Inside track

What goes on behind the scenes of awards and what should aspiring designers be doing to maximise their chances in future? Design Week gathers the insightful advice of a handful of seasoned judges.

Product – Dick Powell – Director, Seymour Powell

Judging competitions is huge fun – it’s a rare opportunity to talk with peers about good work and listen to different points of view from people you respect and admire.

Wise juries, faced with a mountain of entries, tend to work through them quickly, dispatching the no-hopers in order to leave time for meaningful debate on contenders. These days, perhaps reflecting tectonic shifts in our business, there is much less emphasis on innovation and clever solutions than in the past – one problem being that such achievements are not always that clear to juries, unless a knowledgeable juror happens to point it out.

Too often we see style winning out over function. Sadly, this is because jurors are rarely able to test the product as they might wish. For any product category, it is not really acceptable to have jurors making final decisions on the basis of images – they need to see the real thing, though even that is sometimes too hard to arrange.

Tips for entrants? Look who is on the jury, read the conditions and procedures carefully – especially judging criteria – and present it in the best possible light. It’s all obvious stuff.

Packaging and branding – Glenn Tutssel – Executive creative director, Enterprise IG

The hardest part about judging awards competitions is to divorce yourself from any preconceived ideas about what should win. Take out your personal preferences and you are left with one criterion – is the work relevant to the original brief? Very few competitions focus on what the designer was asked to do in the first place, leaving judges to vote it in or out on a ‘Do I like it?’ or ‘I wish I had done it’ basis.

With most competitions, you can clear at least 90 per cent of the entries out of contention in your first scan. So many people enter work in volumes in the hope that a piece might sneak in, but they forget it’s the hard graft that you have to do, before you even think of entering awards, that makes the difference.

Work that gets into, and wins, creative awards has to have the big idea and be beautifully crafted, to stand out among the plethora of mediocrity and break new ground.

Being critical of your own work before entering it, and selecting the ‘quality’ awards to enter, makes being accepted all the more rewarding. The fine line between winning or losing can be just one vote, and as much as it hurts to lose, it has to hurt to win. ‹

Graphics – Michael Johnson – Creative director, Johnson Banks

However hard organisers try, most award schemes are hugely dependent on the whims of their judges.

Catch them in a good mood and your magnum opus wins platinum, but just before lunch, after judging ‘annual reports’ in the midst of a low blood sugar moment, and the bin beckons. That’s how hit and miss it can be.

How do you deal with that? Well, designing something ‘to win an award’ is usually a self-defeating and highly dubious exercise – a good set of judges usually sees straight through it.

In my experience, really good, unusual and compellingly simple work has the best chance of standing out from the inevitable mediocrity – not the projects that were created from nothing, then sold to clients who didn’t need them (or didn’t even exist in the first place).

At the end of the day, people take awards far too seriously. Pick your best three projects, enter your favourite three schemes and then forget about it. As designers, we should care about much more important things than when and where our next doorstop is coming from.

Interiors – Callum Lumsden – Managing director, Lumsden Design Partnership

It is surprising how many designers treat design awards with schizophrenia. When they don’t get an award they consider it to be a fix, but, when they do win an award, they think it’s the best decision anyone could make.

I used to be as cynical as everybody else, until I sat on a judge’s panel myself. My most surprising experience is that there is never any preconceived winner. Every award panel I have been on has always been open to all comers and has always been a completely democratic decision. Judges take their responsibility very seriously and want to be impressed. But they do need to be able to distinguish good work from mediocre.

In my view, there are only two things that win awards/ excellent work and an excellent quality of entry. Find the best photographer you can possibly afford, especially if you are entering a product or environment. Even better, make a movie to help give the judges a proper feel for your design. Fill in the description in a straightforward, easy-to-understand way, as it could swing the decision if there is a close call. And probably the hardest decision of all – be a judge yourself. If you don’t feel super confident about your project, don’t enter it. You can always wait until next year.


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