do very well in advertising." Leo Burnett.

Carl Smith

Unconstitutional: The War on our Civil Liberties

First they came for the Muslims and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Muslim.

Then they came for the immigrants detaining them indefinitely solely upon the certification of the Attorney General and I didn't speak up because I wasn't an immigrant.

Then they came to eavesdrop on suspects consulting with their attorneys and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a suspect.

Then they came to prosecute non-citizens before secret military commissions, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a non-citizen.

Then they came to enter homes and offices for unannounced "sneak and peek" searches
and I didn't speak up because I had nothing to hide.

Then they came to reinstate Cointelpro and resume the infiltration and surveillance of domestic religious and political groups and I didn't speak up because I no longer participated in any groups.

Then they came to arrest American citizens and hold them indefinitely without any charges and without access to lawyers, and I didn't speak up because I would never be arrested.

Then they came to institute TIPS, the " Terrorism Information and Prevention System," recruiting citizens to spy on other citizens, and I didn't speak up because I was afraid.

Then they came to institute Total Information Awareness, collecting private data on every man, woman and child in America, and I didn't speak up because I couldn't do anything about it.

Then they came for immigrants and students from selective countries luring them under the requirement of "special registration" as a ruse to seize them and detain them, and I didn't speak up because I was not required to register.

Then they came for anyone who objected to government policy because it only aided the terrorists and gave ammunition to America's enemies and I didn't speak up . . . because I didn't speak up.

Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up.

Steve Rohde

Sorry, Peter Octavian, but you are wrong on all counts.

You are judged by the company you keep, and refusing to keep company with Laura Bush and any of her ilk was a noble thing to do.

Their protest wasn't petty. Your arguments are.
Paul Revere

The French were unsuccessful in taking over Spain because individual citizens stood up and fought little wars (hence the term guerilla). Who knows what straw will break the back of the elephant that stomps on American liberties and threatens the world? Each must do what he/she can.
Ward Schumaker

I truly appreciate the letter these designers sent to Laura Bush.
I believe the message is very appropriate and widely shared among many throughout the world.
Very well done.
Cloak & Swagger

I've tried to read all of the responses here and, as a result, I'm now nursing a headache.

But this does bring to mind a memorable occurrence that happened about 15 years ago.

Mike Royko -- legendary hard-nosed Chicago columnist and one of my journalistic heroes -- was in his Chicago Tribune office one afternoon when he received a phone call.

Apparently George Bush Sr. -- then still in office -- was downstairs visiting the storied Billy Goat Tavern (the inspiration for the Saturday Night Live "cheeseborger, cheeseborger" skit) during a presidential tour of the Midwest. Royko was famously known as a regular at the Billy Goat, frequently holding court after hours, slamming down whiskeys and whatnot.

Royko was told that the president wanted to meet him. The columnist was thus expected to duly come down and share a cheeseburger.

Royko refused. He said he had no interest. Repeated calls were made. Again he said no thanks.

To the ire of Republicans nationwide who heard the story soon after, Royko -- whose politics, it should be noted, were most assuredly on the other side of Bush's -- overtly snubbed the commander-in-chief.

Royko shrugged off the criticism with his usual sardonic, down-played wit. "It had nothing to do with politics," Royko wrote, explaining why he preferred to devote himself to the (a-hem) much more important task of watching TV in his office instead. "It was news judgment."

Despite such coy declarations, Royko's Chicago readership generally loved it. It showed integrity and a bit of homespun defiance.

I found it to be nothing less than heroic. I'd say it takes real conviction not to meet the most powerful single person in the world when called upon, choosing to obey one's conscience instead. Royko, god love him, just wouldn't pander.

Some years later, I read about a group of individuals who were invited to a function with President Clinton but refused to attend.

I can't remember exactly who the folks were, but it was during the Lewinsky scandal, and they objected with the president's personal behavior (which, at the time, was surely understandable).

Good for them, I thought. They shouldn't be forced to bow to the prestige of American authority.

Hell, being able to brush off such eminence is -- from a historical standpoint -- the American way!

So in this instance, upon reading that the aforementioned designers chose to shun this affair that has (at least tangentially) some connection with the Bush Administration, my sentiments were exactly the same: Bravo, y'all.

Even if I didn't have severe problems with the Bush Administration -- which I most assuredly do (e.g., the lying, spying, spending, censoring, alienating, torturing, invading, destroying, etc.) -- I'd still greatly respect the designers' decision. Such displays of integrity and principle are uncommon at any level of society, as is the choice to resist the natural attraction to power.

Consequently, I found the designers' actions to be nothing short of inspiring.

Still, I also very much respect the decision of Mr. Kidd and others who attended, despite their strong objections to the leadership's policies. That takes real backbone too. Having enough poise and honor to hold one's nose while making the most of such a situation is, to me, just as commendable. It's the "working from the inside" ethos -- which, in many ways, is the foundation of effective mainstream politics.

What I have very little admiration for, however, is the narrow, strident and increasingly off-putting criticism that I've read here against the designers, often by folks who really have little substantial rhetoric behind their arguments other than knee-jerk scorn.

This antipathy seems so contrary to the noble intentions of the dissenting designers' statement. Many of the detractors' comments seem to function as nothing more than an attempt to jam up this conversation with acrimony. (Hence: my headache.)

I can certainly understand how the designers' letter might ring a little hollow or sanctimonious for some, or how it would just rub certain folks the wrong way -- particularly for Bush supporters.

But it seems to me that the designers' position was a sincere personal choice, based purely on their own ethics and principles, and expressed with great dignity and consideration. Thus to some degree, I feel this choice was nobody's business but theirs.

Otherwise, what else would they have gained by refusing such a glamorous and flattering invitation -- that is, with the exception of the far more important necessity of being able to answer to one's conscience and sleep at night?

The detractors obviously have just as much right to express their distaste for such actions as the designers have for the Bush Administration's policies. But perhaps those critics should level their common gripe -- get over yourselves -- elsewhere. Like at the mirror.

As Royko might say: there ain't honor in petty bellyaching.
Jon Resh

Democracy is on it's way down the toilet and too many people stand idle as it washes away. It's time for apathetic and blind-eyed Americans to wake up to that fact before it is too late. Once freedom is taken away, we cannot get it back. Slowly democracy is being eroded away, innocent lives are being taken for monetary gain, torture is occuring in our names, our Constitutional rights are being violated on a daily basis, the media/press and last check and balance on the evil doings of this administration/regime have been silenced and replaced by propaganda churning news models. If you're not outraged, you're either not paying attention, you are in that small percentage of the top 1 percent of extremely wealthy people that have something to gain, or you are a brainwashed lapdog to these fascist authoritarian wannabe dictators out of pure stupidity. Turn off the Fox propaganda. Read the actual news as it is reported in other countries for a better perspective.

I applaud these designers and anyone that takes a stand against the fascist leaders that have taken over our government, we must take back our country. Artists need to make more noise, so-to-speak, don't just sit back and watch this ship go down. Get out and make political statements. It is our duty as patriots and free citizens to challenge the illegal actions of this administration.

Kudos to Michael Rock, Susan Sellers, Georgie Stout, Paula Scher and Stefan Sagmeister.

Even if Michael Rock, Susan Sellers, Georgie Stout, Paula Scher and Stefan Sagmeister don't agree with Bush, they should a least respect the Office Of The President Of The United States.

Isn't it always the moonbats way to say that "Democracy is on it's way down the toilet" when they don't get their way? The Bush administration is in office (twice elected, get over it!) because of patriots and free citizens who challenged the status quo and refused to put the moonbats back in office. We took our country back from the fascist leaders of the left wing! Contrary to what some have stated here, we're not outraged, rich, brainwashed or stupid. We read the actual news everyday and don't give a crap about what the news in other countries says about us. We do "Get out and make political statements". Just because they don't agree with your self-righteous, self-absorbed, politically correct, left wing view, that doesn't make us the fascist.

I respect the right to express one's convictions, whether through words or peaceful actions.

For what it's worth, though, it seems that -- for visual artists -- history remembers their visual expression over their words or actions. From overt political and social statements, such as Picasso's Guernica, to thinly-veiled statements, such as Manet's The Execution of Maximillian, it seems that the strongest legacy comes from the work itself.

It's too early to tell whether or not the dialogue generated by these designers' choices and actions will have a lasting legacy. In the end, though, they all acted on their convictions. More power to them.
Daniel Green

Well, Michael, if it was a little discussion you wanted to generate you got it, in spades. But, in my estimation, it only succeeded in generating heat rather than light.

Bitch, bitch, bitch, whine, whine, whine back and forth with only an occasional eloquent point and not one drift toward a solution. Sounds like politics as usual. Bitch, bitch, bitch. I'm sick of it. A pox on both houses.

There is a solution. Unlike the governmental system we toppled in Iraq, our system undergoes a revolution every four years. As dictatorial as some feel our country has become it will only last until the next revolutionary takeover (election). And it will only happen if the opposing side can muster enough communication skill to mount a persuasive coherent alternative. If the tie once again goes to the best chad counter it means your persuasive argument wasn't good enough.

I will be impressed by the actions of the dissenters if their heart stays is in it long enough to contribute to the over-through of the government in the next election. If not, it was indeed a hollow gesture. If they use their communication talent effectively, I have no doubt they will prevail, they are good.

Then they can figure out what to do with people who oppress women, kill daughter who have pre-marital sex or are raped, and bomb public places for kicks.

In the mean time I think I'm a little more comfortable with a guy who still remembers 911.


"In the mean time I think I'm a little more comfortable with a guy who still remembers 911."

From the New York Times:

C.I.A. Closes Unit Focused On Capture of bin Laden
July 4, 2006, Tuesday
By Mark Mazzetti (New York Times)
The Central Intelligence Agency has closed a unit that for a decade had the mission of hunting Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants, intelligence officials confirmed Monday.

Happy Independence Day, everyone. This Osama bin Laden fellow obviously doesn't pose much of a threat.
D. Senter

Congratulations to all of you whose ire was raised by this simple, well stated protest by Rock, Sellers, Stout, Scher and Sagmeister. Octavian, mswaine, scout - you're all good Germans.

"you're all good Germans"?


And people say the right is intolerant.

"Get over yourselves"? Real lives depend on what we do, and it is not petty self-absorption to take the responsibility of freedom seriously.
The objection the decliners expressed was not to public policies emerging from the system - but to intra-systemic policies which corrupt the system, to strategies of manipulation and deceit - to a debased culture. Honesty is a moral code on which real democracy depends. Jimmy Carter didn't lie, nor I think does John McCain; honesty really is possible. Kudos to those who are moved to defend the culture and the code.

In his very scary book, CHAIN OF COMMAND, Seymour Hersh ends on this 'terrifying possibility': "There are many who believe George Bush is a liar, a President who knowingly and deliberately twists facts for political gain. But lying would indicate an understanding of what is desired, what is possible, and how best to get there. A more plausible explanation is that words have no meaning for this President beyond the immediate moment, and so he believes that his mere utterance of the phrases makes them real. It is a terrifying possibility."

When the RegretsOnly5 declined their invitation to participate in the White House design awards luncheon on the basis of their belief that this President and administration have used words and images irresponsibly, they did the only responsible thing. That is, if you agree with them that "good design" must use words and images to communicate responsibly. And I do. To suggest that it's "bad form" or the sign of an inflated ego to decline an event (the luncheon, not the awards, which the White House had no hand in determining) whose hosts have undermined critical public dialog in the most critical of endeavors (war) is amazingly stupid.

If the only recourse in the face of disastrous policy is the gesture, then we should jump at the opportunity to make the gesture. Do I think it will be lost on Mr. Bush? Of course, it will. I agree with Hersh's assessment that "words have no meaning for this President beyond the immediate moment." But they should have for the rest of us. And the gesture of Paula, Michael, Susan, Georgie, and Stefan will at least remind us of that fact. Thank you Paula, et al. JoAnn
JoAnn Stone

Peter and others.

I am disturbed that you turned this discourse into one politicized by party lines. Up to that point this wasn't a liberal vs conservative, democrat vs republican or red vs blue state argument. It really wasn't. It was a discourse about the role of our political opinions in our everyday lives and whether or not small gestures of protest against a regime that is decidedly anti-american (IMO) are commendable, effective or even welcome by this little community.

Your comparison of Bush to Clinton really has no impact on the validity of these arguments. So if previous administrations have had a hand in setting up the current situation, does that really mean there isn't a place to speak up against the current administration that is overwhelmingly acting irresponsibly and maliciously? I don't understand how living in the past should really affect our actions now. Hipocrits or not we all have a breaking point to which we can no longer sit comfortably and do nothing. For a lot of people the actions of THIS administration are that breaking point.

To start attacking liberals as a group is devisive and hateful as well (as is attacking conservatives as a whole). I think you said something about beer guzzling and patchouli wearing. Are you effing serious? Again this is not a liberal vs. republican issue. This is a distgusting and nasty administration and I believe any responsible American should support acts of protest regardless of where your politics align with the protestors. And you sound like a disatisfied person who would support the act in spite of the message.

Otherwise you are in the camp with people like Brittney Spears who believe we should just trust and support the president no matter what. That couldn't be more unamerican. Blind devotion is nationalism. and…

Nationalism creates conflict without reason and unity with purpose. That is why I cannot bring myself to wave a flag right now.

Anyway I think this discourse has probably run its course. It may have included a lot of whining, moaning and ugly rhetoric, and sure no solutions were arrived at. But that is not the point. Just be thankful that we are still allowed to have free and open discussions like this. I appreciate it very much, and am thankful for even the pointless, polarizing and ignorant among us.

r agrayspace

I found the data on the amount the Bush administration has spent on media and with whom they spent it telling. Over a billion spent in the last few years. I wonder if any of the five who protested accept money that derives from the administration or from corporations who benefit from the administration's policies? If so, their stand is a little like a vegan wearing leather shoes and fur.

The protesters make lots of money every month and likely live very indulgent lifestyles. If they really had such a strong moral position how can this be rationalized with their profiting from businesses that support, directly or indirectly, policies they abhor? I suppose if that is the strength of your moral convictions then declining an invitation to breakfast at the White House is a big deal. I mean, if you snottily snub the party of the year in Manhattan when you're a desired guest, that's a big statement.

Take those commenters who claim we live in a Fascist state...please! (rimshot). Those who feel they live in a Fascist state, or a state run by people who intentionally murder, and then limit their protest to a post on a blog, or an argument over coffee, or a refusal to attend breakfast with the First Lady, show the strength of their convictions by their actions. If Fascism or murder elicits such a tepid response, what sort of moral compass is that? This is crying wolf at its worst.

One of the earlier comments stated, "Otherwise, what else would they have gained by refusing such a glamorous and flattering invitation..." This seems obvious to me. It's the same reason why essentially only one political viewpoint is held by university faculty or in Hollywood. Their protest raises their prestige within their social and professional circles; it's more about ego than encouraging the healthy "political discourse" they cherish. I'm sure not much in the way of discourse goes on in the groups these five frequent.

The protesters make lots of money every month and likely live very indulgent lifestyles -GM

Hardly! Sagmeister spends half his time devoted to charity; feeding New York's homeless, AIDS charities- you name it. As for Scher,she sells fine art

Before you cry wolf you outta type google.
felix sockwell

I'm rather astounded by these comments. When I read the above article on a post by a friend, I was quite impressed. After reading these comments, I realized that "designers" (whatever that means) are soulless, egocentric robots like most of the United States.
Dr. Trudy Bond

Gee, did this get any coverage in the MSM? Because this is the first I've heard about it. Lot of good refusing the WH visit did.

I'm going to refrain from posting my political leanings here but I want to point out a few things:

1) The invitations really do look horrible.

2) The majority of you are going to sound like complete idiots to each other no matter what. But that's a beautiful thing because you are *allowed* to publicly dissent. Consequently, who are any of you to question choice so loudly, as if to say there actually is a right or wrong on this matter. The act of refusal holds deep meaning to those who refused and maybe that's enough for them. It is America after all.

3) Maybe we should become incensed about other things, like bombs falling on Lebanese civilians and rebel armies slaughtering people in Darfur. At least, those sound more important to me...

Gee, did this get any coverage in the MSM? Because this is the first I've heard about it. Lot of good refusing the WH visit did. - MSRY

Washington Post, Reliable Source column, July 18th.
Tamara Vandervoort

One last comment.
We all speak and listen to one another through our individual agendas. Agendas that are the collection of our upbringing, experiences, the stories we hear and emotions we feel. That our agendas are dissonant is the American chorus. Beautiful in its own way. We each react differently to events around us and the acuity of that reaction ebbs and wanes according to our agenda.

Right now I'm thinking of those souls in the World Trade Center on 9/11 who were faced with the decision to parish in fire or jump to certain death and wonder what choice I would make and I'm frozen. Frozen in the luxury of knowing I am able to sit here, waxing philosophically about events of which I have but an arms length acquaintance.

My visceral reaction is to not only attack the enemy, but attack the thought process, the culture, the hubris that says "innocent life is fair game for my agenda" My visceral reaction is against those who for whatever reason, put those people on the edge of their death or death decision. My agenda is not confused by wanting to understand and appreciate, it is to stamp out, like cholera, the diseased mindset that kills for political gain.

That the five award winners have the right to follow their conscience is self evident in America. That they solidify their celebrity among designers is also evident.
That we agree to disagree is the best that can be expected, given our agendas.

I am astounded at the level of arrogance on the part of the recipients. Thank you for leveling this kind of embarrassment on our community to support your political agenda. This is truely your loss. If you had the opportunity to meet Laura Bush and you missed it, then that is your incredible misfortune. If you had been able to push your socialist agenda to the side, you would have discovered that Laura Bush is a genuinely kind, open and intelligent woman. Understanding now that you have flawed theories and unstable judgement, the best thing for you to do is return the awards so that they may be given to those recipients that are truely grateful and deserving of an award. It is unfortunate that our community must suffer this embarrassment at the hands of a group of sniffeling, whining, and ungrateful cowards.

I am astounded by the ignorance of this last post. W is that you?

I definitely fall into the category shared by mswaine and Dr. Trudy Bond, though I should point out that I am a technical communicator and not a designer.

I know other commenters have pointed this out, but I wonder how many of the "name callers" in this entire comment thread have bothered to learn anything about the five award recipients who declined to attend the awards breakfast. I don't know much about them either, but it seems to me that they were exercising their right as citizens and nothing more than that.

Let's not forget that this is still America, OK? We're STILL allowed to respectfully disagree, decline invitations, peacefully protest, etc. and we should not have to face people trying to shout us down or throw imaginary accusations in our faces.

Using ten-dollar words and clever innuendo instead of profanity is tantamount to the same thing in this situation as far as I'm concerned, and it seems like that's all I ever read anymore in forums such as this. Is it asking too much if I request that those guilty of baseless name calling please knock it the hell off?
Ed H.

More than 10 days late, I want to express my admiration for how the finalists and recipients of the award have responded to an invitation from the White House. For me this is, apart from a personal and citizen's choice against, also a choice for the 'designer-as-citizen'. As Laura Bush said during her speech (mentioning, amongst others, The Devil Wears Prada): 'Powerful graphic designs have become symbols that help organize historical and social movements.' Not taking into account gestures that transcend the purely visual qualities of design, drawing on designers as reflexive figures. Like the one just made. For me, it's the beginning of a new and more effective 'First Things First Manifesto'.
Daniel van der Velden

Wow, that's a lot o' Bush shit! Good work everyone.
Laura Bush

What an enthralling discussion. I wanted to get my colleagues in Beirut in on it but they haven't replied to me yet....

So let me get this right... they refused to go to the breakfast but they accepted the award... haha... that isnt protesting.

I am a conservative designer.. GASP!... but when we finally get a little good press in what has become "everyone is a graphic designer" menatlity it is squandered... I dont aqgree with everything Bush has done but when their is opportunity to advance out profession it should be taken.

As for bush history will tell if he was a bad president or not. 18 straight months of economic growth. 4.7% unemployment. A prosperous society... i know my workload has gone up...has yours?

Well I appologize for getting here so late but hey the economy is humming and so is my business. I am a designer and a liberterian who some may consider conservative so this may sound odd at first but, I applaude these five designers. I mean why should Laura Bush have to dine with five people who view her with so much disdain. Not to mention five people who do not even have enough class to turn down the offer politely, without trashing the lady's husband.

Not only do these five designers lack class they lack something more important, courage. They were offered an opportunity that any truly passionate opponent of the President and his administration would jump at; the opportunity to tell it to her face. If you feel so strongly about these things why not tell her? Instead they chose to write a letter that she probably never even saw. Their gesture was not only small it was weak. i used to respect Stefan for his risk taking but now he has joined the ranks of the big talk no backbone crowd. If any of you want to defend their action by saying "it would make no sense to tell it to her face she wouldn't listen" think about it for a minute, do you think she even read your reply? Some staffer read it and their names were added to the list of people not coming. Clearly this was a case of an over-inflated sense of self-importance coupled with a lack of true grit.


"A prolonged assault on meaning" A disdain for...the intelligence of the american people. Are they serious? Has anyone who has read this letter had any trouble figuring out what the president means? obviously these five haven't, they understand it well enough to oppose it. Maybe the "decline to dine five" don't believe the american people are as intelligent as they are. Actually in their effort to make a statement they actually gave the Prez and his crew major kudos (more than they really deserve). Who would have thought this guy who the left has alway mocked as being stupid and unable to communicate in an intelligent manner would be credited with forever altering political discourse. Wow I bet W would have trouble pronouncing that. Seriously folks if the american people are so smart how come they were dumb enough to allow Bush to dupe them into re-electing him. Or maybe the majority of designers (I don't think I am going out on a limbe to say the majority of designers lean left)are not very good at design; after all they were unable to communicate all of Bush's transgressions to all the smart americans. Or maybe the decline to dine crew are wrong about Bush but right about americans, at least the majority of them.

What these folks and a great many communications professionals are really upset by is the fact that Bush has out communicated them. The great miscommunicator they call him now. But the reality is he was better at getting his message out than the left was at getting theirs out. Ironic that some of the most talented designers are upset because a bunch of rank ametuers have beat them at their own game.

Conservative John: wtf are you talking about? Get your facts straight before apologizing for this administration; there's not a shred of decency left. As for unemployment rates:

Rates rose when he took office; they're still higher than when Clinton left. Again, during Clinton's term, the debt started trending downward, with a budget surplus, and since Bush's election, we've managed to increase our debt to astronomical heights.

Look, Democrats are not saints either, but Republicans will destroy us.

They can blatantly lie, cheat, and steal, (Rove, DeLay, Frist come to mind) and the public won't lift a finger. Get wind of a blowjob? Sic the lawyers! Investigate every penny! They must be evil!

Not only have the Right manipulated words, but deeper to the root of the problem, manipulated the U.S.'s collective mind.


...4.7% unemployment...

Well, in 2000, before Bush took office, the unemployment rate was 4.0 percent, according the the U.S. Census. In other words: it was lower before Bush became president.

(Admittedly it was rising by the end of 2000, and there was of course a spike after Sept. 11, but it has since stabilized obviously -- though not to pre-Bush levels.)

...my workload has gone up...has yours?...

Doesn't the possibility exist that your workload has increased because maybe you're a good designer with good business acumen, working in a reasonably conducive economy, rather than much to do with the sitting president?

I'd also humbly suggest that if we're in the mood to assess the nation's economic well-being, we should consider other long-term factors -- some of which this administration has greatly neglected.

A few among many: the nation's budget, trade and consumer credit deficits are at the highest points in history; poverty in the U.S. is rising (from 31.6 million in 2000 to 37 million in 2004); and, of course, the fact that we're in the midst of two drawn-out wars, which drain billions of dollars from taxpayers per month, can disrupt trade, alienate economic allies, and mire our public safety infrastructure in constant preparedness for possible retributive attacks (not to mention the actual human cost in lives lost).

...As for bush history will tell if he was a bad president or not...

I'd strongly assert that -- for many, many reasons -- history won't look upon the Bush Administration very kindly. In my (admittedly distanced and unexpert) estimation, this administration has offered one string of bad decisions and belligerent, myopic actions after another.

Even the most neutral historical perspective will conclude that many mistakes were made and ill-guided policies were enacted by this administration -- despite great opposition and dissent (almost all of which, regardless of the abundance of rationality and logic behind the arguments, was summarily ignored) -- with far-reaching consequences.

Thus the more relevant question to this post becomes: given these facts, how will history view the decision by the dissenting designers?

My guess is that this episode will be remembered in the years to come as having generated rather overblown (and needlessly acrimonious) debate in the public sphere (at least among designers) -- but also that the dissenting designers were following their conscience in making a personal choice from the heart (even if it rang hollow to certain colleagues).

And generally, following one's conscience in a constructive, dignified and unharmful manner is always a commendable act, regardless of the issue (or the backlash).

Above all, I disagree that much was squandered in the good name of graphic design. If anything, perhaps it's shown that folks in our profession do indeed have a backbone.

Civic duty, honor and integrity would be an even greater public perception for us to have than the prestige of presidentially bestowed awards, at least in my opinion.

So it would seem to me that -- regardless of where one stands politically -- Sagmeister, Scher, et. al., deserve a good deal of praise for choosing to speak their minds. That's the American way.
Jon Resh

If the fight against injustice, corruption, fascism and wanton taking of innocent life could be thought of as a slap fight between Ru Paul and Divine (God rest his/her soul), then these five designers, and in fact most "designers," could be thought of as the elite special forces in this momentous battle for the future of humankind.

You know, I think that these designers stood up for what they believe in, and that is a great thing. At the same time I look at it like this:

It's like donating a large sum of money to some charity... And then telling everyone around you that you donated the money so that they think you are wonderful as well. Your donation is worth the same amount whether or not your friends know about it.

Once again, great going, you are fully entitled to your opinion. Though, I suggest next time you might want to decide if you are actually standing up for your political values or just showing off for your friends.

The tradition of political protest in this country has been dormant for so long that it's understandable that people can't imagine why anyone would undertake it except for self-aggrandizement.

Kevin, whether you agree with the cause or not, public protest is meaningless if no one knows about it.
Michael Bierut

Has no one noticed the lmc error made by Laura Bush? It is not correct to call herself Mrs. Laura Bush, unless she has married a woman named Laura. She is Mrs. George W. Bush or Laura Bush. Is her secretary of protocol from Texas?

if you're going to protest, be honest and forthright. Just say you disagree with their morals and politics instead of going on about something or another.

if you did that, I'd more impressed at your resolute decision.
minh truong

Designers standing up for what they believe in. That's commendable. This symbolic gesture may be insignificant in the scheme of things, but it's inspiring to me. Imagine what would happen if everybody who knew better stopped going on as though they didn't?

As a student, I'm excited to see so many important people in my field of study speaking about something that is for once worth-while, no matter which side of the fence you stand on.

I noticed this debate brings in so many other issues that are equally as important, such as the economy and employment, right down to the responsibility we have in what we do in our careers and what we have to say as individuals.

I personally agree with their initial gesture, if they didn't do what they did, then this dialogue wouldn't exist, there needs to be more talk about these things...
Dan Newcomer

Amazing! In a field where the ability to think clearly is so important it is absolutely amazing that nearly everyone, especially these five designers, has completely missed the point.

This was not, as Chip Kidd pointed out in his email reply, an invitation to a support the Iraq war rally. Nor was it an "I endorse the Bush Administration" party. It was not a political event in any way shape or form. It was an opportunity for this fine museum to honor design and designers in a grand setting. A politician, or a political appointee did not host it; Laura Bush hosted it. Contrary to what a previous blogger wrote I do not believe there was a mistake in Mrs. Bush's title, it may not have been proper protocol but, I think she may have been making a statement; I am not my husband. I do not know this for sure but it would not surprise me. Clearly she was not hosting this event as a representative of the Bush Administration, not one reference to the Administration or politics at all. No this was just an event to pay tribute to our great profession and some of our best designers.

Shame these designers felt the need to lash out at Mrs. Bush for her husband’s transgressions. I do not know about you but my wife and I hold divergent political views, yet we are a happy couple because we can separate politics from our daily life. I would never want my wife held responsible for my views. We do not imprison you if your husband commits murder. We do not attack the wives of men who commit fraud. Yet these designers felt justified in refusing to allow Mrs. Bush the opportunity to pay tribute to their contributions, because they were offended by her husband's political actions. To make matters worse they did not just decline they took the opportunity to lambaste her husband via her. I guess I should be grateful that they did not go to the event and say these things to her face. I cannot understand why people believe she should answer for her husband.

Perhaps the greatest irony of all is the charge that her Husband had seriously harmed the political discourse in America. While this may, or may not, be true the actions of our five designers does little to return civility to the political discourse. To the contrary it does nothing less than drag it down into the mud by inflaming passions on both sides of the aisle. You have to look no further than these heated posts. They have injected politics into a situation that was refreshingly non-political. This was a day to revel in the glory of design, to allow it to shine. Instead it became an opportunity for design to thumb its nose at someone, who to the best of my knowledge had nothing to do with the acts of this administration (that these designers find so offensive).

For years I have fought hard to change perceptions of corporate decision makers that designers are just a bunch of mystical, emotional, touchy-feely types. Instead we are critical thinkers with the ability to empathize with the target audience. Promoting the need to bring designers in early during the decision making process. That, while we are artists, who operate in an area that they may not fully comprehend, we are also capable of separating our feelings from our analysis. While I have made considerable progress in this area, this did not help. When the best the industry has to offer cannot separate politics from praise, we all lose.

After all the partisan bickering and whether or not one supports the quiet protest, I have a remaining question for many of the posters.

There are many mentions of how the Bush administration has "manipulated", "twisted" and used the tools of communication for a terrible agenda, and how that is somehow unsupportive of design.

I don't support the Bush administration and their agenda (as much as I can) but is not their use of the media, their propaganda, in fact quite supportive of design as a tool and in fact quite successful, despite whether we like the outcome or not?

Christian Palino

Christian Palino, you have hit the nail on it's head.

Michael Beruit wrote this: Laura Bush was right about one thing, and no one knows it better than graphic designers: design is a facilitator. Now, more than ever, we should be aware of what we choose to facilitate.

I couldn't agree more. The question is, if the goal it [design] is facilitating is one we disagree with has it damaged design or harmed the political discourse? I am certain that any conservative designer would feel that the posters promoting planned parenthood and the manipulation of words like "a woman's choice" are equally irresponsible uses of design and mass media. Yet design seems to have survived and political discourse was OK, until Bush was elected at least.

The reality is political civility is a myth that was not exposed until the advent of cable news and the internet. Peoples views are no more polarized today than they were 6 years ago; we are just more able to express and promote them.

What Bush, or more accurately, Rove have been able to do in getting their message out is not unprecedented just frustratingly (for some) effective. To believe they have really done damage to design and political discourse is to give them more power than they deserve. as well as being overly melodramatic.

While public dissent may be beneficial, it is, only if it leads to actions that change things. Since Bush is a lame duck president there was no action to spur people to take, therefore publicizing this letter only highlighted a rift that has always existed. way to go.

While public dissent may be beneficial, it is, only if it leads to actions that change things...

Well Dave, I gotta respectfully disagree there.

Public dissent is not merely "beneficial" -- it's essential, regardless of which party is in power or which ideology reigns.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say dissent is necessary even when it's positions are absolutely wrong, if only to give a check and balance to the dominating ideas.

Public dissent is simply not "only" useful if it leads to actions. It's what keeps the free expression and the marketplace of ideas in motion, what gives it validity and openness. To quote Mr. Glaser: DISSENT PROTECTS DEMOCRACY. People seem to be forgetting this.

I'd hate to think we'd ever live in a country where public dissent is only allowed or generated purely for public actions, where it couldn't exist simply for people to speak their minds or to consider the validity of dominant thought. While real political action may certainly be the desired goal (and there's surely not enough of it), there has to be some place to start the conversation too.

Sure, the echo chamber and the mass of angry opinions back and forth -- including a lot of the vitriol in this discussion -- do get maddening and tired. And too much empty, nasty criticism can certainly poison the well.

But give me many voices with a multitude of ideas any day over having to bow to a very few voices from the top. I may not like what, for instance, Rush Limbaugh (on the right) or Ward Churchill (on the left) have to say, but I'd rather have them around -- free to dissent -- than not. (Insert famous Voltaire quote here.)

Thus from that standpoint, the dissenting designers' act is -- at the very least -- justifiable, and perhaps truly valuable. I guess time will tell.

The reality is political civility is a myth...

I'm not really sure how things operate in Washington, but I do know that among regular folks, a lot of people get along just fine despite their differences in political opinion.

We all banter and maybe sometimes get a little angry with each other, but for the most part I think a lot of people would rather share a beer than fight over ideological differences.

On the other hand, many veteran politicians -- congressmen who've been around for a half-century and the like -- have said that discourse is more rancorous now at the governmental level than at any time in recent memory. This may be due in part to an expanded, real-time media, and the resulting heightened stakes of constant and immediate exposure. So maybe it is getting worse.

I agree with you on how Rove et. al. have been very effective in communicating. Unfortunately, in my opinion, they've done so in part by manipulating the meaning (as the dissenting designers might say) behind that communication -- twisting, distorting, censoring and deceiving -- with little recourse when facts prove their statements to be false, manufactured or contrived.

That's certainly nothing new, as you point out, but it's also nothing good. (And it may help explain the president's low approval rating currently.)

Lastly: I know there are people who've read all of this back-and-forth and are rolling their eyes about so much commotion over such a seemingly small issue.

But I'd suggest that this act -- whether one supports it or not -- touches on much deeper implications about our role as citizens (and designers), and our place (if we're even afforded one) in trying to steer our democracy safely in an increasingly hazardous, hostile and unsure world.
Jon Resh

I am going to stick my neck out on this one but what a pathetic form of protest from those five designers.

I think you Americans are spoilt.

At least you don't face a genocide in your country. We, as white people in South Africa, do.

A good enough reason to boycott a First Lady Banquet - I'd say huh?

Hey, give your Government some credit - although I will agree they are largely a bunch of idiots (but so are most Americans.)

I think the five designers concerned are suffering from their own collective guilt-trips and forgot that they are failing the rest of your nation - and wait for it... the rest the design world.

When we (the world) look at you we don't just knock your Prez (hey someone has to do your dirty work); we laugh at the pathetic 'PC-ness' and 'twee-ness' of the petit-bourgeious. ie: middle-class America. The aforementioned Five.

They are a joke with that soppy pathetic letter.

My opinion of the United States of America has lessened even more after reading this webpage and I truly believe you will go the route of the Lost City of Atlantis. No not because of your Prez - but because of yourselves.

Wake up!

Your Goverment is not so bad.

You voted Him in - You are a Democracy, Proud Americans... so have the common decency to attend His Wife's Dinner Party!
Mark Winston Singleton


Petit-bourgeious[sic]? You read this blog and start making pronouncements about "Proud Americans?" You've got to be kidding.

These five designers, nor the tiny collection of people who follow this blog, don't speak for America, you angry little fool. The fact that you're South African, if you really are, makes your ranting even more absurd. You should know better.

Your misguided bitterness toward America will only lead you deeper into the muck in which you find yourself, and deep it is indeed.

John Resh,

I stand corrected on the issue of dissent. After reading your post I can see that my desire for action not words had clouded my judgement. I agree public dissent is valuable, although I will always prefer dissent that has the possibility of spurring constructive action.

On the issue of political discourse, I did not mean to say people were not able to get along. To the contrary I think people get along, outside of Washington, much better than readers of this blog would believe. I just disagree that this president has done anything, with regard to his use of meaning or mass media, to push the rancor up as the five designers alledge. I don't think he has done anything to help it subside either. Although I am not sure he could.

There are always at least two parties in a fight, politics included. If we are going to talk about the damage done to political discourse maybe we should examine both sides conduct (as regarding the responsible use of media and design).

How divisive do you think broadcasting videos that aligned the president with Hitler were? Pretty divisive. That is just one example of the vitriol that was spewed from the presidents opponents. I am not trying to defend Bush, just pointing out communication media has been used by both sides to raise the rancor.

My point, in the first post, was that these five designers did nothing to bring about the return to civility that they claim they want. An attack brings a response. Hardly the high road they seem to be saying they were taking.

An attack brings a response.

Attack? I would call it a response. A response to failure. Perhaps some are happy to get Homeland Security funding for "listed targets" in Kansas. Where do you hunker down, Dave?

Hardly the high road they seem to be saying they were taking.

Yes, it seems that way. And it seems your broadcasting Hitler with the liberal agenda makes perfect sense. And John McCain had a negro baby in 2000. And indeed, those weapons will show up any day now.

Keep dreaming, Dave from Kansas.

felix sockwell

Thanks Felix you just proved my point

That ought to return us to a more civil dialogue.

oh by the way the "attack" you say they responded to was a cordial, albeit poorly designed, invitation to brunch.

Hunker down? Felix are you still scared. We haven't had a reason to hunker down out here in Kansas in years. Guess we can thank Hitler for that. Get a grip dude.

Just wondering if Paul Scher attended any kind of event honoring her achievements in design when she received her honorary doctorate from Corcoran College of Art (CCA)?

Without getting into lengthy specifics within this post (follow links for deeper background), the CCA was founded by William Wilson Corcoran who was "doing a booming business as a financial agent of the federal government during the Mexican War."

The Mexican War (1846-1848) is often viewed as a "war of agression" in the U.S. government's zeal for its "Manifest Destiny" and westward expansion.

Did Scher protest CCA's awarding of the honorary doctorate to her? Based on the rationale she uses in the letter to Mrs. Bush, it seems that she would have. Maybe not, though. Her official Pentagram biography lists the doctorate as a noteworthy accomplishment.

So, here's what I'm still thinking about...

In one case, Scher will not attend a White House function seeking to honor her contributions to design because she's protesting, among other things, the current administration's mishandling of two issues communicating messages about the war in Iraq (Mission Accomplished and hidden war casualties); a war that many believe to be a war of agression by the U.S., while, in another case...

...she is willing to attend the event (or, at least include in her official biography) at which she is awarded an honorary doctorate degree for her design achievements from a school (CCA) that was founded by a man who accumulated a good chunk of his wealth by financing the federal government's war of agression with Mexico from 1846-1848. A war in which the U.S. benefitted tremendously from the misuse/abuse of media and communications channels (Morse Code - invented by Samuel Morse in 1844 and the many "occupation newspapers" in Mexico after the war's end) at the hands of the federal government and other media outlets of the day.

Just wondering. Is this hypocritical? Mr. Bierut, set me straight on this one. Better yet, can Ms. Scher provide any insight on this, please?

I don't see why the award has to be politicized by having either Laura or George W. (or any presidential platform) in the same room.

We arent talking about ROYALTY anymore here in the U.S., we don't have culture ministers etc... and no one gives a damn what politicians think about it, nor is it in any way a reflection of implementation of policy changes regarding any aspect of the field of design, unless you are some damn good lobbyists.

It is pure kiss-ass ceremony, and the awards committee should be more responsible about that.

If a political position is involved, then clear refusal would be correct - not just not attending.

In terms of communication, they should know "I refuse this award" is more honest and clear than "I accept this award but will not show up to your luncheon because..."

If there is a reason to write Laura Bush (ha ha) it is to REFUSE, not explain about not attending her social function, like a complicated r.s.v.p. to an iliterate.


Put aside your political beliefs to receive an award that is the "oscars" of design awards? F*ck that. I doubt anyone is what they are to receive awards. If you get invited to dine with someone you don't like, at the table of the center of gov't, don't go. Your choice. That is neither arrogant nor irresponsible. Their beliefs drove what they did. No agenda attached people, how many times do they have to say it. If you get invited to an awards ceremony for the Red Sox and your a Yankee fan, it's simple. You don't go. Stand by your beliefs. No need to applaud anyone, it is a give-in to choose whether you do something or not. Shame on all the haters, but holla for saying what you believe. That's what your supposed to do.


Dear Wondering,

Hey, you're right! If you didn't stand up and protest the Mexican War of 1846-8, you should forfeit your right to say anything about events happening in our current century!

Thanks for pointing this out.
Tobias K.

Laura Bush, unelected occupant of the White House, is in no position to confer any honor upon the winners of a design award. From a design perspective her presence there is totally irrelevant, and as such she only serves to taint the ceremony with a residue of politics that overshadows the ostensible point of the awards.

Later this fall the wisdom of the refuseniks will be verified because we will see Laura all over this country stumping for Republican candidates who don't want to associate with George. She is as significant a representative of this corrupt and sadly misguided government as he is.

I am reminded of my college graduation when Richard Nixon - only months before he resigned the presidency - was asked to speak at my red-state university's commencement. I refused to attend, and chose to receive my diploma by mail. My refusal was criticised by friends and family, and I had to defend myself. 32 years later, my conscience is still clear. It was about my not assenting to something with which I disagreed; that's why this country was founded. Kudos to the five. We're talkin' about it, and that's good.

Mrs. Laura Bush Requests the pleasure of your company at a breakfast and ceremony in recognition of the recipients of the 2005 and 2006 National Design Awards to be held at White House on July 10...

In recognition not only of your achievements but the achievements of all the other recipients who you just snubbed. Not "so that I may honor you with an award" or "where I, as a representative of this administration, will give you an award" Nope, she invited them to come and recognize the achievements of a whole group of people not connected in any way to this administration.

These five designers were given an opportunity to represent the graphic design community at large in honoring the achievements of people who represent the best the entire design industry has to offer and they let their personal views get in the way.

Nothing wrong with having those views, nothing wrong with demonstrating those views, but there is a place to display your poitical ideology and a non-political awards ceremony for a whole industry is not the place. Let the anger go for one morning and do your industry proud.

Any of you that think going would make them a sellout, is Chip Kidd a sellout? Did his attendance bestow credibility on the administration? Puh-leaze

I guess the museum should check with all of the nominees before they make thier decisions to see if their beliefs conflict with the present administration and only honor the ones that do not. Would that promote civil political discourse?

Well that is just what these five are advocating; "if you believe what we believe sign this note and don't go." So if a left-leaning president is in office any conservative or moderate designers should just stay home. Yay! then we can turn a ceremony to honor our profession into a totally politiscized event.

Does that sound like a positive thing to any one?

Michael Bierut: Do you know if the five designers, or more accurately the four winners (since Paula Scher was not a winner), actually accepted the awards but just declined to go to the awards ceremony?

In the letter they say "accept an award celebrating language and communication, from a representative of an administration that has engaged in a prolonged assault on meaning."

The meaning of that sentence is a little unclear, did they mean they would not accept the award at all or did they say they would not accept it from a representative of this administration, meaning they would accept the award after the ceremony as long as LB wasn't delivering it?

I don't really care if they did take the award, just seems like the letter is crafted to give a different impression.

...and suddenly I'm reminded of the line spoken by somebody I can't recall, about how graphic designers are "exotic menials."

Yep, pretty much.

A handful of Hollywood actors pretend to know a lot about politics and assume that fame means they have should be listened to; graphic designers do much the same.

It accomplishes nothing.

It doesn't matter if you or I lose respect for these individuals because of their declination of the invitation, the reality is pretty simple: most of the population still doesn't know who they are or care about what they do. And so graphic design continues to be that curious thing that people mix up with desktop publishing and ask if you "use photoshop and stuff."

Then again, its kind of inane to award designers who design stuff for companies who design products that far more registered Republicans than Democrats can ever hope to afford...what does a Prada skirt go for these days? And does quippy commentary in Akzidenz plastered on the walls change the effect of that skirt? Sure its cool, but does a chair envisioned as a flower ACTUALLY alter the currents of the world? And how many minds is an AIGA poster going to change, really?

It's all beautiful work. Hard to ignore, hard to forget. But c'mon, it actually gave these guys a chance to have a dialogue--or a confrontation--with powerful individuals. Would much come of it? Well, I don't know...but I do know, if you don't have the confrontation NOTHING happens and nothing changes.

Be that as it may, and lame as that letter was, W's administration has done far more to screw up political discourse in this world, regardless of your thoughts on his positions. Someone said these individuals lacked courage, and sadly, I have to agree.
Bradley Gutting

Well, I don't know...but I do know, if you don't have the confrontation NOTHING happens and nothing changes.

Finally, a voice of reason. By Stefan and Paula not going to the banquet and never confronting Laura Bush, nothing changes. Had they gone, we would've found the weapons, heard their message and heeded the call (rapture!).

Bradley, my friend, you've pulled back the curtains!
felix sockwell

Michael Bierut: Do you know if the five designers, or more accurately the four winners (since Paula Scher was not a winner), actually accepted the awards but just declined to go to the awards ceremony?

The actual awards ceremony takes place each year at the Cooper-Hewitt in October. No awards are handed out at the White House event.

...and suddenly I'm reminded of the line spoken by somebody I can't recall, about how graphic designers are "exotic menials."

That was Ralph Caplan, and he was talking about designers in general.
Michael Bierut

. . . Design, in all its disciplines, is the world's greatest facilitator. . .", said Mrs. Bush (or her team of speechwriters?)

I'd be more put off by the uninviting design of the invite sent by Mrs. Bush than anything else—and she's supposed to be the patron of a national design award! It obviously didn't help much in facilitating the invitation.



So you mean to tell us that the whole premiss of the letter is false? They wrote a letter about the administration's misuse of language as the reasoning why they cannot accept an award from someone who was not even giving them an award?

The whole justification for not attending was based on not receiving an award from someone who had engaged in acts inconsistent with the values of honest communication. That by not accepting the award they were making a gesture, although seemingly insignificant, to express the importance of those values. Meanwhile, unknown to the readers of DO, they were not actually invited to receive an award from LB!

now it becomes vital to know the intention of the designers, do they intend on accepting the awards in October? Were they just using the invitation to dine at the White House as an opportunity to make a statement with no substance? If they weren't being given an award then what was the basis of not going? the whole letter is based on articulating their reasons for refusing to accept the award.

If they plan on getting the award in October, then the whole thing was a sham, political grandstanding, even outright deception. The same things they are accusing W of doing.

Further, if they do plan on accepting the awards in October and you, Michael Beirut, knew about it before posting your essay, you are as guilty of deception as they are. I sincerely hope that is not the case, I hope they do not plan on accepting, I hope you did not post their letter knowing the content to be an "abuse of meaning."

So you mean to tell us that the whole premiss of the letter is false?

I thought the language in Mrs. Bush's invitation, in the letter from the decliners, and especially in my original article was all pretty clear, but perhaps it wasn't. People continue to be confused about the relationship of the award and the White House. The award is not given by the White House but by the Cooper-Hewitt Museum. The event at the White House is a celebration to honor those nominated for the award.

Scher and Sagmeister were honored at the 2005 National Design Awards ceremony, held in October of last year at the Cooper-Hewitt. There was no White House breakfast that year, so this year's breakfast was held to honor participants from both last year and this year. I do not know if the three designers from 2x4 intend to come to the actual awards ceremony, but I think the letter makes clear that the object of their protest was not the Cooper-Hewitt Museum but the policies of the Bush administration. You can disagree with their politics or their tactics, but I do not think there was any attempt on their part to decieve anyone.

If you find the chronology of events or the relationship between the White House and the Museum confusing, that's my fault, and unintentional.
Michael Bierut

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.

People continue to be confused about the relationship of the award and the White House. The award is not given by the White House but by the Cooper-Hewitt Museum. The event at the White House is a celebration to honor those nominated for the award.

Michael, when you read the two paragraphs above do you not see a problem with the letter to Laura Bush? As you note, no representative of the Bush administration is giving the award so what were they refusing to accept from the first lady?

I cannot believe you think this is clear. While it is clear they object to Bush' policies, the letter is not written merely as a letter of disagreement, it is written as a refusal to attend the celebration and a refusal to accept an award. Those are the main actions the designers mention.

go back and read the posts on this thread. the vast majority are about the designers refusing to accept the awards. both people that agree with their politics and those that do not. this was not, as you argue, just a letter about objecting to policies, it was that of course, but the vehicle for that objection was not accepting an invitation or an award from a rep of the administration.

The letter contains four paragraphs. One whole paragraph is about not accepting an award from someone they feel is a rep of someone (the five designers) feel is not honorable. If they knew they were not receiving an award from that person, and I assume they, like you, knew they were not, then the only reason to include that paragraph was to make the gesture appear more significant. surely they knew LB knew she wasn't giving them an award, so who were they trying to influence with that part of the letter? Obviously the public that they intended it for. As you said this was an act of public dissent, they certainly intended, from the very begining, to release this to the public.

If you can offer another reason to include the line about not "accepting an award" in a letter they wrote to someone who they knew wasn't giving them one, I would love to hear it.


what are you a lawyer?
felix sockwell


I don't think the writers of the letter intended to deceive anyone, but obviously you can interpret the language in the original invitation, the letter to Mrs. Bush, and my original article any way you want.

By the way, neither the authors of the letter, nor Chip Kidd, who wrote the original dissenting email, asked me to publish it on Design Observer. I became aware of the controversy while it was still largely private and asked if I could publish the correspondence because I thought it would make for an interesting discussion, which I believe it has.
Michael Bierut

Let's face it, the "right wing looneys" have taken over and I applaud those who have stood up to them. The political discussion in this country has moved so far to the right, that our next president could have basic beliefs closer to Mussolini than say, even Nixon. Bush has done nothing right and been responsible for killing thousands of innocent Iraqi's and app. 2,600 young American soldiers (lets not forget the Lebanese and Israeli's). The wonderful thing about America is that we can choose who we socialize with and what we say, the Right would like us to stop and respect the office, but Bush doesn't respect his constituents.
Christopher Mount

First off, no felix I am not a lawyer. second while I am conservative I am not a fan of Bush.

That said, Let me say I think it is, michael, a bit of a copout to say "you can interpret the language in the original invitation, the letter to Mrs. Bush, and my original article any way you want" I am not talking about interpretation, I am talking about a statement about not accepting an award.

Let me put it in a slightly different context. Suppose You sent me a letter inviting me to have breakfast with you and the staff at Pentagram in recognition of all my achievements in design.

Now suppose I sent a reply that said while I am gratified by your interest I must decline the invitation because i disagree with your politics. Further, I cannot accept a job offer from you because i feel that you have violated certain values I hold dear.

then I had a friend post the letter on his blog along with an essay that explains the history and prestige of Pentagram and what an achievement a job there would be.

Now I would imagine there would be all kinds of comments including people who would argue about the politics, others that would think me a fool for not taking the dream job, some who would be offended, and then there would be many who would say, "Politics aside, you have to respect the guy for standing up for what he believes in. He turned down a great honor because he has principles."

but then suppose you wrote in and said, "Actually, I never offered Dave a job. It was just an invitation to breakfast." All of a sudden that desn't seem so principled, does it?

Your essay starts out by describing the Cooper-Hewitt design awards as being the closest thing design has to the Oscars. Even if you disagree about the politics you have to commend the act of turning down such an award because it would violate your principles. But turning down breakfast? Who cares. You didn't describe the breakfast as being like the Oscars. No that doesn't have anything close to the impact of turning down the award.

Why on earth would you include that line in a letter in which you are chastizing someone for their "abuse of meaning." It seams to me the authors should have gone to great lengths to be as accurate and clear as possible. Yet they include that line, which is, when you consider the facts, a true assault on meaning. No different than me turning down a job I was never offered and then letting someone post it in an essay that praises my principles.

We have to learn to protest with more civility, and more guts. Invite your highest ranking political enemies to dinner. Attend theirs. After you've finished chewing, tell them to their face "the dessert was delicious, but I hate what you guys stand for" Let's grow some real creative bravado people. Put your heart and soul into this and stop fussing with these techno-text volleys. It's how people used to be in America.
designer, nyc

"Stood up against them",... really? It never fails to sadden me how easily folks mistake vanity for honesty. Designers pursue work from persons/companies that have decades of negative history (anyone turned down a Nike contract lately?). Designers sell themselves to agencies that worship the almighty dollar. Designers buy clothes made in sweat shops, eat food that perpetuates obesity, smoke cigarettes deliberately designed to addict,... and then think that politely refusing to attend an award ceremony is taking a stance against something.

Vanity, its a hell of a thing isn't it

I don't see the point of responding to people who appear to be unaware of the revolutionary nature of the Bush administrations degradation of our country (on so many levels it has become a full time job just to keep up). But I want to say thank you to Michael Rock, Susan Sellers, Georgie Stout, Paula Scher and Stefan Sagmeister. Speaking truth to power is exactly what this country needs. Bravo!!!

As pompous as it gets.

A true honor for all the selected National award recipients-but the accolades are misplaced by the current administration's podium-and themselves-clearly. Too bad for them-and everyone else.

I couldn't go to such a gala event either as a gay man-even if I had a choice-which I do not according the the Bush Admin. At the same time, all I hear from their end is about my "choice!" So many people are obviously under attack. Sad "they" cannot see design is weighed down by such thingsss.

I could blame christianty or what ever is used as a weapon. Maybe I should yell and scream at money instead-a dollar bill. But, money won't love you back, Mr. and Mrs. Bush.

So...Please don't throw stones at the messengers. Throw stones at the underlying machine we are all slaves too.

>>"Stood up against them",... really? It never fails to sadden me how easily folks mistake vanity for honesty. Designers pursue work from persons/companies that have decades of negative history (anyone turned down a Nike contract lately?). Designers sell themselves to agencies that worship the almighty dollar. Designers buy clothes made in sweat shops, eat food that perpetuates obesity, smoke cigarettes deliberately designed to addict,... and then think that politely refusing to attend an award ceremony is taking a stance against something."<<

Hey CJ, what a wonderful generalization you have concocted. If you were a competent designer with a sense of value and purpose you wouldn't hate yourself so. But I guess I can forgive you. To everyone else - with the exception of a few eloquently phrased comments, the bulk of these responses are childish at best. I expect much more from the design community. Whether you or for or against, republican or democrat, graphic designer or fine artist, you are entitled to an opinion. Please have some respect and dignity in your responses and assesments. We are supposed to be the greatest of communicators - please act accordingly.

a humble graduate

I think it's funny that because you're a "Designer" you [apparently] automatically get a full set of the same beliefs along with your BFA. Not all artists, sculptors, fashion designers, believe the same things either. You should have paid more attention during your Art History lectures. This is what makes America great...the mixing of people and ideas and the freedom to express those ideas regardless of their popularity.

Mr. Kidd, that marine in dress blues you spoke of was probably my cousin. To the rest of the posters, I'm a dissenter. I think Bush is wrong in his philosophy and actions. I think he's giving us Americans a bad rap. Should I love my cousin any less because he obviously believes differently? Do his beliefs make him a bad person? See, life is a series of sticky situations.

Leave the designers alone already. They did what they thought was right, and they didn't ask for your permission beforehand, now did they? They stood up for their beliefs, but keep in mind they did not command loyalty from the rest of us. And because we live in America, they have the freedom to do so. It's called free will people. For the record, attending or not attending one meal does not make a person more or less patriotic, as some of you would have us believe. It also does not make them hero or villian. Heros are the officers and civillians dragging people out of the WTC. Did they ask each person his political affiliation before doing so?

If you want to see things change here, quit bitching about it on blogs and go do something about it.

and personally, i would have been thrilled to go to the white house. I'm a dork like that, and my mom probably would have loved it. I'm also not famous and have never received an award of that caliber.
hate bush/love my country

First, thank you to Michael for bringing this letter to our attention.

I'd also like to commend the signatories of the letter for having the courage of their convictions.

Because so many posters are making judgments on a false premise, it bears repeating. They acted privately - without the potential for one iota of self-aggrandizement.

For those designers who disagree with their beliefs or actions, by all means, disagree. But avoid petty attacks, straw men, changing the subject, or dredging up Bill Clinton.

Christina Jackson

>>"Hey CJ, what a wonderful generalization you have concocted. If you were a competent designer with a sense of value and purpose you wouldn't hate yourself so. But I guess I can forgive you."<<

You guess huh.

Tell you what, when you figure yourself out and can deliver something more concrete let me know.

Yet, on another note, thanks, you proved my point, that of being clueless regarding real underlying motives.

>>"... I expect much more from the design community."<<

Which causes you to pass judgment over others, a childish act in and of itself. Your entire post above was fraught with contradiction

But you touched on a good point, or perhaps, more truthfully, stumbled over it.

Maturity, when do we come to possess it? That's a real question isn't it?

The matter that is being discussed here, was it a mature way of handling the situation?

Of course, that would mean that we would all need to agree on what define maturity.


Christina, is this...

>>"They acted privately - without the potential for one iota of self-aggrandizement."<<

... really true?

Given the comments here and the aricle itself, I don't believe it could be true.

Either we're a community, or we're not one. Following this line, was it the individual or the community that was firstly considered and cared for?

"Which causes you to pass judgment over others, a childish act in and of itself."

hmm, you're right, I apologize for my childish act. It's almost as bad as:

"Designers sell themselves to agencies that worship the almighty dollar. Designers buy clothes made in sweat shops, eat food that perpetuates obesity, smoke cigarettes deliberately designed to addict,..and then think that politely refusing to attend an award ceremony is taking a stance against something."

You first make assumptions, and then passed judgement on countless individuals. Bravo. Sorry to have had to make an example of your post, but that was what I was taking about. Many posts on here were blind attacks made towards people we know little or nothing about, and that is what I am opposed to. (I guess you could say I took it personally- I try my hardest to avoid sweatshop made clothes, I do not eat fastfood or high cal foods, and I have never smoked anything ever). Now you can either keep condescending me and spitting insults or you can argue your point without having to put someone else down.
a humble graduate

I heard about this by reading the editorial in I.D. on the issue. In it the editor, Julie Lasky, came to the conclusion that the actions of the above were wrong in the main because they sent a letter, rather than simply not attending, and therefore politicised the issue. She claims that they apparently thought that their stance would make no difference to the Administration and that it was a personal response. She wanted to know why, if this was the case, they had done it? - "Especially if the protesters believed the missive wouldn't change any thing, was it ethical to place the Cooper-Hewitt, which has gained luster from it's association with the White House, in the line of fire."

The editorial was also dismissive of the blogosphere for using extreme ('fascist', 'coward', 'evil') language and revealing the depths of divisive partisanship within our society. In response to the viciousness of some of the debate Lasky comments, "I'm convinced more than ever that we have the administration we deserve." She sides with Chip Kidd's position (re: the non-attendance of the other honorees). She, like Kidd, attended the buffet, and she wrote by way of justification, "My tax dollars helped pay for the miniature quiches on the buffet table and I felt no qualms about eating them."

I guess the editorial annoyed me, and that is why I have joined this discussion. It seems to me that the group made a principled stand as professionals within the design world. A lot of people believe that the Bush Administration is dangerous. (The new legislation which suspends in key instances the writ of Habeous Corpus for detainees is a genuine threat to democratic structure from within. Also, the invasion of Iraq was conducted unilaterally and illegally, based on information that the administration appears to have know was false, for ideological purposes. The designers are based in New York. There is a strong argument that the attacks of September 11th were preventable, but for the disinterest and non-engagement with the threat of terror by the Bush administration. etc.) They also believe that it is proceeding with policies that are the enemies of civilised democracies. Holding these beliefs, is it not correct that they should respond to an invitation to the White house with a letter refusing the invitation and outlining the reasons? I believe there is massive symbolic value in their decision either to attend or not attend. I believe that Chip Kidd's and Julie Lasky's decision to go to the event says as much about them as not attending tells us about the others. Lasky possibly does not believe in symbolism. When Margaret Thatcher shook hands with Augusto Pinochet, few objected at the time , but now we can see she was endorsing a regime that had a lot of questions to answer. I don't mean by this that Bush is comparable to Pinochet, simply that symbolism exists and is potent in its results. It is my belief that in the foot notes of design-history this refusal will be a celebrated example of the design world not pretending it operates in a vacuum devoid of political moment. The absence of political discussion in a magazine like I.D. is, in fact, an endorsement of the status quo. I find it perplexing that Lasky believes that the group were doing damage to the Cooper-Hewitt, as if it is a tiny, impoverished fledgling organisation and not a member of the Smithsonian. The Cooper-Hewitt may, in her eyes, have "gained luster from its association with the White House", but in my eyes it has gained lustre from its association with good design. The implicit idea that the action of the group could damage the museum's association with the White House, could "place it in the line of fire," more or less proves that this was a political function that had political implications. Lasky adopts the false position of the bipartisan 'moderate' that is used by the general media to limit, even castrate genuine discourse. For many, the positions of the Bush Administration are radical, and objection to them is by no means immoderate but a duty of good and moderate citizenship. Yes, our tax dollars pay for the quiches , but they also pay for the Cooper- Hewitt and the war in Iraq. We all navigate the realistic facts of complicity within this society and the actions of our government. As people we do what we can, when we can and often the only place where we can hope to operate politically is within the symbolic realm. We can vote against Bush, but if he is elected he is elected. After that we accept that he has a lot of control over where our dollars are directed, but that doesn't mean we should sit down with him or Mrs. Bush. Why should we think it wrong to express to an important body within the world of design our distaste for its association with the White House? Why should the symbolic value of the award have to be devalued by a symbolic association with a dangerous Administration?

I still haven't said what annoyed me about the editorial:

It was casual and lacked rigor. It irritated me that the editor did not go beyond herself and her own ego. It was like a New York Times Review: a puff of smoke and then forgotten. Why does Lasky not seek to engage with the design community? Why not commission an in-depth article about the relationships between the government, the design world and institutions like the Cooper-Hewitt? I.D. should canvas considered commentary from all sides. Why, though Lasky objects so much to the lack of engagement and genuine discussion around the topic, does she do little more that contribute to the noise? I find it depressing because I feel we live in this casual culture where everyone opposes the other persons lack of consideration, while not considering things themselves. Lasky has a forum -she has a whole magazine- why not use it? Why not actually ask questions? Why not create a forum? Is Lasky afraid of damaging I.D.'s luster from its "association with The White House."

It is possible that I am another extremist. I certainly have got to be a little eccentric to have taken the time to write this long comment. But I don't have a forum like I.D. to write about my beliefs so I will take what I can get. At the end of the day Lasky had her quiche, and she feels she was entitled to it. And that, it appears, is good enough.

But doesn't she know what time it is?

Bartholomew Ryan

For the record, I never stated in my I.D. editorial that the actions of Sagmeister, Scher, and 2X4 were wrong. On the contrary, the essay clearly showed that I respected the boycott. What Bartholmew Ryan is quoting is my response to Michael Rock's post in this forum (more than 100 entries up) about his motives and expectations for the action. That post, which came after several contributors to this thread issued charges of grandstanding, inimated that the boycott was a shrouded affair undertaken, at least on Rock's part, with few expectations of ripples. I, for one, was delighted that the boycott created such a splash. I just wished the conversation about it could have been nicer and more nuanced.
Julie Lasky

Beyond all the banter what remains is that the Bush administration has clearly proven its contempt for anything besides its bafflingly foolish obsessions for dominance and control at the expense of the American people, (who it has never had touch with - let alone a loss with), in every way possible.

Ask yourselves:

Would you go to a dinner party hosted by the wife of a man who works day in and day out towards the goal of personally profiting financially and otherwise by embezzling the nation's wealth? Consciously condemning its people's (your) future to bankruptcy and virtual slavery? Actively dismantling the very precepts of American government, law, way of life and liberty?

How about a photo-op with the woman behind the man who heard hundreds of thousands of people screaming, "NO IRAQ!" in New York City but ignored them and continues to be directly responsible for the deaths of countless innocent people for the supposed purpose of creating democracy?

It is not my intention to do the work for those with their anticipated guffaws at the above statements. Anyone with enough intuition to research and confirm facts for themselves would see without question that Bush and anyone related to him professionally or politically is guilty of a long list of high crimes including treason.

There are so many reasons NOT to let your complacency turn you into an accomplice to these crimes, that picking apart the very eloquent reasons presented by those who signed is disheartening to say the least.

"The invitation is too 'last century'" would have been more than enough reason alone. Who the hell ever heard of "nine-thirty o'clock" anyway?

Regrets only indeed.
Dr. B. Banner

While Julie Lasky did not explicitly state they were wrong, she implied it. The crux of the article could be summed up as:

If these people didn't want to create a splash why bother to send a letter? Especially if it risked the Cooper-Hewitt losing some of it's luster from it's association with the White House? Was it ethical to do so?

The questions were framed rhetorically, and the clear inference to be drawn was that in Lasky's view it was not ethical for them to do so.

Perhaps the editorial can be posted somewhere so people (if there are any people left) can read it, and decide for themselves.

My priniple complaint was that it is not helpful to lament the lack of nuanced debate around an issue, and -when you have the means to do so- not provide a forum for nuanced debate.
Bartholomew Ryan

While Julie Lasky did not explicitly state they were wrong, she implied it. The crux of the article could be summed up as:

If these people didn't want to create a splash why bother to send a letter? Especially if it risked the Cooper-Hewitt losing some of it's luster from it's association with the White House? Was it ethical to do so?

The questions were framed rhetorically, and the clear inference to be drawn was that in Lasky's view it was not ethical for them to do so.

Perhaps the editorial can be posted somewhere so people (if there are any people left) can read it, and decide for themselves.

My priniple complaint was that it is not helpful to lament the lack of nuanced debate around an issue, and -when you have the means to do so- not provide a forum for nuanced debate.
Bartholomew Ryan

Some top designers snubbed a sitting President's wife.

How does that make us look?

PR is everything.

Maybe no one saw this. Maybe no one knows what designers do.

But if the money people saw this. And they get a bad impression of design and designers, who pays? What is our collective impression on people of influence. The "industry leaders?"

Do they hire a designer to help them? Or do they ask their secretary or nephew who "knows InDesign?"

Think about it.

I admire the spirit but not the ramification.

Ego has to be tempered sometimes. For the goal of the group.

Hope that's not too crazy sounding.

Joe Moran

i disagree.

people would get a good impression of the design profession if they know about this.

There isn't a "group"... if you're a conservative you'd hate it, if you're leftwing you'd applaud it.

I don't think Scher, Sagmeister et al give designers a bad impression; on the contrary, they do us proud. Sucking up to the Bushes like Chip Kidd is a far more self-aggrandizing move in my book.

It is the designer's responsibility, like that of every citizen, to act in accordance with a personal code of ethics. It's nice to see that some do and further that they were able to express their position with eloquence and clarity, rather than just silently boycotting the event and making their point to no one.
Patricia Fabricant

I should add that refusing the award would have been a truly empty gesture, as the award came from the Cooper Hewitt, not the Bush White House. While the award is "as an official project of the White House Millennium Council" it is my assumption and hope that the award will outlast this miserable administration (2 years and counting...). It is nice to see design and designers recognized in this way.
Patricia Fabricant

An interesting article for consideration.

Joe Moran

"...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."

"Somewhere in my reading of the past week, I came across a beautiful consideration of Gandhi's fasts. The author suggested that Gandhi didn't fast to change his opponents, but to change the ones closest to him. An opponent wouldn't care if he ate or not, but a loved one would." -Posted by: m. kingsley on July 11, 2006

Michael Rock, Susan Sellers, Georgie Stout, Paula Scher and Stefan Sagmeister fully understood that their protest would have little direct effect on Mrs. Bush or the White House. They did, however, spark much needed discourse WITHIN the design community about its role as "facilitator". In refusing to take part in what would have been a delightful White House breakfast, they choose to facilitate meaningful discussion among those designers not privlaged enough to have received the award, rather than partaking in meaningless formalities of what they saw to be a corrupt institution. I see nothing selfish in this. They took an honor awarded to them as individuals and transformed it into something far more meaningful and long lasting, evidence of which can be seen in the countless postings above.
Kai Salmela

While researching poet Sharon Olds, I found the following on the Wikipedia page about her:

"In 2005, First Lady Laura Bush invited Olds to the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. Olds wrote Laura Bush an open letter published in the October 10th, 2005 issue of The Nation, where Olds told Bush that she "could not face the idea of breaking bread with you. I knew that if I sat down to eat with you, it would feel to me as if I were condoning what I see to be the wild, highhanded actions of the Bush Administration." "

Just though it was really great to see another cultural provacateur take a similar stance. Cheers.

I'd Rather Have the Stones

This letter while it is read, requires
the simultaneous humming of
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's
Serenade for major G strings
"Eine Kleine Nachtmusik":
"Dada da daaaaaaah, dada da daaaaaaah";
or even better an old tune by the Platters
The Great Pretenders (slightly altered).

Oh, yes -
they are the great pretenders -
ooh, ooh -
pretending to know
and use language so well -
ooh, ooh -
their needs to be important
are such -
they pretend to know so much -
but in their insulation -
they seek
no critique,
it's just show and tell

Oh, yes -
they are the great pretenders -
ooh, ooh -
adrift in a small world of their own -
ooh, ooh -
they play the corporate game -
unfolding the same solution
a hundred times over again -
but to everybody's real shame -
they don't see their dead horse
is already lame -
can't bolt o'er any new terrain -
so they dream on, all alone

Too real is the feeling of make-belief -
too real when they feel
the inadequacy in their hearts -
their mouths can't conceal

Ooh, ooh, yes, yes -
they are the great pretenders -
ooh, ooh -
guides to language hyperbole -
but still in search of a profession
even if far off the trail -
ooh, ooh -
they seem to be what they're not
you see -
they're wearing their awards like crowns ¬
pretending that everyone should care
and stand up ¬and applaud -

Yeah, ooh, ooh -
Too real when they feel -
what their hearts can't conceal -

Oh, yes -
they are the great pretenders -
laughing court jesters, corporate clowns -
ooh, ooh -
they seem to be what they're not
you see -
they're wearing their awards on their sleeve
pretending to have found the right tenet -
asking others to partake in their make-belief -
so that they are all equally mislead

Looking at the Design Observer's website, wondering if the excited public interest has finally died down after the major national graphic design hullabaloo that followed the grand disclosure of the "insignificant gesture", made by Michael Rock et al (Susan Sellers, Georgie Stout, Paula Scher and Stefan Sagmeister), standing against Bush's language distortions and for the restoration of a "civil" political dialogue, I am aghast that the public's fervor has petered out so early.

Language is a tough thing, usually a kind of diplomatic millstone hanging over heads of professional designers, who on one side, feel deeply honored, as award hounds, to be selected for this recognition, but at the same time respectfully decline the invitation by the White House for very important but vague ideological reasons.

Only some designers, not all, feel strongly about the following framed thought: graphic designers, as was intimated, are engaged in the "construction of language", both visual and "verbal". And while their work often "dissects", "rearranges", "rethinks", "questions" and "plays" with language, it is Michael Rock et al's 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. That is pretty heavy breathing. For myself, I would not have chosen the unfortunate words of "dissect", "play", "rethink", and "rearrange" language - "destruction" or "trivialization of language would have been more an appropriate choice. To do the latter functions well, one has to be well trained as typographer or clever designer. But to do more, one has to be a genuine language expert. I laugh when I see the limited language applications in the work of these designers, and therefore I would rather hear about language from linguists like Noam Chomsky or Steven Pinker or from the large number of true wordsmiths like Robert Frost, Mary Oliver, Walt Whitman, Wallace Stevens, E.E. Cummings or T.S. Eliot.

Since designers prefer to evaluate themselves, living in complete intellectual insulation, rather than submitting their work to any real critical analysis by any of the communication related disciplines, there are no measurements on affect and effect, just statements of notoriety, posturing of unproven design prowess. Usually, it is enough if designers like the work, then the automatic assumption is that the design works.

I do not mind that this group of designers has decided to not accept the considerably prestigious White House award for personal reasons. They are not obligated by anything or anybody - not even national etiquette. I consider the decisions of Michael Rock, Susan Sellers, Georgie Stout, Paula Scher, and Stefan Sagmeister sacrosanct, and totally within their personal rights as part of their heritage or membership in a contemporary western social system, that guarantees this as birthright, especially to its own citizens. I very much endorse altruism, idealism, individual political activism - good examples for my students - but I cannot read well enough between the lines, if this was a deliberate public relations move and an easy use of the national media, or truly a reaction to a well understood personal grievance. The quoted sentence in the paragraph above does not seem to be sufficient. It raises very complex questions without providing a clearly defined rationale. I would hate to condone a barely veiled commercial self-serving attempt that has no national consequence other than that it will stand as a self-righteous statement in form of personal indignation (in the totally inconsequential annals of graphic design).

Usually diplomats are persons with amazing "language skills", I have been told that some have the capabilities to tell the White House to go to hell, in such ways, that staffers actually look forward to the trip. In this case, however, I don't think the White House was looking forward to the journey nor do I believe that the authors of the letter are diplomats. I am sure that these designers can't stomach Bush' politics, I appreciate that, but they may want to take a page of John Fitzgerald Kennedy's advice, unfortunately missed by the group in their expansive reading in preparation for this occasion, namely, to never fear to negotiate, as this is the only form of discourse for arriving at understanding through the removal of all kinds of obstacles. All conflicts, it does not matter who owns them, starts them, prolongs them, represent a lack and finally failure of diplomacy, and all misunderstandings turn out as yokes for both sides. I guess there are designers and then there are communication designers. Anybody interested in good human relationship would have chosen J.F.K's diplomatic path. So, does this mean that designers are very apt to be totally responsible to the integrity of "language", both visual and verbal, but not as apt in forming persuasive discourse arguments that form better relationships and understanding?

People in glasshouses . . . - pun maybe forced, but very much intended. The very first thing that comes to mind about Michael Rock et al, is the question if this group is at all capable to live up to their own totally brazen and mainly opaque statement, and could their work bear out these amazing language skills? They have to ante up to their arrogance about graphic designers being intimately engaged in the construction of "language, both visual and verbal". They may see this as a very great, lofty, and admirable goal, but when I look at most of the work of these designers who claim the responsibility to this central tenet of "good" design, and that words and images must be used responsibly, then I feel a great yawn coming on. It is my hope that all their clients and projects turn out to be on the level of the idealism that they espouse. My guess is that when the rubber meets the road, one will find amazing flaws in the road kill. It seems more like one kettle calling the other black, and the kettles are not even performing the same duties. They should learn from Native Americans who never speak for any of the other tribal members but themselves, and maybe they would be more careful with their generalizations and avoid making these outrageously inflated statements.

I liked the early history of design a lot better, when designers perceived themselves clearly within the role for which they were well prepared and educated and the tasks they were really able to perform with integrity. I am aware of designers who embrace language, but loving or embracing leave enormous room for expertise. It is also true that very few designers extend their advanced education beyond trendy styling. The investigation of the psychological, philosophical, social, and cultural factors around language production are a wonderfully complex subject that would help communication designers greatly, but I wonder which design institution or design company or in fact client is placing high value on this kind of specific knowledge or expertise in face of the ephemeral nature of messages? The reality is, out of 300.000.000 citizens only 0.003 percent (and that with the generosity of greatly inflated numbers) are visually literate (governmental figures are around 0.0009 percent), and in terms of more specific graphic design literacy, the numbers would tumble to even greater insignificance. If designers would increase this number to 1.0 percent, I would take my hat off to them, and I would forgive them making silly statements. They finally would be part of the culture for which they claim they work, rather than a mere fraction of a much more complex society. This does not depend on Bush, Clinton or whoever will be elected next.

Also, everything out there, in everyone's home, office, place of entertainment, on their desks, and in their environments, is made by one or the other of the so-called "language conscious" graphic designers, owning some of the most noble and desirable pedigrees from design school. That fact should really frighten every American child. Right now, the Michael Rock et al Group should keep a low profile; figure out for whom it is designing, and how to improve their skills instead of behaving like a bunch of spoiled, affluent, foppish, and elitist rockers. Give me rather the Stones. They are what they are. They don't pretend, and as such neither does the baker, journalist, nurse, computer programmer or cabinetmaker. They do not pretend to be more than they are, namely equal contributors to society and to life's quality of the citizenry. It is time to remember the legacies of Aldus Manutius (having saved the ancient knowledge of antiquity from fading by publishing texts that were almost forgotten), Ben Shawn (who through example and in "The Shape of Content" defined constructive, useful and genuinely humanistic contributions to the dialogue in the arts, void of all commercial clamor for attention), Jan Tschichold (one of the few designers who put his political and professional views onto public scales, leaving Germany as an objector to the design language for which he himself had advocated earlier in "Die Neue Typographie", abandoning it because he believed that the military-like rigidity supported the fascist state), or reincarnate Lessitzky (and his belief that the designer could be an agent for change through goal-oriented action as he described in "Das Zielbewußte Schaffen"), László Moholy-Nagy (who in "Vision in Motion" foreshadowed the many intelligences required by design in the machine age), or Viktor Papanek (who designed for the real world, emphasizing the conscious and ethical purpose of design with the sole goal to satisfy needs, not greed) and all designers with real integrity. We need them badly.

Dietmar R. Winkler

"I would rather hear about language from linguists like Noam Chomsky"

Curiously enough, Chomsky's political writings are often dismissed because of his linguistics academic career - supposedly, only professional political specialists should talk about politics.
european intern

All I can say is that most of this is just sad. The world is full of so much hate.

This is just politics and weather democrat, republican or independant...it's just politics.

As artists you should be able to rise above politics and be true to your profession.


and what exactly defines being true to ones profession?
serving business? indulging in self expression? C'mon, Susan. Dry your lazy eyes.
felix sockwell

"I liked the early history of design a lot better, when designers perceived themselves clearly within the role for which they were well prepared and educated and the tasks they were really able to perform with integrity. I am aware of designers who embrace language, but loving or embracing leave enormous room for expertise."

Not really on point, but so beautifully expresses our professional failing to edit ourselves, no matter how convinced we may become of the righteousness of our opinion. A wonderful lesson for would be critics.

Thank you D.R.Winkler


DESIGN LIKE EVERYTHING ELse is dependent on its environment. In older issues of TIME and LIFE you will see clean-cut designers quietly working, inter-dependent with a society that will allow them, and their clients, to continue.

When the society is in danger it is NOT the place of Designers to question it. Similar to how a citizen has the rite to vote but not the power to demand. A Designer Makes A Paycheck Or They Do Not Eat. Nobody Asked Your Opinion.

When will we learn that ours is not to question taste. Ours is just to cut, and paste.
aldis lamp

The most recent issue of Cabinet (The Magic issue) has a very good article on the image manipulation (though I'm hesitant to use that word) of the Bush administration. It highlights the situation design (to borrow Ralph Caplan's phrase) of Scott Sforza, an ABC News producer turned Bush background designer. It also notes the photography of Iwan Baan, whose work helps to undermine and foreground the deep control of Bush's press opportunities.
Derrick Schultz

Its not a designers place to question issues of society?! Do you honestly believe that graphic design is not a socially responsible profession? We are just here to make things look pretty, do what we're told and collect a paycheck? I think someone here needs to brush up on their graphic design history. Some of the greatest examples of graphic design are posters from the turn of the century with social and political issues exactly in focus. Even today, designers are churning out amazing examples of politically charged design. "When will we learn that ours is not to question taste. Ours is just to cut, and paste." Is an incredibly ignorant statement. It is demeaning to our profession. So Aldis Lamp, I suggest that you look at the history of graphic design and read up on some of the great work being produced today, and then tell me that it's not a designer's place to question the dangers society is facing.
nick rock

Nick Rock, way to call Lamp out. I toe the same line you do, and I agree with what you have stated.

Good site. Thanks!
berkley fossils
berkley frenzy red

Good site. Thanks!
berkley fossils
berkley frenzy red

To say that the Bush administration is the first to manipulate, or have done so more than any other president has, is to say they also invented oxygen and made it better. Deception has always been a factor in politics and always will be as long as people can vote money to themselves.

Lastly aldis lamp, I find your comments truly disgusting.

Jobs | July 18