Almost 200 applicants entered the prestigious awards, acknowledging the importance of professional awards in all areas of design. According to organisers, the number of entrants in each category has been increasing each year while categories have been extended to include Furniture Design, Textile Design, Engineering Design and Software-Electronics Design. A new category for Student Design and Invention has also been included.

Television and radio science personality, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, was the host of the 2003 Australian Design Awards Gala Dinner & Awards Ceremony held this year at Melbourne Town Hall. Special guests included the Federal Minister for Science, the Hon Peter McGauran and celebrity designer Mr James Dyson.

The Awards aim to recognise and reward excellence in Australian product design and innovation. The gala evening provided an opportunity to highlight the outstanding quality of all winners in a wide variety of categories. According to the organisers, the Awards also show the rest of the world the high quality of design expertise available to manufacturers in Australia and internationally.

Since 1991, the Australian Design Awards program has been a division of Standards Australia, it aims to raise the profile and significance of professional product design in Australia in the development of globally competitive products.

Adjunct Professor Alex Churches, Head of Design, School Of Mechanical & Manufacturing Engineering at the University of NSW, is a long-serving judge in the Australian Design Awards program. Churches said the success of the Awards was due in part to the outstanding contribution of time and expertise from professional leaders across Australia.

“The first round of judging, or shortlisting is now conducted via the Internet which allows for more intensive judging by a wider range of professional people from around the world.

“This extensive input has the additional benefit of sharpening the design skills of all those who take part in judging. The process requires that they look critically at the design features of a large variety of products.”

Churches says the judging procedure was changed a few years ago to take advantage of the increasing availability of the Internet. Prior to the changes, all entries went straight to what are now second-round judging panels. 

More than two hundred industry peers were invited to take part in this first round selection process.

“We are always looking for appropriately qualified people to join the list – the more qualified people we have, the better the judging process,” he said.

“New judges are always encouraged to participate by contacting the Australian Design Awards and sending a brief resume. The majority of judges are directors or managing directors of their own consultancies or academics in design education. 

“We are also grateful for the excellent contribution made by many in the manufacturing industry.”

According to Churches the judges who assist at the first round stage via the Internet spend between five to eight hours looking over the entries.

Second-round judges are almost exclusively people who have already completed the Internet judging stage. A second-round judging panel comprises four or five people plus a chairperson.

The large number of entrants in Industrial Design means that there must be two panels for this category. There is one panel for Engineering Design, Software/ Electronics, Furniture Design, and Textile Design. In total there are about thirty judges. The chairperson of each panel is responsible for organising factory or site visits where needed and for coordinating final decisions, so that person’s commitment of time may be well over one week. 

For the most popular categories, three days of judging is necessary to assess the shortlisted entries. Many of the judges travel from interstate so their time commitment is four or possibly five days. 

According to Churches, the fact that so many top designers are prepared to donate such an amount of time suggests they support the Awards as a worthwhile contribution to promoting excellence in design and they are proud to be associated with them.

“It is an extremely difficult and time consuming job to coordinate the judging panels and the entrants – particularly when some products are entered in two or three categories. But everyone is committed to making it work.”

Churches first joined the judging team of the Australian Design Awards in 1997 and says he is proud of the growth of the Awards, both in number of entrants and in stature and recognition.

“I have been able to contribute in the Engineering Design category firstly as a member of the panel and more recently I have chaired the Engineering Design panel on three occasions. Brandon Gien, from the Australian Design Awards, is the man who holds it all together. 

“I enjoy the roles I’ve had. I always get a kick out of working closely with a group of first class engineers on the judging panel. The high point of being a judge is the submission. Year after year we see a wonderful range of products displaying excellent Australian design. 

“One of the problems that can frustrate judges is when an entry appears to have sufficient merit for an award but for some reason the judging panel cannot get a clear presentation of the relevant data. 

“Other disappointments occur when the concept is excellent but the product has been let down by poor detail design. It seems to me that there are many occasions on which great benefits could come from closer liaison between engineers and industrial designers, and vice versa.”

Prior to about 1996, the Awards had no categories at all. Both Engineering Design and Software-Electronics Design were introduced in about 1997, Furniture Design in about 2000 and Textile Design in 2002. 

Consumer products make up the major group receiving Awards. However, in the Engineering Design category, it is not unusual to find that products such as highly specialised scientific and biotechnological instruments, having fairly limited sales potential, may still receive an award.

Churches says successful teams who take out an award at the gala event each year also recognise that the benefits they reap go way beyond that one evening. He believes that receiving an award will help increase product sales, staff morale and help build profile.

“There remains much to be done to put Australian design in a prominent position on the world map, but the Australian Design Awards are moving in that direction. I think it is generally recognised that an Award does help to increase sales and to get a toe-hold in export markets. 

Churches said the winner of the 2003 Design Award of the Year, the Betachek G5 glucose meter was judged to be the most outstanding product submitted in any category and was a worthy winner.

“The Betachek G5 was entered in two categories – Software/Electronics Design and Industrial Design. It was judged worthy of an Australian Design Award (the highest award) in both categories,” he said. 

“I think it fair to say that the combination of Industrial Design plus capitalising on recent advances in Software/Electronics Design both contributed significantly to the decision.”  

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