The U.S. government spends a vast amount of money each year on procurement (essentially, the purchase of goods and services)—$535 billion in 2010. With that scale of investment, the government becomes a design leader by virtue of purchasing policies alone. If a client of this scale was to set explicit criteria of effectiveness—citizen experience and civil well-being that could override least cost—think of the transformation that would occur in the civic experience! Half a trillion dollars a year demonstrating the value of design…
Unfortunately, government doesn’t tend to behave like a design champion. Civil servants are—if not by nature then certainly by training—cautious. To my knowledge, rarely in the history of government procurement have either superiors or the citizenry at large encouraged civil servants to innovate, to be creative and to accept a degree of risk (with the notable and oft-cited exceptions of the space program and advanced military systems).
Without creativity, though, public sector services are unlikely to achieve their ultimate goal: to enhance the lives of citizens and improve the global perspective of the U.S. If government officials think good design is expensive, it has often been said that they should consider the cost of bad design.
Periodically there are conversations, usually strictly within the design community, about how our country should have a national design policy, but it has never been clear what a national design policy would encompass. Our ultimate goal should be a presidential statement in the State of the Union address: “Design forms an integral part of the government’s plans for innovation and growth, and our upcoming research and innovation strategy will have design at its heart.”
It will take many years to put an advocacy plan such as this one in place. But you can help.
If each designer began by relaying the same message at the city, county and state level, we could create a groundswell of learning about effective design throughout the country. The first step is to write your local newspaper about the issue and attend town hall meetings of candidates during the current campaign. Ask the candidates if they see design as critical to the long-term competitiveness and innovation of the U.S. economy. Don’t take lower taxes as the answer!
If there are ways that you or your firm have advocated for design by working with local, state or federal government employees, share your success stories so we can encourage others to follow your lead.