The last thing the U.S. needs is another federal bureaucracy, but a current proposal in Congress to establish a U.S. Design Council has merit. If done right--placed within the Commerce Dept., with a very small staff focused solely on improving American products--a council promoting industrial design excellence makes sense.
Washington already encourages engineering, science, and advanced manufacturing. What it doesn't do is help companies combine these elements to come up with marketable products that consumers crave. Industrial design does just that, focusing on user needs and preferences.
As Ford discovered with the Taurus, Gillette with the Sensor razor, and Motorola with the MicroTac cellular phone, industrial design has tremendous marketplace clout. Companies that combine industrial designers, engineers, and marketing people on their product-development teams are among the most competitive in the world.
The Commerce Dept. has initiatives to transfer technology from government and private labs to small and midsize companies. Adding an industrial design component to these programs would be the most effective way of getting the power of design to those most in need of it. A U.S. Design Council limited to championing that effort is a good idea.