What Should I Tell Michelle Obama About Design?

The National Design Award winners are invited to the White House for an annual breakfast this Friday. Honoree Tom Dair thinks this could be a good opportunity for designers to talk to Michelle Obama about the importance of what they do.

tom dair whitehouse

I’m off to the White House this week for the National Design Awards. It’s not my first time; my firm Smart Design was honored as a finalist for a National Design Award and few years back and I got to meet First Lady Laura Bush (above). This year once again, there are plenty of great firms to be honored. But that’s not the topic of this posting.


Here’s what’s really on my mind. There is a good chance I’ll get to meet the honorable–and outspoken supporter of design, certainly with regards to fashion–First Lady Michelle Obama. And there’s a good chance I’ll get to say “hello,” or “it’s an honor to meet you,” or “thank you” when she congratulates me for my firm’s recognition for this year’s award.

But here’s the thing: I think that this administration really gets it. If any administration might consider design as a possible way to help solve the world’s problems, this is the one! Let’s face it: The Obamas are progressive, big thinkers who have an unprecedented understanding of branding and social media, not to mention the importance of reaching the world’s masses through multiple communication touchpoints. Their commitment to change–everything from clean energy, to foreign affairs, to healthcare and even organic gardening–is inspiring in the way they embrace new approaches to solving old problems. Bringing design to the forefront could be next!

Here’s my question to you. If I get the chance to tell Michelle Obama something about design that might get her to take more interest in how design can help to improve the world’s condition, what should I say to her? I’m not talking about an elevator pitch for design, that would be way too wordy. I need the perfect soundbite. Something impactful, something prolific, something powerful and something that will stick–something that will make her consider the power of design and designers in making the world a better place.

What should I say? Add your perfect soundbite below, and I’ll do my best to deliver it.

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Tom Dair, co-founder and president of Smart Design, runs thecompany’s San Francisco office. He directs the firm’s Insights andStrategy discipline, where he has pioneered techniques for achievingbetter design through an understanding of user behavior, businessfactors, and technology trends.


Dair holds 19 patents for products ranging from complex medicaldevices to children’s toothbrushes. His designs have won a variety ofawards and are featured in a number of museum collections.


About the author

Tom Dair, co-founder and president of Smart Design, runs the company's San Francisco office. He directs the firm's Insights and Strategy discipline, where he has pioneered techniques for achieving better design through an understanding of user behavior, business factors, and technology trends.