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Honoring the Designers of Today and Inspiring the Designers of the Future

Director of the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Bill Moggridge, discusses the 2010 National Design Awards and the ceremony hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House.

What a thrill it was to participate in the White House ceremony hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama yesterday as she celebrated the 2010 National Design Awards honorees. The First Lady serves as the honorary patron for this year’s National Design Awards and her commitment to arts and design based education made this a very special event. We are honored to once again receive the patronage of the First Lady, as her support does such a lot to advance awareness of the importance of design.


The day began with a Teen Design Fair at the Smithsonian American Art Renwick Gallery, where DC high school students met one-on-one with leading designers in the fields of fashion, industrial design, architecture, multimedia and graphic design, including Jenna Lyons of J.Crew, Maira Kalman, Smart Design and Stephen Doyle. To close out the morning, an inspiring Q&A was held with Tim Gunn and Caroline Payson, Cooper-Hewitt’s Education Director, about the value of design education. Tim talked about how it took him time to find his design path and said that “there was no magic sauce to become a designer; it requires hard work and experience.”

Following the Teen Design Fair, the award winners and finalists attended a special luncheon at the White House, hosted by the First Lady. It was a very festive event and the setting reinforced the tremendous amount of design talent that exists in this country. Mrs. Obama’s speech emphasized the importance of design and arts education, and celebrated the value of the work of the award winners. Wayne Clough, the Secretary of the Smithsonian, introduced the National Design Award program and thanked the sponsors, and I showed slides of the winners and their work, naming both finalists and winners, you can see them here. I was lucky enough to sit next to the First Lady for lunch, so we talked about expanding the opportunities for high-schoolers to study design and develop their creative talents. Tim Gunn was sitting on her other side, so he was able to tell her a lot about learning the art of fashion design.

First Lady Michelle Obama talks with Timothy Gunn

First Lady Michelle Obama talks with Timothy Gunn during a luncheon honoring the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum's National Design Award recipients in the East Room of the White House. July 21, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)


A great conversation piece at the table were ViewMasters (designed by 2008 Lifetime Achievement winner Charles Harrison) with slides of the award winners’ work. The mutual appreciation in the room among the designers was quite moving, especially when James Corner of Field Operations told Design Mind winner Ralph Caplan that his books had a huge impact on his work.

The Awards program was launched at the White House in 2000 as an official project of the White House Millennium Council, and the annual National Design Awards celebrate design in various disciplines as a vital humanistic tool in shaping the world. The awards are Cooper-Hewitt’s most visible education program and always include a variety of special events, panel discussions and workshops.

The awards recognize extraordinary contributions to design in 10 categories: Lifetime Achievement, Design Mind, Corporate and Institutional Achievement, Architecture Design, Communication Design, Fashion Design, Interaction Design, Interior Design, Landscape Design and Product Design. The award recipients also will be honored at a gala dinner Oct. 14 in New York.

This fall, Cooper-Hewitt will continue celebrating the awards with National Design Week, which will take place Oct. 9-17, which aims to promote a better understanding of the role that design plays in all aspects of daily life. The museum will offer free admission to all visitors, courtesy of Target, and provide a range of online resources celebrating design throughout the week. Our website also features the year-round “Design Across America” map listing design-oriented events throughout the country. In addition to hosting a second Teen Design Fair in New York, our programs reach school teachers and their students nationally, in the classroom and online through Cooper-Hewitt’s Educator Resource Center. The site features more than 300 lesson plans aligned to national and state standards that demonstrate how the design process can enhance the teaching of all subjects and features discussion boards that provide a forum for educators to exchange ideas.

Bill Moggridge is Director of the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum

Jane Thompson - National Design Awards Lifetime Achievement

Master plan for Grand Central Partnership B.I.D., New York, NY, 1986–95. Artist: Jane Thompson, Winner of Lifetime Achievement Award.

Ralph Caplan - National Design Awards Design Mind Award

International Design Conference, Aspen, CO, 1967–2001. Artist: Ralph Caplan, Winner of the Design Mind Award.

Kieran Timberlake - National Design Awards Architecture Design

Cellophane House, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, 2008. Artist: Kieran Timberlake, Winner of Architecture Design Award.

James Corner- National Design Awards Landscape Design Award

The High Line, section 1, New York, NY, 2009. Artist: James Corner, Winner of the Landscape Design Award

Stephen Doyle- National Design Awards Communications Design

Machiavelli: The Discourses construction, 2007. Artist: Stephen Doyle, Winner of the Communications Design Award.