The other week I was invited to participate in a panel debate held in conjunction with the Most Beautiful Swiss Book exhibition in London organised by the Helvetic Centre, this year they had chosen to also exhibit the Best British Design and Production Award. We were to compare the two book design competitions.
This got me thinking about design competitions in general. I have a hard time making up my mind about them. Are they self-indulgent or do they add something valid(critical) to design?
It seems difficult to ignore the subjectivity of design competitions. The jury will inevitably have their own aesthetics, design background and opinions about what is good and what is superb. This is also the point and hopefully why they got appointed in the first place. Taking the Most Beautiful Swiss Book and the Best British Design and Production Award as a starting point, they both award beautiful book design, but the books presented in the individual competitions are as far apart as they could possible be. This is probably due to a number of things; the difference in jury members and their professional background, the costs of competing – one is free and one has a fee – or that one is funded by an industry organisation and the other by a cultural governmental institution. So how can one talk about best book, best poster, best website, best film when there are so many competitions where the agenda is as subjective as the projects submitted?
Last night I watched X-factor, the ultimate competition within pop music and undoubtedly one of the most successful TV-shows nowadays. Interestingly enough the judges bickered what the competition actually was about; whether it was how great a singer the contestants were, how well he or she performed, or how much the public loved them. Perhaps the most important thing within competitions is a very well established agenda?
Arguably, the point of competitions is that they can function as a great marketing tool for the winners, yet within todays realm of designers, design students and design aspirants own blogs and websites, and with other blogs dedicated solely to picking “the best of”, is it still relevant to have design competitions?
If competitions are the way to get an A+ from the ubiquitous school of design, what institution does this A+ allows us to enter?
Sarah Gottlieb moved to London from Denmark to study Graphic Design, which culminated in an MA at the Royal College of Art. She works as an independent graphic designer, keeping her hands busy with Household, a collective she sat up in 2008 with George Wu and Dario Utreras, their work often sparks from the cross pollinating nature of graphic design. www.house-hold.org
In 10 years I have entered 3 design competitions - D&AD on two occasions and this year's Benchmark Awards. No wins.
I haven't entered more because it's rare for me to produce work that genuinely addresses the client brief AND matches the criteria for a successful competition entry. Usually they are contradictory objectives... most brand building exercises are concerned with helping a product or company "fit in" with a culture, demographic or industry territory. This usually involves following the rules more than establishing new ones.
There's only a handful of international brands that can afford the "stand alone" creative approach.... Nike, Apple, BMW, Sony, BBC.
Organisations like D&AD feature the latest creative trends to support their own brand values ... much of the work is beautiful and influential BUT that's not strictly consistent with supporting good design. Surely good design = appropriate design. Appropriate design often isn't very sexy. The client context is largely ignored.
There's little effort to establish how effective a campaign has been in crude financial terms. A popular advert doesn't necessarily mean an increase in sales or even brand awareness.
Hence the rise in "fake" work... campaigns developed purely to win awards. Campaigns which were never commissioned by the client they claim to represent and were never put into production.
It seems that a designer's ability to win awards is dictated by their ability to attract leading clients with big budgets.
More design effectiveness awards perhaps. Like this one? http://www.dba.org.uk/awards/intro.asp