And the Loser is…

by Jan 8, 2015

Awards. Everyone wants to be recognized for their achievements and hard work. But what do they mean? Do they stand for groundbreaking success within a field of work, or is it an ego-stroke judged by appealing only to peers within the field? Are they a reliable point of measure for how good you are, or will be, in your work? And if you don’t win one, does that mean you suck?

To start off; no, I personally have not won an award for my design work. I have entered into a few competitions, like three maybe, but I never felt like I had a chance of winning. I see the point of industry based awards, and it’s a great chance to put a lot of talented designers into a room and see what they’ve been working on. But isn’t that enough?

Why I felt I had no chance of winning was this: I didn’t create the work to win. The projects I entered were designed for specific clients and were deemed successful by them, not by a design judging committee. I knew that any piece I entered that was created for a real-world client wouldn’t even come close to winning. It was created to satisfy the client only. I always mean to create something new for these contests, but I never have time to start or finish before the entry date rolls around. So in the end, I don’t bother. And that does not make me a bad designer, though it didn’t help my ego when I lost either.

When I was fresh out of design school, most jobs I applied for always tacked on the “award winning” title somewhere on their posts. I was less interested in what came across as their cut-throat competitiveness and more interested in how successful their work was. If you’ve won an award, then congrats. Be proud of the accomplishment. But don’t ride that title as your only point of success. And if you haven’t won an award, then that’s OK too. Whether you’ve entered and never won, or never competed at all, that doesn’t label you as a bad designer by any means. Sure, some agencies give awards too much clout and then have higher expectations of your performance because of it. If you produce great work but never win an award for it, that doesn’t undermine everything you’ve done up to now or will do. The same goes for the winners. Just because you won an award doesn’t mean everything you do from now on will turn to gold.

In a world where parents demand their child to be treated “special” and are given trophies for participation, we as a society put too much weight in awards. As adults, we look at them as things that were earned and involved a lot of hard work. No, I don’t hold ill-will against any one if they’ve won. But I also don’t overlook those whom haven’t won anything. I certainly hope I’m not the only one.