They talk about credibility, relevance, clear judging criteria, blind juries, streamlined processes and other essential ingredients of awards success.
Brandon Gien, director of the Australian Design Awards
Credibility and relevance are the most important ingredients for any awards program. They go hand-in-hand. Without credibility, the award has no meaning and won’t survive.
Credibility takes time to build. It comes from being independent, setting a clear and transparent judging process with appropriate judging criteria, and involving experienced judges who know their stuff. In my opinion, the Australian Design Awards benefits three key areas: industrial designers (the profession),clients/manufacturers/business (the industry) and the general public (the consumers).
Being independently recognised with an Australian DesignMark and/or Australian Design Award gives an industrial design practitioner or consultancy further recognition and confidence to win more business. The industry benefits through increased sales by promoting this recognition on their product and in their promotional material.
Consumers also benefit as awards help them to distinguish between good and bad design. The most important point is that design award programs do not exist to benefit themselves or their sponsors but the industry they serve.
There are so many award programs covering every sector of business and industry, and too many of them are there to serve the needs of their sponsors and generate media exposure and profile, rather than serve the needs of their industry.
It’s a catch-22 situation – they need sponsorship dollars to survive, and sacrifice the credibility of the process in return. Having a financially secure awards program that does not rely on the ups and downs of sponsorship dollars is rare.
Another problem is that design award programs and competitions are often promoted through the wrong avenues. It is no good promoting the benefits of design to designers through design magazines and design associations.
Design needs to be promoted outside the design industry, through mainstream media and to the general public, to the people and businesses who know nothing about design and are yet to benefit from it. Our biggest challenge at the Australian Design Awards is to target mainstream media and get the ‘benefits of design’ message out there.
The judging criteria for the Australian Design Awards were developed in consultation with the industrial design community in Australia over many years.
We also make a point of looking closely at other design award programs in countries such as Germany, Japan, the US and Korea, and refer to the guide-lines set out by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID), of which the Australian Design Awards is a member.
Judging processes and criteria need to be reviewed every few years to ensure they remain relevant and appropriate.
Judging good design is not easy. Judges need a good mix of objectivity and subjectivity to be able to properly assess a product. A good judge will respect everyone’s opinion and act in the best interests of the industry.
We ask each of our judges to sign a judge’s agreement, which outlines their role and responsibilities as a judge. Being able to assess everything – kettle, toaster, artificial heart, car, boat, furniture, pram – takes a great amount of skill and patience.
Good judges will also openly admit that they don’t have the expertise to pass judgement on a product – this is a good quality to have.
A bad judge is one who is too opinionated and dominates the judging session. It is very rare that this happens and, generally speaking, the judges get on very well and deeply respect each other (even though they don’t always agree).
We have been very fortunate over the years to have some fantastic judges who represent many disciplines – industrial designers, engineers, architects, furniture designers, textile designers, interior designers and software experts.
Even though they represent different professions, they all have to get on pretty well and engage in a healthy debate about what makes good design.
The most challenging aspect of the Australian Design Awards is ensuring the process remains credible. Once your credibility is destroyed, it’s time to pack up shop and go home – this can’t be stressed enough.
The other challenge is managing the heartbreak of a designer after they find out their product did not receive an award. Judging good design is not an exact science, there is no absolute wrong or right and the outcomes can’t always be predicted.
The biggest challenge is achieving that delicate balance and getting the judges to be as objective as possible in what can often be a very subjective environment.
Ralph Wiegmann, managing director of iF International Forum Design
A creditable and comprehensive competition portfolio needs to reflect the various currents in which contemporary design takes place.
For a number of years we at iF have attempted to do this by primarily focusing on design disciplines that involve products and communication, in the form of our iF product design award (since 1953) and the iF communication design award (a stand-alone competition since 2003).
Both competitions are made up of a host of subcategories to allow entries to be judged in the most fitting context. In the communication competition, for example, we have the digital media category, with subcategories for typography, interface, sound, animation and screen design, thus guaranteeing a high degree of transparency for our contestants as well as our judges.
In addition, we always try to take into consideration a spate of issues that are relative to the current state of design. One example is the iF material award, which concentrates on innovative materials and material applications.
Materials are a key part of the production process and an indispensable prerequisite for any product. Our focus here is on sustainable resources and ecological, as well as economical, production processes.
Our main objective in staging the iF concepts award is to promote young talent. This award is essentially an adjunct to all of the broad-based iF competitions, offering students an opportunity to have their projects judged free of charge and to perhaps even win some of the prize purse donated by a corporate sponsor.
At the same time, they can undergo the experience of coping with the requirements of the ‘real’ marketplace.
On the whole the ingredients for a successful design competition include experienced and internationally known judges and superior processes.
These are processes such as set judging criteria; a high degree of transparency in the judging process; support for contestants, from the initial registration to the awards ceremony; plus documentation of prize-winners in a catalogue or yearbook and helping them publicise their award.
Design awards give enterprises a chance to measure their design competence – including not just technical innovations and functionality, but also things like branding and corporate identity – against the rest of the market.
A creditable design competition gives them a sense of where they stand and what their options are. Winning an award also sends a message to the people inside a company: it’s a real motivation boost for staff members.
In the student-based competitions we view the platform itself that we offer to students as the benefit. An additional incentive is the total prize purse of 10 000 euro, which is very high for a students-only competition, and of course their inclusion in the yearbook, which is sold worldwide.
Design competitions run into problems if their structures and procedures are not kept transparent. What are the criteria? Who is on the jury? How much time do the jurors have to pick the winners? These are all questions that anyone staging a design award needs to be able to answer.
When setting judging criteria our aim is to mirror current practice and, above all, to stay in sync with what is happening on the market.
For the iF product design award, this approach translates into the following criteria: design quality, workmanship, choice of materials, degree of innovation, environmental friendliness, functionality, ergonomics, visualisation of use, safety, brand value and branding.
For the digital media category of the iF communication design award we have the criteria of usability, look and feel, uniqueness, efficiency of function, aesthetics, animation quality, ease of learning, screen design, design quality, information structure, innovation, interaction, sound quality, communication and navigation structure.
Being part of a judging session is definitely a challenge. If the judges are homogeneous in their own categories, without being afraid of a little discussion, then they can argue things out without any frayed tempers and can accept and synthesize other expert opinions.
With every new jury composition there is that anxious moment of wondering how the chemistry will work. Up until now we have had positive experiences with all of our juries – we have taken their specialist opinions seriously and learned a great deal every time.
What is important to us is that the judges focus on what they are actually seeing in the competition. It is unfair to judge competition entries by comparing them with things outside the competition arena.
Overall, we consider a judging session to be successful if the judges are enjoying their work and are satisfied and even proud of their choices at the end of the process.
Bad juries are those that consist of the same personalities, whose design preferences are predictable. Non-transparent juries are also a problem: if the nomination and selection processes are not clear, then it cannot be considered a credible competition.
Another important rule is that no judge who is involved with producing or designing a product be allowed to judge that particular product.
At iF competitions, any judge in this position – and it can happen if you have well-known designers in the jury and over 2000 products submitted – automatically loses his or her right to vote and must leave the room during the decision on that particular product.
The biggest challenge involves keeping a competition up-to-date and continually refashioning its unique selling proposition. There is a real sea of design competitions out there today, of which only a very few actually make it to the top internationally and come to represent an established name or quality seal.
Staying on top of the game and adapting to new requirements is a real challenge. You can’t just rest on your laurels and point to the fact that your competition goes back to 1953. You need to keep talking with companies, designers, consumers and business representatives to find out what the trends are, what is relevant today and what will be relevant tomorrow.
One example is our ecology award for especially ecological production processes and materials, which was a separate part of our design awards until 2001. In the meantime ecological aspects have become an integral part of our judging criteria – something which is standard, not special.
Another change involves the option of submitting products or ideas which are not yet production-ripe. Both the iF product design award and the iF communication design award now have a category of this type, known as ‘advanced studies’ for the former and ‘too good to be true’ for the latter. This new feature was suggested to us from the outside.
Chelsea Sutula, manager of the IDEA awards, Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA)
The essential ingredient of a creditable awards program is, first and foremost, a blind jury. We disqualify any entry submitted that references the designer or design firm’s name (other than in the separate design credits sheet).
Similarly, companies cannot enter if that company has juror representation. Eliminating bias in the contest is critical to making it credible, although we recognise that our jurors often have knowledge or expertise which prevents them from being completely blind to who submitted a given entry. And in those cases, or if the entrant is a competitor of a juror, we expect that juror will not participate in the dialogue about that particular entry.
Next, the rules and guidelines for participants have to be clearly spelled out and adhered to. There needs to be a clause in the rules that addresses confidentiality (or relinquishment thereof).
We have to be clear that entering our awards program means giving up the right to confidentiality, so entrants should have protection in place before they consider entering.
The criteria for judging should also be clear, and these should reflect the standards of the profession.
For the winners, the benefits of design awards are publicity, exposure and recognition. In 2005 our competition made the cover of BusinessWeek magazine, with an estimated readership of 4.7 million.
The benefits of a designer getting that kind of coverage are priceless. Our winners also get colour publication in IDSA’s award-winning Innovation yearbook and IDSA.org, as well as indefinite coverage on businessweek.com.
For the public, design awards highlight the coolest designs and trends that they may not even be aware of. They may encourage the armchair entrepreneur with a great idea to get off the sofa and consider taking it to the next level. But really, it’s all about the cool factor.
For business executives, the benefits of design awards are inspiration and education. Design competitions that include business criteria, notably our Design & Business Catalyst Award, really highlight the impact that good design can have on a company’s bottom line.
Designers and manufacturers look for the reputation and credibility of an awards program; the likelihood and benefits of winning; and the cost and convenience of entering.
Some awards programs are judged too superficially and have a high ratio of awards to entries. Although companies entering these competitions have a better chance of winning, is this practice really rewarding good design, as opposed to excellent design?
Another problem is the associated fees – you may have paid to enter and have paid a lot to prepare your entry in photographer fees, translators, etc. If you win, you think ‘wonderful!!’, but then you have to pay and pay some more to exhibit your work, to use the winner’s logo, or to be published in the awards catalogue.
We try to keep these costs down and only charge for extra advertising above and beyond the basic benefits of winning.
The judging criteria for the IDEA competition have evolved with the industry and the times. Currently the criteria are five-fold, and are weighted equally: innovation, aesthetics, user benefit, client/business benefit, and ecological responsibility.
A good judge is someone with a demonstrated expertise in the categories they are judging; someone who’s not afraid to speak up and argue for or against an entry’s merit. We try to assemble an international and otherwise diverse pool of jurors with different backgrounds.
A bad judge is someone who doesn’t do the required prep work before coming to the jury (we do the first two rounds of scoring online); someone who goes with the group on every decision and doesn’t voice his/her opinions; someone who misrepresents their expertise; or, of course, someone who knowingly lets bias interfere with an ability to score objectively.
Finding new ways to streamline the process is a constant challenge. We’ve been using an online entry and judging system the past few years, which was not without its bugs and problems.
However, the ease of applying online is quite appealing to most applicants, and makes the administrative burden of managing an increasing number of entries much more manageable. It also cuts down on a lot of waste. We will be using a new software program this year so we hope that eliminates some prior frustrations.
Often applicants don’t read the instructions no matter how clearly you state them, so there are lots of phone calls and emails throughout the process. Every year we note what isn’t being made clear and fix that for the next year.
Lots of people want to submit something more or different to what the rules require, ie. more pictures at a higher resolution, longer video, or extra pages in addition to the entry form.
We have to stick mercilessly to the rules, otherwise we would be granting special exceptions and the contest wouldn’t be fair for everyone.
We’ve had an ongoing debate internally about whether to allow actual product samples as part of the submission. Although I think most judges are in favour of it, entrants are divided.
Some things are too expensive or simply aren’t available to ship. It all comes down to logistics and cost, both for entrants and for us in terms of administering it. Right now the 2D-only application process is working well.
We encourage people to send short videos of the product in use so the judges can get a better feel for user dynamics and ergonomics.