Small Things: Micro-impressions of Melbourne
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Design Policy as Mission Impossible

Note: These views present my personal thoughts and in no way represent the views of the National Design Policy Initiative or any of its participants.

Change Observer's Brad McKee has written an article about the "impossibility" of a U.S. National Design Policy. This is following Allison Arieff's article in the NYTimes about design policy and its "ambitious" goals. From the vantage point of the organizer of the Initiative, I fail to see the impossibility or ambitiousness of the efforts. People said getting the participants in the Summit together would be impossible. It wasn't and they continue to work together and independently for the Initiative. People said getting a conversation with the Dept. of Commerce would be impossible. We continue to have conversations with them. There are three major fallacies in people's understanding of the Initiative that makes it seem impossible.

The first is focus on me as the organizer of the Initiative. I have worked really hard to get the media to focus on the multiple participants in the Initiative. There are over 20 who have a much more interesting view of what the Initiative means and what is possible. Yet, each article focuses on me. If I had to imagine myself as an individual trying to make this all happen, perhaps I would see it as impossible. But there are professional organizations, design education bodies, government designers involved. There are businesses, students, even government officials that want to help. It is the collective energy of all the participants that make this possible. It is up to all to make this happen. I am just the switchboard operator who connects the right actors for the right purposes.

The second is the conceptualization of design policy as the document of regulations that will be "forced upon" designers. The reason why I set up the Summit as I did (i.e. as a workshop not talking head session) was so that we can get the policy proposal document out of the way. The document only serves as the blueprint for the participating design organizations to coordinate, channel, and prioritize their activities as we more deeply engage with government partners. It's the activities that are important. If the government never signs a "US Design Policy" bill, it is fine as long as the proposals are written into other legislation. The proposals would not be forced upon designers but would come out of the partnership with the design community representatives across professional, education, and government design and government policy makers. The problem with regulations that effect designers today is that designers are not at the table. When you are at the table, your role in shaping the regulations means that you can buy-in to the plan and guide its implementation. This is the reason for the formalization of an American Design Council as a partner to government with a seat at the table.

The third has to do with not understanding the history of possibility. Perhaps as an African American, I am particularly sensitive to the notion of something being impossible. Because if it had not been possible for slavery to be abolished, I would still be a slave. If  the marches and the protests of the Civil Rights Movement had been impossible, then Civil Righs Act of 1964 would not have been passed and I might not have gotten the education and opportunities that I have today. At the back of my mind, there is always the knowledge that the quality of my human existence is directly related to many of my ancestors ignoring the claim that something is impossible. The Initiative has yet to have a journalist of color write about it. I wonder if their perspective would be different.

The extent to which the Initiative is about me; it is how I believe that nothing is impossible and have used that to convince the design organizations that this is possible for them as well. To say something is impossible is to cut off the possibility of being able to determine one's own future and share that future with others. To say something is impossible is to demonstrate on one hand a lack of imagination or on the other hand a desire to see something fail, like the way we like to watch car crashes or celebrity meltdowns. 

One of my favorite lines in the movie Mission Impossible was given by Anthony Hopkin's character, "This is mission impossible. Should be a walk in the park for you." It is about the dedication and tenacity of those involved who will make a U.S. National Design Policy seem like a walk in the park, but it starts with the recognition of its possibilities.


Maciek Niedorezo

The Difficult is that which can be done immediately; the Impossible that which takes a little longer.
- George Santayana

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