Recently I took a road trip across the great United States to the one and only capital, Washington DC. I went with the AIGA group through my school Northern Illinois University. Why DC you ask? First, because I am oh-so patriotic and love this great nation, but mostly because we were invited down by an NIU alumni who currently works in the design department for the White House. So it gave us a good excuse to visit the White House as well as some other design firms in the area.
Once we arrived, we visited a few well-known design firms in the DC area. One of which produced some of the artwork for one of my favorite post-apocalyptic Washington DC set video games. It was definitely enjoyable to get a taste of the local design from the area, and see how the city influences their design strategy and aesthetic. But most of the focus and excitement was on the fact that we got personally invited to come down to the White House.
Upon arrival to meet the NIU alumni, we first went through an extensive security check to go into the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. This is actually the building that pretty much runs the White House, and holds the design department. After getting a small tour of a few of the preserved rooms from when the building was first constructed, we got to talk to the alumni. He provided a lot of interesting insight to working for the White House. Besides talking about how incredible the experience is, and how difficult it was to get used to, he talked about how different it was to work for the head of the government as a designer. He also discussed the changes from when Obama took office, and the Democratic party came in. He said as far as budgets and the ease of approving a design, it got a little less challenging than when the Republicans were in office. But he mentioned how tough it really was to do anything because of the approval process. Everything had to go to get approved by so many different levels and different people that by the time he finished a project, there was rarely any satisfaction for the final design. Of course this is very similar to what designers face on a day-to-day basis with different clients, but it seemed like this was taken to a whole new level of difficulty. Some projects that he worked on with his department was design of the main White House website and all of the materials that went along or inside of the White House itself.
One of the most awesome points of the trip, was when the alumni took us into the private basement of the Eisenhower building. Besides having extremely low ceilings and hitting my head on strange pipes, we were brought into the Harry S. Truman Bowling Alley. It was kind of a surreal experience, to think that we were bowling in the same place as all of the succeeding presidents to Truman. I also should mention that I dislike bowling more than any person out there, but I participated, and did not come in last. But the next day we actually got to go into the White House, and got a tour of the main floors. This turned out to be awesome since none of the 15 people that were with us had taken the tour before.
Besides being an incredible trip, and seeing one the most famous icons of our historic country, the most interesting point of the trip was what the NIU alumni had to say about working as a designer for the government. How there were a lot of benefits to working for the government, but also how it was very difficult to have any sort of creativity and full control. So to anyone out there who has a government job, or clients similar to this situation who can relate, I encourage you to share your experience.