George W. Bush | Essays

I Don't Know Much About Designing Rugs

President George W. Bush hosts a meeting in the Oval Office decorated with the new presidential rug on December 20, 2001. White House and Homeland Security staff attended the meeting: (clockwise from the bottom), President George Bush, Governor Tom Ridge, Condoleezza Rice, Admiral Steve Abbot, Karen Hughes, Dean McGrath, Karl Rove, Albert Hawkins, Mitch Daniels, Josh Bolton and Andy Card. White House photographer Paul Morse is at left.

But they, oftentimes, they ask me — they say, what's it like, being the President of the United States?

And my answer to them is, first, it's a huge honor. But, secondly, if I had to give you a job description, it would be a decision-maker. I make a lot of decisions. I make some that you see that obviously affect people's lives, not only here, but around the world. I make a lot of small ones you never see, but have got consequence.

Decision-maker is the job description.

First of all, when you make decisions, you've got to stand on principle. If you are going to make decisions, you've got to know what you believe.

I guess the best way to summarize me is I came from Texas and I'm going back to Texas with the exact same values I had when I arrived in Washington, D.C. (Applause.) In order to make good decisions, you've got to rely upon the judgment of people you trust.

I'll never forget the first decision I had to make as the President. I wasn't even sworn in yet, and a fellow called me on the phone and he said: "What color of rug do you want to have in the Oval Office?" (Laughter)

I said: "You've got to be kidding me, man." (Laughter)

He said: "No, what color rug would you like to have in the Oval Office?" I said, "I don't know." He said, "Well, it turns out that Presidents — you've just got to know that Presidents design their rugs."

I said: "Well, to be honest with you, I don't know much about designing rugs."

So I called, I delegated. That's one of the things you do in decision-making. (Laughter)

I said, "Laura, how about helping design the rug?" (Laughter)

Part of being a decision-maker, though, is you've got to help -- you've got to think strategically. And so I said to her — she said, "What color do you want?" I said, "Make it say this: 'Optimistic person comes here to work every single day.'" (Laughter)

You can't lead the nation, you can't make good decisions unless you are optimistic about the future. So for the students here, as you take over organizations or head out of college and become involved in your life, you got to be optimistic about — if you're going to lead somebody. Imagine somebody saying, "Follow me, the world is going to be worse." (Laughter) That's not a very good organizing principle about which to lead people.

I'm optimistic about our future, and the reason I am is because I believe so strongly in what America stands for: liberty and freedom and human rights and the human dignity of every single person. (Applause.)

George W. Bush is the 43rd President of the United States. This essay is from a speech titled, "The President Discusses Global War on Terror at Kansas State University," January 23, 2006.

Comments [35]

brilliant post, just brilliant.
debbie millman

Granted many people may be critical of the article simply based on the fact that the speaker is the infamous Bush (the CD of USA). It's rather nieve to think that there is something said by the author of the article: rather, it's just the text of a speech. The only inference of there being an opinion is in the pull-title, where it touches on his ignorance (a rather open flesh wound of Bush). However, what is said is a valid argument for optimism. It might be nice to have optimism for a change, especially with continued pressure of what Design Observer calls DIY (a popular subject lately); please take a look in the May/June issue of Print Magazine. There is a comment on page nineteen that has stuck with me for some time now. It is a reaction to an article from the Jan/Feb issue, titled "going public" written by Ellen Lupton.
Gavin Wassung

Hell, I'm an optomist. Does that qualify me to operate on your mother or run a country?
Jordan Rader

Being an optimist does NOT qualify you to operate on your mother or run a country. It certainly does NOT qualify you to be a rug-designer. It seems, however, that it does qualify you to ask the little lady at home to take up her decorating duties.

In the 21st Century, an American President religates his wife to such stately chores. Even Bill Clinton would not have done this to Hillary: whatever his sins, he would not have cast a First Lady in the role of decorator.

Separate from his sexist sins, George W. Bush has been kind enough to remind us that the first decision of his White House tenure was to talk to a steward about rugs in his office. No wonder it has been down-hill since there.
William Drenttel

Well, my American friends, I have to tell you that we, in Canada, have one up on you. Our new "first lady" is a graphic designer. Or ... a self-described graphic designer/desktop publisher. That's right.

Her name is Laureen Teskey (although she apparently "wishes to be known as Laureen Harper in her public role as a spouse of the Prime Minister." [Wikipedia]), and I am trying to find evidence of her work, although she seems to be pretty far off the design radar ... at least in the circles I run in. I do know she was creating promotional material for the Reform Party in the late '80s/early '90s. But even that's hard to find. If I dig something up, I'll be sure to run something on it over at Speak Up.

Needless to say, however, I'm sure that she would know something about designing rugs. Perhaps she could give your president some tips on designing party banners, or invitations. Or something ...
marian bantjes

"In the 21st Century, an American President religates his wife to such stately chores. Even Bill Clinton would not have done this to Hillary: whatever his sins, he would not have cast a First Lady in the role of decorator."

just because he asks the first lady to help him design a rug, doesn't make him a sexist. Like he admitted, he don't know bout designing rugs. Is there something wrong with asking your wife to help you with something? what if it were to design an emblem of some sort, would he be sexist to ask her advice with this?

Surely it's a better thing to ask for help than to pigheadedly attempt something you know nothing of out of sheer pride?

Graham Taylor, UK

"Surely it's a better thing to ask for help than to pigheadedly attempt something you know nothing of out of sheer pride?"

True. There would be plenty of time for that later.
Maurice Meilleur

Seems like George Bush is a rather typical creative director. Asking for a rug that somehow communicates, "Optimistic person comes here to work every single day." is the kind of impossible brief designers deal with every day. Legendary music producer Steve Albini famously complained about how often he was asked to make a record sound "warm" and/or "punchy." For Albini, the use of either term (let alone both) signalled a complete lack of creative direction, even though the people saying them thought they were (in Bush's terms), "thinking strategically."

Bush is right that to be a good decision-maker you've got to be decisive (even though it kind of goes without saying). What he does not mention is that it also requires the ability to assess people's work quickly and accurately and then communicate that assessment in a clear and productive way. It is the truly exceptional creative director who can articulate clear, useful guidance instead of empty, vague, or impossible "strategy." I have had the good fortune to work for several such extraordinary creative directors (you know who you are) but there have also been those of the Bush school, and their brand of "decision-making" leaves the designer in the difficult position of having to simultaneously humor their boss and get the job done. The danger of this kind of leadership is clear in this case. Judging from the photo, it seems like Laura did what most designers do when they are stuck between a deadline and bogus brief: she nodded thoughtfully at her creative director and then went and copied last year's rug.
Dmitri Siegel

The last time I checked, the items below are still the only qualifications for being a U.S. president. Design expertise is still not one of them. Stupidity and ignorance are available to everyone, even President's of large countries.

Your political rants are getting old (just like this President's second term). Can you focus on Design please? I can get political commentary/opinions on every other website.

To find fault is easy; to do better may be difficult. - Plutarch

Age and Citizenship requirements - US Constitution, Article II, Section 1

No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty-five years, and been fourteen years a resident within the United States.

Term limit amendment - US Constitution, Amendment XXII, Section 1 - ratified February 27, 1951

No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once.

I concure. It's no surprise that the design community loves to hate Bush. He's an easy target... and when you manage to hit an easy target I see no reason to heap on the praise. Looking forward to getting back to your informed and interesting writing on design.

Although I didn't learn much about design from this post, it actually really helped me connect with George W's folksy charm. He really does appeal to the everyman, and I respect him a lot for being able to do so.

To try to help steer this toward a design discussion:
Is it possible that design would be more effective and embraced if we designed more for regular folks -- the kind of people that applauded during this speech? Target's "design for everyone" campaign has really excited me about the potential power of what design can do. Look at things like Blogger or Swiffer or Dyson or the iPod - they are designed to appeal to regular people in real terms.

For me, the most powerful design done in the last several years has been to embrace the everyman, like our good-ol'-boy President. Could we learn something from Bush in this respect?
Ryan Nee

Does design effect the masses as much as eloquent oration? If or when does design fall behind action?

DO is only reinforcing that it's a bunch of pretentious, snide, and petty academics

I believe the lack of editorial spill from the author is appropriate. It's not needed if you include this speech with it's title (as the author did): "The President Discusses Global War on Terror at Kansas State University."
Haynes Riley

"I believe the lack of editorial spill from the author is appropriate. It's not needed if you include this speech with it's title (as the author did): "The President Discusses Global War on Terror at Kansas State University."

It's easy to make someone look ignorant (wether they are or not) when a section of a speech is taken out of context like this (not even GW starts a speech with 'But'). The classification by the author as an 'essay' is inaccurate. So what are we trying to do here, show that the president is a non-designer? That he doesn't care what the rug looked like?

How is this post brilliant?

I think it's most interesting how it appears commenters' own political POV colors their interpretation of both GWB's speech, and the supposed "reason" it's posted on DO this way. Half are pissed, and half are laughing (on the outside, anyway).

While I'm no fan of GWB, I have an enduring, begrudging respect for the admin's extremely sophisticated, near-total awareness and use of design and imagery. [Has everyone already forgotten the Bush/Cheney vs Kerry/Edwards graphic identity debate which B/C clearly won?]

But taken in context, GWB's carpet design story is not only folksy, it seems intended to show pettiness, bureaucratic obsession with minutiae vs the Big Picture, and to reinforce his own position as a guy who Gets It, while the rest of "Washington" doesn't. [Isn't the fact that he uses a design decision to signal "superfluous", "waste of time", and "doesn't matter" be enough to rally underappreciated, misunderstood designers of all politcal persuasions?]

All that said, the anecdote's all-too convenient symbolism makes me doubt it's actually true. Like the story that outgoing Clintonites took all the W keys off the gov't computers, it's probably a petty lie--that's also too petty to factcheck.

"How is this post brilliant?"
Sam: I concur with your conclusion. For the sake of communications becoming more and more mundane and useless, we need to clearly analyze what we are presented. The post itself is not brilliant. But, the reactions of some, being hell-bent on bashing-Bush show an interesting rift in our design community. We cannot sacrifice a calm and collected judgment on what some call an "essay" for our desire to express our personal predilections about a man whom we may feel vehemently opposed. We must have our communications be clear and composed, so as to lift our voices above others and present, as we should, our ideas in a more powerful and convincing way than anyone else in society. I believe this article fails in fitting with the many articles we read here, because it is not authored, but rather is an incomplete account of an event(though I leave the floor open for someone to convince me it was done with a purpose and therefore shows authorship, so again I repeat Sam's words: "So what are we trying to do here, show that the president is a non-designer? That he doesn't care what the rug looked like?")
Gavin Wassung

I don't really like GWB (I find it difficult to reconcile a comment like "I believe ... in what America stands for: ... the human dignity of every single person" with other attitudes expressed by his administration on subjects like torture).

But I like this speech-let. Simple, powerful thoughts. Some of the shrewdest observations can often be followed by "duh, obviously". It's staring you in the face, but it's still an achievement to point it out.

No one has said a thing about the rug! Is that, in fact, what they are all sitting on in the picture? From above, it looks like a giant bloodshot eyeball made out of parquet. Trompe l'oeil?
Lorraine Wild

The point of this article is obviously to show everyone that Bush is a capable decision maker.

"...If I had to give you a job description, it would be a decision-maker. I make a lot of decisions. "

What could be worse than picking out a bad rug and then having to live with it? Seriously.

Seems like George Bush is a rather typical creative director. Asking for a rug that somehow communicates, "Optimistic person comes here to work every single day." is the kind of impossible brief designers deal with every day.

It is? That sounds like a dream brief to me. Nice and simple. I must be working at the wrong agency.
Bobby Dragulescu

The beauty of GWB is that he has a clear vision of the duties of his position, a rock solid belief system, and a way of executing his commission through a careful review of the opinions of the experts he has gathered to advise him. He's a leader because he trusts his ability to discern the right course and the courage to make decisions based on that ability. His approach is simple and direct and therefore very powerful.

Designers , of course, could benefit from that kind of clarity of vision. But, as we all know, egos in this line of work tend to overshadow any kind of higher approach to the job at hand. Maybe that's what the original post was trying to get at? Probably not...

He touts himself as a decision maker then in the same breath he admits he knows nothing about rug design and cannot make a decision about the rug. So he passes the buck, and spins it as a great trait of a decision maker.

This pattern, which has been consistent throughout his term, is about as ugly as the pattern in the rug.

So I get it now. The ugly rug is a symbol--an accurate reflection--of his presidency.

Remember the rug!
Steven K.

He didn't say he couldn't make a decision about the rug. He asked for expert input. Would making an uninformed decision be your idea of good leadership?

The last thing I will say on this (I promise) is that you shouldn't confuse ignorance with wisdom and an informed decision with blind faith.

Any idiot can ask for expert input from people who already agree with him. There are plenty of experts that disagree with the president, but he refuses to listen to them.

The UN, after being in Iraq for months, found no evidence of WMD. Gloabl warming? Despite the overwhelming evidence, Bush doesn't believe in it. Plamegate? His experts leaked the name of a covert op to discredit a man who discovered Iraq never tried to buy Uranium from Niger. Katrina? He praised "Brownie" for doing a great job. He threatens to veto any bill that would prevent the handing over of US ports to a Dubai UAE company. Then he admits to knowing nothing about the deal. He appoints a former 24 year-old campaign worker to head PR at NASA, whose primary job, we find, is to undermind Big Bang.

Before Bush can ask for expert opinions and rely on experts to make decisions for him, he needs to find real experts, not simply people who can better articulate a shared philosophy or idea.

If you want to become a designer (big assumption on my part), you first need to see the light.

Good luck!
Steven K.

Is that a full-spectrum light that's illuminating your view?

I might suggest that in order for you to be a designer, you might try broadening your sources. It makes for a more interesting and encompassing design approach.

Good luck to you, too!

I just don't know why three shades of brown = optimistic.

Two things to spice up that ol' rug:
1. The image of a real seal; Presidential Seal, Schmesiditential Seal. Give us a nice California Seal atop an upturned bright orange ice bucket on a sky blue field. The obligatory red and white striped ball balancing on his nose provides introductory chit chat: (Pick your favored presidential accent--Crawford, TX or Hope, AR) "Yep, that 'bout says it all, just tryin' to keep it all balanced..."
2. Some of Cindy Sheehan's keen galactic fonts.
Douglas Dearden

I know of two different individuals in my field (not design) who have spent time with the President during which his sole interest in coversation was apparently the rugs in the White House.


Seeing this excerpt is almost comforting (sad but true) because at least there's some ham-handed attempt to derive metaphorical significance from the carpet.

I prefer wood floors, myself.

The most interesting thing about the excerpt is the distance between what Bush wants to be or thinks he is -- a hard-working president who comes to work every single day -- and what Bush actually is -- a lazy, disengaged president who has shattered the previous record for days spent away from the office.

And maybe that's where this post finds its true relevance to the design community: maybe design is partly about subterfuge, about taking your worst trait and dressing it up as if it were an asset, or directing attention away from a bad trait etc. Does Bush realize how little he works? Is he proud of his work ethic? Or on the contrary, does he mention his "hard work" as a kind of compulsion to reveal the truth without meaning to? These are all questions that the designer might find relevant.

The discussion begs the professional answer, what is the role of graphic design at the White House, Executive branch, U.S. Government etc.. Did Billery remove the Design staff because of the wonderful support Reagan and Nixon supported in their administrations? Apparently, there were no Design consultants on his first day for GW.

This is what drive me nutz about our design community. A bunch of koolaid drinkers for the extremists. Using us as "useful idiots" to get their propogand ideas into print, video, newspaper etc.. While we argue about political issues that confuse, we ( the design profession), ought to be educating the objective truth visually and through creative visual innovation that seperates propoganda from the honest message. To be a part of the political process in a professional way.

Today's designers, seem to wish to design awful degrading and sladerous designs for the "sake" of getting away with it to impress our "designer" friends. This is group think and poison for graphic design and our future as professionals.

Be proud to be an American Designer, men and women are dying for our freedom so that we can help others make good informed decisions about purchases, politics, family and health through our skill of design.

Get to work designing and stop whining about this president.

The outer rim of this design is a shade so close to the parquet floor beneath it that it's been commented that the carpet looks like woodwork. Looking at the photograph closer here, the sheen atop Karl Rove's head indicates where the polished ends and the dull begins.

Larry King speaking to Laura Bush in her office at the White House was aired Friday night and it seemed like the same tan color on the outer rim of George's oval carpet was used for her carpet leaf motif.

Some of the questions this post brings to mind:
How many eye-in-the-sky views do we have of past presidents at work with cabinet members?
Who helped Mrs. Bush prepare the (Adobe Illustrator file?) specifications? In other words, is there a graphic designer on staff?
Will there be an oval office carpeting exhibit entitled "A History of ..." at his Presidential Library?

Can't wait for that library —when Laura can, and I hope, will have more (or all) say.

even what someone wrote for him on the rug is a lie...

I guess it only says that the designers must also be decision makers. George W. Bush may display some behaviors insulting to many an intelligent designer, but he is saying clearly that there are roles to be fulfilled in certain jobs. That simple. Now if some graphic designers wish to leave the major world decisions to Laura . . .

For all we know George Jr is just dumbing down his world management and design views. Even as graphic/product designers, we all have to admit that we all have had happy and successful compromises. He and his wife are just wiser enough than the rest of the graphic design community bothered with his speech about a rug and his wife.

Shahla got it!

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