Best Jury Duty Ever: White House celebration of the National Design Awards

I had a remarkable trip to DC to attend the White House luncheon celebrating the 2009 National Design Awards. As a member of this year's jury, I was honored to be a part of the process, and learned so much from my fellow jurors, who are each experts in the various design disciplines recognized by the awards. So being invited to attend a celebratory event hosted by The First Lady was clearly icing on the cake. I'll share what I can remember from the whirlwind proceedings.

We congregated at the East Gate to clear security. The line was filled with a who's who of the design world: Francisco Costa, this year's winner for Fashion Design; Michael Bierut, last year's Design Mind Award recipient; Tom Kundig, last year's architecture award recipient; Lisa Strausfeld of Pentagram and a finalist in this year's nascent Interaction Design category. And the list goes on and on...

Here are a few of the specifics:
  • A mix of Presidential china (Bush, Eisenhower and Truman), a practice unheard of prior to Mrs. Obama. Here's a photo of the dish that served up my delicious dessert:

    Lovely dessert

  • Toy robots sat amongst the flower centerpieces; these struck me as an unusual choice, and at the event, no one gave any explanation as to their significance. I read later it was a reference to technology and innovation. In any case, they allowed us to take one home, and I snagged a lovely, red, "Lost in Space" model:

    White House luncheon souvenir

  • The portraits of all the former First Ladies were lovely to look at. Unlike the Presidential portraits, which feel more formulaic, these paintings of Presidential spouses seemed to truly reflect the tastes and unique character ad style of each subject. Here's my favorite, of Jacqueline Kennedy:

    My favorite of all the First Lady portraits

  • Members of one of the nation's military bands (ashamed to say I don't know which) offered a beautiful musical backdrop:

    Musical military

  • I cherished each small memento of the event, including my place card:

    My place setting

The First Lady sadly only stayed long enough to delivery some nice remarks about the importance of design in society and the role that designers play in firing the imaginations of the next generation. She was then quickly ushered out of the room as lunch was served. As I fumbled to get my camera, she walked by me in her striking yellow suit, and she was gone.

In thinking back on the whole experience, I must admit that meeting so many design luminaries in one setting was kind of overwhelming. Which brings me to the big conundrum of the event itself: when faced with a limited amount of time, does one focus on the people, or the extraordinary setting? Trying to take photos, meet every amazing person, and follow all the protocol required in such a setting, I didn't take much time to really soak it in and live it while it was happening.

But I did get to meet many remarkable people. And I did see many amazing sights and soaked up many of the details so painstakingly planned by The First Lady's staff. Below is a slide show of all the photos I took at the event. And if you're looking for great coverage of the foodie details, check out Obamafoodorama's blog post. Enjoy!