Last Friday night was the Cincinnati ADDY's awards ceremony. I finally had a campaign I could enter for the professional competition and sat with some anticipation when they rattled off the gold and silver winners. Sadly, I did not win anything. Before they announced the Best of Show winner, I was already out the door and back at the bar to get my last free beverage. You might be thinking this is going to be that lamentation of a loser that didn't win anything because her work just sucked or didn't stack up to the big-boys. First off, false on all counts. Second, there's an obvious trend to who wins these awards, and it always comes back to money and hands on deck.
I knew weeks ago that I wasn't going to win, but I wanted to try anyway. It might be some form of masochism that I took the time, effort, and money to enter my work into a contest that I knew I had very little chance in being noticed. I've already covered the subject of judged contests before, yet I wanted to try one more time. After seeing the winners and what projects actually won, I know it's a numbers game.
My business consists of a solitary person doing all the work: me. I design, edit, modify, upload, download, print, proof, and package all the pieces. The campaign I entered was the labor of 11 months and spanned from the web, to social media, to print, to a coloring book, to buttons, to in-person events, and to a hand-sewn puppet. Yes, a puppet. Budget wise I spent more on it than I earned from it. It was for a good cause, a non-profit fundraiser, so I felt good doing it.
The winners had many more people developing the concept and probably even more people involved executing the final product. With much higher budgets and access to skills and labor, my little one person work has no chance on the professional platform against established agencies. Does more money mean 'better' campaigns or just the kind of campaigns that win at peer-judged shows? More often than not, the answer is yes. Is that a solid measure of a successful campaign? Well, that feature was overlooked for this contest. From the impression I got it was just the best looking work, not a reflection of how well it did in the wild.
One aspect that I didn't participate in this year was the People's Choice (PC) voting. A total of 16 projects were presented as options for the PC, but there were many, MANY more entries available. Out of the 16 to pick from, two won gold in a different category and six won silver. Half of the entries already won something. That isn't to say they aren't worthy of being in the running for the PC award, but I don't understand how only these 16 were our options.
Being given only a selection of 16 to vote on didn't make sense. How is this the People's Choice if we're told which projects are up for the vote? This isn't the election folks; this is the People's Choice. Why not put numbers on all the projects that were on display and have the people pick from everything? That would actually be a choice. This is a lot like the Oscars where the films that are more often nominated are films that weren't seen by the mass public. It's an inside job by members of the Oscars, not by the box office success of a film. Which is a clear measure of how well, or poorly, received a film was. This is a favorites game played by a select few. This wasn't a reflection of the people at large, just the judges; both the Oscars and the ADDY's.
This experience isn't one that left me bitter, but has reaffirmed my feelings on judged competitions. If I made work that was only to satisfy a designer's eye, then maybe I'd have a better chance at notoriety among other designers. But I didn't get into this business to be rewarded for making work that only appeals to a specific demographic. I make work that best reflects the brands and businesses I work with. It isn't for me, it's for them. It's always been for them. If they are happy, then I'm happy. And they are not designers. If I make work with designers in mind, I've alienated my client and missed the mark on what really matters.
Maybe one day I'll enter a project that was just for the sake of winning an award. But until they reduce the cost of entry into the competition AND the ceremony, I'll give them a skip.
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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.
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