Cooper-Hewitt Celebrates National Design Awards: Highlights from Winners’ Panel

It’s National Design Week, and tonight the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum will celebrate the winners of the 2013 National Design Awards with a ceremony and dinner at Pier Sixty in New York. Special guests including Tom Wolfe, Al Gore, and Kurt Andersen will be on hand to present the winners with their coveted glass asterisks, while the delightful Todd Oldham will announce the winner of this year’s People’s Design Award. We sent writer Nancy Lazarus to the National Design Awards Winners’ Panel, held at Parsons The New School for Design.

Richard Saul Wurman (center) moderates a discussion among NDA winners. Pictured from left, Tiya Gordon, Paula Scher, Gadi Amit, and Mike Femia. (Photos: Angela Jimenez)

Four of this year’s National Design Award winners appeared at a Tuesday evening panel moderated by Richard Saul Wurman, TED founder and 2012 lifetime achievement award winner. Topics encompassed winners’ early career experiences, current projects, and the award’s impact. Below are selected comments from each winning designer or firm.

Paula Scher, principal at Pentagram (communications design):
• “It’s a big deal that the U.S. government honors design, and it’s important to society. If the accolade is a seal of approval, that’s fantastic, but the next day, business is still business.”
• “At Pentagram we’re independent minded designers, there are no strategists. We establish direct client relationships using analogies and entertainment.”
• “With my hobby, large-scale paintings of maps, I use information to create the spirit of a place. It’s the antidote to my design life where I create corporate communications identities.”
• “During my earlier experience creating graphic design for music covers/albums, I learned about the relationship with the public. My work at Pentagram is still largely connected to entertainment, and much of the identity work is focused on making design accessible.”

Tiya Gordon, studio director at Local Projects (interaction design):
• “This year we won when technology has become ubiquitous. It’s no longer a novelty, it’s a concept people are beginning to grasp. Hopefully this award will present interactive design to a wider audience.”
• “For Local Projects, ours is a collaborative effort of the entire studio. There’s a benefit of others reviewing and amending our thought process.”
• “At the Cleveland Museum of Art, we found ways for people to connect emotionally to the world around them and we eliminated barriers to technology.”
• “New York’s National September 11 Memorial & Museum is based on the premise we can learn about events from others through collections of stories and oral histories.”

Gadi Amit, founder of NewDealDesign (product design):
• “We’re called NewDealDesign for a reason. We take design out of the ivory tower and connect it to broader audiences. We piece together solutions to problems. This award may add authority and allow us to push forward more radical ideas.”
• “I started my own studio because I was enamored with creating objects using craftsmanship. I’ve also found that Intuition and serendipity play key roles in design, more than thinking.”
• “I like being able to touch people’s lives through our products. I met a White House worker who said her mom lost weight using our FitBit Wireless Tracker.”

Mike Femia, design director at TED (corporate and institutional achievement):
• “I’m proud of bringing visuals like the TED logo and gestures into a medium that’s really about a person talking. TED has a photo library of speakers, and since I think of photography as a design element I brought it into our visual language.”
• “Even though TED has expanded beyond the core areas of technology, entertainment and design, those areas still resonate and represent the core feelings for all our talks.”
• “TED reacts to what users want, and many events are created by listening to the community.”

Recommended articles