"This issue is extremely on point with what I do and the students I work with ("The United States of Design"). I teach high-school graphic design and art, and a couple of years ago, my principal loaned me a copy of Fast Company; I've been a subscriber since. The magazine embodies many of the same ideas that give our curriculum relevancy outside classroom walls. In the past few years, our district has placed a great emphasis on design and aesthetics—across the curriculum, not just in the art room—during what is a difficult financial time for education. We are grateful to have administrators who know the importance of design. Thus, you can understand my excitement with your October cover story. I plan to share this issue with my students and show them real-world applications of design and innovation. Fast Company is a great way to expose them to the design world and provides inspiration for stretching their own ideas outside our small Midwestern community.
I am having a difficult time helping your must-read October issue go viral because the cover is broken. The Design for America initiative, while laudable, is certainly one of the smallest ideas in an otherwise rich, rich issue. With so many engaging objects, solutions, experiences, and thought leaders inside, a pep rally wrapped in a flag seems, well, poorly designed.
The cover of your latest issue shows a troubling trend that I have noticed in popular culture recently. The U.S. flag, it seems, has devolved into something to be worn rather than flown or displayed properly. As written in the U.S. Code, flag etiquette specifies that the U.S. flag should "never be used as wearing apparel . . . or drapery" and should "always [be] allowed to fall free." Fast Company's cover image is just one example of the increasingly prevalent misuse of the U.S. flag. It is certainly not my objective to question anyone's patriotism. We should remember, however, that our flag "represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing" worthy of respect.
Scott Wilson is a great example of creative thinking (design + technology + business = iPod Nano wristband = genius!). America should have more focus on design, not only in business but also in education, and since the nation is such a big magnet for international talent, perhaps exporting American talent can provide an economic boost.
Sharon Gitman Kohn
A Sense Of Relief
I just wanted to thank you for what I believe is my second issue this year that did not feature articles on Google or Facebook. I love my Gmail account and use Facebook, but I was starting to feel like Fast Company was a "Goobook" promotional piece. There are so many companies doing exciting things all over the world; there's no need to report each issue on companies that the entire world is already very familiar with.
I have thoroughly enjoyed this year's design issue, but I still have questions about American car design ("How Do You Solve a Problem Like GM, Mary?"). In the pursuit of global architectures and fuel efficiency, GM seems to have forgotten its brethren in Europe, which seem to be making good design decisions and lust-worthy vehicles. Americans purchase fuel-inefficient SUVs and minivans of all flavors because they are profitable; smaller station wagons have almost entirely disappeared except for a few, all of which are available in Europe, a lot of them very sexy and fuel efficient! What's wrong with that design? They seem to meet all the criteria Mary Barra speaks about.
This is a great comparison of two approaches that brands can look to when considering jumping into mobile social gaming ( "Gamer vs. Gamer"). In both instances, brands have to be careful to understand the boundaries set by the consumer that define what type of interaction enhances advocacy, and what is viewed as too pushy.
As a consumer, I receive a better feeling about a brand when I'm offered a more holistic engagement rather than a voucher or a percent off a purchase. Loyalty over awareness wins every time.
Auckland, New Zealand
You can't fight the future, although people always try. Getting a cab is usually a fairly unpleasant experience ("A Long and Bumpy Road"), between the beat-up car, standing outside in the rain and cold, and drivers who can be too aggressive. Some new companies are trying to make it more pleasant, and some of the old-school guys object. Sorry, too bad—you don't get to continue to deliver mediocre service and expect to keep business.
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A version of this article appeared in the December 2011/January 2012 issue of Fast Company magazine.