I was always lucky enough during my life to pick up a few medals and awards for arts and sports. I remember having a corner devoted to my array and always looking for a place for the next one to fit. While this is a healthy attitude, I came to realise later in life that all awards are not the same. Some were more meaningful than others. Was it because I worked harder for those or was it because they were more prestigious or was I paying for it? Actually, some awards like achieving an MA or a PhD never really fell into my idea of winning an award, yet they are probably more prestigious and fulfilling than all the glass or metal ones I have picked up in life and business, but that’s another story. So, for the purpose of this article let’s stick to the conversation off Design Awards specifically.
So, winning one of these awards, how easy is it or should you or I get one as easy as the next good design agency? I am not totally convinced that awards should be given out lightly, yet there needs to be a level playing field for all to compete and have the opportunity, without being impeded financially or otherwise. So, is this the case with design awards be them brand, web, digital, art or marketing? Do these awards fall to the pay to play syndrome or are they transparent and credible? Some awards in Ireland seem to be self-promoting and a back-slapping exercise for all who are exclusive to that community, so if you are not allowed in, how can you expect to win? I have seen design awards, when it costs €500 to become a member and €350 to enter the awards, that would be only contain one nomination? Are you serious? That’s for sharks, not for designers
While winning is the ultimate goal, not winning awards in the design industry is not for losers. It really is for winners so if you lose you get nothing and if you don’t enter you get less. This raises the question of whether you should enter or not and how to decide?
I get lots of solicitations to enter awards, and in the first years of business I eagerly participated, spending the time and money to enter. I found each year It was becoming more and more disappointing to not get nominated or recognized. This created a week of misery after coming away a loser again. I tried to reflect and say, “Well, look the real truth is that our clients think we are winners, as they come back to us again and again, and 28 years later I am still working with some of them.” Should I not get a prize alone for that? These awards then made me think through a series of questions like: Who judges these awards?; and Why are they the decision makers? and Are these awards just a revenue-generating mechanism for some company to make money from entries and from selling tickets?
I have entered many awards, some I just got nominations for and others I entered and paid for. I stopped for a period of time as I just felt some were a money racket. So, you pay to enter an award for best brand design. It costs €350 and then some, that is only one entry Companies or individuals who did not have the funds to enter, even though their work was excellent would never get judged. So, these awards are only judged on the entries submitted and were controlled by financial status. Anyway, I am sure someone will argue this fact to give a different reason, but I would note this is a consideration. So, in the end, what are the pros and cons of entering awards and what criteria should one use to decide whether to commit or not? These are my thoughts.
Take an objective look and use the following criteria to decide for yourself if you should enter.
1. Credibility, plausibility. Winning an award always increases your profile and builds credibility for your team, company or yourself.
2. Public Relations, PR. Winning an award allows you to publish and talk about your win, which in turn creates good vibes for you and your company. It also gives you something to discuss with your customers, which helps promote positive conversations.
3. Morale. Winning an award gives great opportunity to celebrate and boost morale within your team or company. It drives positive vibes and accelerates a positive attitude to do better next time and generate more self-belief. In the end, you have received outside confirmation that you have done something good, or better than the rest.
4. Competitiveness. When talking about your work you can now add in your latest accolade and this helps build confidence in your applications for new work. It further helps new prospects feel better about working with you. “Surely they must be doing something good.”
It takes time to write up nominations and apply for awards. Most design awards require lengthy responses, with strong proposals for the judges to read and ascertain the validity of your nomination.
2. Evidence. Usually part of the application process is to gather statistics and quotes from clients and third parties to underpin the validity of your application.
3. Deadlines. Deadlines for the submission process can lead to stress and push you, your team and maybe your clients, to the brink of “oh I wish I had not started this”
4. Morale downside. Just as an award can boost morale, not winning can also deflate morale to the level that teams can go into a downward spiral and feel negative. So be aware of what helps build morale and where your team is at in this time and space. When riding high a little low might not be as problematic as if you are struggling and you need a win. So, consider wisely before you embark. Sometimes it’s better to win at being good and getting self-recognition first, then look to awards later, when you are making your own luck.
So, if you were to evaluate whether to enter an award or not, what criteria would you consider?
· Look at who is offering the award. Do you know them? Are they recognised enough in your industry? Does your industry look upon them with high or low favour? Organisations like IIA and IDI in Ireland run awards and are recognised authorities, so chances are they are well received. Examples include the IIA Net Visionary Awards.
· Is there a ridiculous amount of categories? Are some meaningless or undefinable. I would expect that core issues should be addressed within the categories to enter like “Best in Universal Design” or “Best Design Agency” etc..
· What companies have won previously? How many years have the awards been in place? Whom are the awards funded by? You want your company to be competing with the best as winning a national or international award is more complimentary than local awards. So look at the exposure the awards are getting.
· What are the entry fees? Sometimes the lower the better, as this allows more nominations, which leads to more competition and broader recognition. This can only help or boost your profile more. If there are fewer nominations, or nominations only from the privileged few, these awards are not really worth anything. Surely they are only an exercise in back-slapping among the selected companies entering. While I understand awards can be entered for free, a small contribution helps all to minimise the tyre kickers, yet helps the design diaspora with fewer restrictions and more competitive entries.
In conclusion, when your firm is in good standing, it’s probably a good time to enter awards. Positive results boost morale even further and if you don’t win then there is always next time.. Pay to play, for me, is not winning. I have recently been asked to enter some shark awards at the price of €300 an entry. Are you serious? That’s a money making racket and excludes many small design operators so it’s a no-go for me. Pick and choose your awards. Aim too high, most likely you will fall, aim too low and you feel you have achieved too little. Choose the ones you feel you can compete well in and work your way up. When you can, enter and win at your level. Awards with full transparency lead to euphoria for all. Judges are real and in the zone of your category. Being assessed by an organisation that assesses usability in design, like the NDA, under the category of best in universal design leads to better credibility and more transparency then winning an award judged by a designer who may have other feelings or intentions. In the long run, these awards won’t hold long-term meaning to you or the company or to the award itself. Companies need to differentiate themselves to grow their business values. Make sure you have your eyes open to all the possible pitfalls of playing just to win or should I say paying just to win. I leave it with you.
Paul Mc Cann MA PDP (Pending PhD ahhh …)