As a member of the 2009 National Design Awards Jury, let me first and foremost congratulate all of the winners and finalists. It was an exciting, exhausting, and inspiring process to review all the submissions and debate the merits and accomplishments of each. As a designer who has spent most of my career in the digital realm, I found it fascinating to delve into the categories that I am less familiar with as a practitioner: landscape architecture, fashion, and architecture. And my fellow jurors, each experts in their own fields, were so generous to the rest of us, sharing their insights into the peculiarities of their own discipline, and putting the many different portfolios into a larger context.

Let me make an admission: as a designer of software and products driven by technology, I have a bias towards functionality. Working at Google for a few years has certainly made that bias more pronounced. I enjoy intellectual design, and the kind of work that blurs the lines between art and design, but I also am fairly adamant that chairs should be comfortable to sit in; cups should have reasonably ergonomic handles; and shoes…well, I do love beautiful shoes, and in this realm I foolishly let go of my bias to favor style over comfort. But in most respects, and certainly in my work at Google and YouTube, I am a Bauhaus girl. So what philosophy is right? Does great design have to be functional? Is communicating an idea enough to make a product well designed?

There were certainly interesting exchanges about these timeless debates during our two days of deliberation: what distinguishes design from art? I’ve thought a lot about this since the jury convened, and I’ve come up with something I know to be true for myself. As a designer, my goal is to take my creative faculties, and those of my team, and use them in service of others. When I reflect on the impressive array of candidates for this year’s award winners and finalists, I was so inspired by the many ways these master practitioners have succeeded in improving the lives of people in so many ways. It could be through putting technology to work for humans, and not the other way around; creating spaces for living and working, both indoors and out, that bring out the best in ourselves and in each other; producing housewares that are a pleasure to hold and behold for decades; creating exquisite clothing that makes the wearer feel beautiful; taking complex issues of the day and helping us understanding them better through visual explanations; and finally, using design to prompt humankind to care for the fragile resources of our planet.

And what about beauty? The Shakers thankfully gave us the greatest lesson on how to marry design and art: “Don’t make something unless it is both necessary and useful; but if it is both necessary and useful, don’t hesitate to make it beautiful.”

I am proud to count myself among the community of terminally curious, compulsive problem-solvers that make up the design world. And I look forward to watching new designers emerge in the years to come who will brazenly tackle the problems that, though we may not recognize today, will undoubtedly impact our future.

Margaret Gould Stewart
http://fountly.blogspot.com/
User Experience Manager, YouTube/Google
2009 National Design Awards Juror

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