There is an interesting article and ensuing discussion on the Design Observer website today, titled “Death to Design Awards.” Check it out if you haven’t already.
I think the discussion is particularly interesting to designers just starting out, or who are still finishing school, where design awards often seem very attractive as confirmation of our existence in the field and as nice material for the ol’ resume. And the only way to get design awards is to enter design competitions. During a typical semester at school, we will get a few emails from administration alerting us to the deadlines of various competitions and encouraging us to submit work. The prospect becomes more enticing when the school is able to pay for the entry and shipping fees. Some schools make a very concentrated, seemingly institutional-wide effort to submit their students’ work. Just in the same way that design competitions are big money makers for the organizations that put them on, competitions can also be big money makers marketing campaigns for educational institutions, as a way to entice young creative folk to fork over the dough enroll in their fine hubs of learning and culture.
Any time I flip through the student awards section of various design magazines (which isn’t often), I notice that a lot of the winners seem to be coming from a small handful of schools. Issue after issue. To the uninformed, it would appear that there are just a few great design schools out there; schools that squash the competition and rack up all the awards. The truth is, of course, that we only ever see a tiny fraction of the total amount of great work, as a lot of stuff doesn’t get entered in the first place. CCA, for example, while every now and then will send us competition announcements, does not seem to place too much emphasis on winning design awards. I don’t know how it is elsewhere, but in talking with other students at school, it isn’t really that much of a focus for them. What is interesting, though (or actually, not that interesting), is that almost all of my instructors (who I have loved having as instructors) have won an award or two or several.
Maybe we should abolish the competitions and establish a group that patrols the world, dishing out awards where they deem fit. It becomes illegal to enter yourself into a competition. Instead, someone else has to tip off this secret patrol group of your whereabouts and design doings. The group then investigates, undercover-like, and the next morning you wake up with a medal hanging from your lemon tree. Or maybe the design profession should adopt a system of awards similar to the performance-based pay system that many want to establish for school teachers. The higher the students score on standardized tests, the higher your salary. The more money that the company you designed the letterhead for makes that year, the shinier your medal. That way, it’ll be obvious which designers deserve the gold medals, right? No more subjective crap. Company with the biggest profit = designer with the biggest medal. Simple.
Hmm, now this secret patrol group will most likely need a logo…