Michelle Obama teamed up with TV's Tim Gunn on Tuesday to honor the nation's top designers at the White House for innovations ranging from fashion and architecture to the realm of new computer fonts and floor-cleaning products.
"Good design is good citizenship," Obama said, quoting the graphic designer Milton Glaser. She said that's because good design makes life better for everyone.
The first lady hosted a luncheon for winners of the 2011 National Design Awards, which are presented by the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York City. Obama also invited 15 high school students to join leading names from the worlds of fashion, interactive computer design and other fields in hopes of inspiring them to follow suit.
"These men and women have breathed new life into our homes and our workplaces, the clothes we wear, the products we use every day, and even the most basic ways we process information," Obama said.
This year's design award winners include Matthew Carter of Boston for his lifetime achievements in typeface designs that included creating the fonts Verdana and Georgia for Microsoft and others for major newspapers and magazines.
The Boston-based design consultancy Continuum won for product designs that include Reebok's popular Pump shoes from the 1990s and Swiffer for its floor sweepers, showing not every product of design is high and mighty.
The museum honored J. Mendel for exceptional work in fashion. The Mendel brand has spanned five generations, first as a luxury fur company and more recently becoming a full fashion house with a ready-to-wear collection in 2002 under Gilles Mendel. He was seated at Obama's table for lunch, along with Carter.
Designers Jason Wu and Prabal Gurung were finalists in the fashion category. Both have designed dresses for the first lady, and Wu designed her inaugural gown.
Gunn, of "Project Runway" fame, also is writing a history of fashion. He hosted a design fair for teens at the Smithsonian earlier Tuesday to introduce about 200 students to career options in design. Winners and finalists for the design awards shared their work with in small groups.
Gunn, who grew up in Washington and began his career as a teacher at the Corcoran College of Art, said studying sculpture marked his entry into the world of design.
"It had to do with the fact that the answer wasn't in the back of the book," he said. "The answer was in me."
Gunn later found fashion almost by accident and is now chief creative officer at Liz Claiborne Inc. On "Project Runway he is famous for his rallying cry: "Make it work, people."
He told the students that design is all about problem solving.
The other winners are:
-- Design Mind Award: Steven Heller, a former New York Times art director and current columnist, for shifting design thinking through writing, research or scholarship.
-- Corporate and Institutional Achievement: Knoll, an East Greenville, Pa.-based design firm, for its work to reimagine workplace design.
-- Architecture Design Award: Architecture Research Office, a New York-based firm that has worked with major universities, cultural institutions and corporations.
-- Communication Design Award: Rick Valicenti a Chicago-based graphic and multimedia artist.
-- Interaction Design Award: Ben Fry, a Boston-based expert in visualizing data.
-- Interior Design Award: Shelton, Mindel and Associates, a New York-based architecture firm whose credits include design of the Polo/Ralph Lauren headquarters.
-- Landscape Design Award: Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, a Seattle-based landscape architecture practice whose credits include part of Chicago's Millennium Park.
National Design Awards: http://www.cooperhewitt.org/nda/awards
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