DBA awards charges are not cost-effective

It is ironic that the Design Business Association should come to grief over cost for an award scheme that prides itself on promoting design’s cost-effectiveness.

Charges of almost £1000 per entry for non-DBA members are hardly likely to endear consultancies to the newly named International Design Effectiveness Awards, particularly the smaller groups whose profit margins are slim. Even the knock-down price of around £500 is much higher than design groups expect to pay for other awards schemes.

In an ideal world, the client will help to stump up the cash – the awards are, after all, meant to reward collaboration between client and designer. But the reality is that few consultancies can expect financial support from clients. They enjoy the recognition afforded by a win, but, by all accounts, take some persuading to release the all-important figures to support an entry.

We can expect the upshot to be a trimmed down entry for the scheme, with even DBA stalwarts saying they’ll have to think very carefully about taking part this year. This will hardly swell DBA coffers, even with submissions coming in at the higher rate, and, according to consultancy heads we have spoken to, will do nothing to promote the advantages of membership to design’s only trade body.

The real loser, however, will be the design community as a whole. The effectiveness awards have, over time, proved a valuable method of gauging the commercial benefits of good design, in a way that clients understand. They have been highly instrumental in helping to create a process to measure effectiveness and have provided useful case-studies on which official bodies and consultancies alike can build design’s case.

Hopefully, it is not the end of the matter. This year’s awards will no doubt yield good results, even if it is likely to be from a limited field, and we should not prejudge the quality of the outcome. The DBA has established high standards of judging over the 12 years that the awards have run and it is unlikely to veer away from them now.

But we urge the association to look at other ways to fund the awards in future that might even spread the effectiveness message further abroad. It could, for example, push hard for Government support for its efforts, via a Design Council collaboration that includes some funding. This way it would at least fuel the council’s efforts to demonstrate to UK business the value of design to the bottom line, bringing creativity more closely to the heart of commercial success and reinforcing the spirit of collaboration.

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