"You aren't a winner of design awards unless you pay" – is it worth it?

9 June 2015

Portuguese graphic designer and illustrator Braulio Amado – who we interviewed here and who currently works for Bloomberg Businessweek – recently got in touch about the huge expense of entering (and winning) design awards. Here he is on the confusing reality of it costing more than $400 to receive awards from the Type Directors Club.

I’m a young(ish) graphic designer. I really love to create stuff and I try to do as much as possible, keep myself active in the field while trying to get some recognition in order to be approached for more work, not only to pay the bills, but also to… you know, try to achieve the dream of some day getting to work with bigger clients and seeing my work all over the place. I still think the best way to make this happen is to put your stuff out there, submitting work to blogs/websites, trying to get published in books, uploading the work to Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook — hopefully not coming across as too aggressively self-promoting and basically keeping it cool.

On top of this, I’m a Portuguese immigrant living in the US, which means I really do need all of this “press” in order to keep my Artist Visa. The visa also requires that you have received some awards in your given artistic field. I’ve submitted to them all: American Illustration, Young Guns, Type Directors Club and some others. This year two of my posters were awarded a “Certificate of Typographic Excellence” by the Type Directors Club. One of the posters was done completely with Arial Black (ironically?), so yeah, I was excited about this.


Braulio Amado: Poster

I was really surprised by their congratulatory email, including news of extra fees I would have to pay now that I was one of the winners. Since I wasn’t sure if I was going to win (again, Arial, whatever), in all honesty, I kind of didn’t read the rules at all. 

But let’s start from the beginning. You have to pay to be part of the game, which is a normal thing for most of the design competitions. Each single entry is $75 dollars if you are not a member of the club. Series entries cost $105 without membership. I got a congratulatory email announcing that two of my posters won, an “online badge” to promote/share on social media and a note saying that my “Certificate of Typographic Excellence” would be mailed to my house in the summer. But that’s not all: “The selection of your entry requires prompt action on your part. Links and instructions to complete the process are included in this email. Thank you for your support!” — I guess you are not really a winner at this point yet unless you pay for it.


Braulio Amado: Shirt Design

I calculated that for everything without the traveling exhibition costs the total I’d have to pay including publication and a hanging fee was $410. That’s a lot of money – and I don’t even get a copy of the book. Sure, I do get to see my work on a wall and in a book, and I get to use this award to help with my visa re-application, but really? $410?

I’m a fan of TDC, mostly for their lectures. But I really don’t understand why it is so expensive to be part of something like this. I’m sure it’s hard to maintain a club in New York City, but with $410 out of my pocket I don’t really feel like I won something, nor that I’m part of a “club” (which I’m not anyway – that would cost me $175/year). I just feel like I spent a bunch of money on something where I’m not sure what I will get in return. Maybe I could buy the book when it comes out and give a copy to my parents, but that would be an extra $40 (plus shipping). 

This year there were 272 winners out of 1600 entries. Doing the math… I’m sure the fees could be a little cheaper. Especially if the competition is aimed at young creatives who are trying to experiment with typography – and when it’s really experimental, that kind of work isn’t normally done at a big agency where the larger organisation can often pay for these sorts of competition fees. 

I’m very grateful for TDC picking my work, but I think it’s ironic that I had to pay them more than what I got paid myself for originally designing the two posters that won the awards.

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