Abhisek Sarda / 2015-02-04

A few thoughts on Design Awards


Beard Design was nominated by public vote for the Pool Magazine’s India’s Best Design Studio list. And I received an email asking us to submit documents and work samples for the next round of judging by a panel. We’ve decided not to participate in this for several reasons. Some of which I’d like to share here as my thoughts on awards and “best _______ lists”. 


1. Personally, I don’t believe very much in awards and lists. I feel that these are very narrow forms of recognition, which leave out a lot of context and focus on the wrong kind of attributes in a piece of work. For instance, how do you judge a branding project in any wholesome way, without understanding the context – the client, objectives, effectiveness, constraints etc… For most awards and lists, work is judged at a slightly shallower level of whether it is clever. And that is why we see work, especially in advertising, that is done only to win awards. Because that kind of work might never work in the real world. We’ve ourselves participated in awards in our first two years, but always with a little discomfort about the process and with a certain short-sightedness and immaturity of a young studio. 


2. Leaving my philosophical disagreement with awards aside, if an award was to be instituted as a means to encourage work in a certain industry, it would have to have a rigor of process and methodology that would stand up to scrutiny. Asking for public nomination on social media, in my humble opinion, is the worst way to initiate a selection / shortlisting process. Are we then judging work and studios, based on their popularity among a certain set of people (less than 500)? Social Media fame is hardly a credible parameter to judge anything (except Kim Kardashian’s bum!). We did get nominated by a public vote and I’m glad that enough people were moved by our work to nominate us. However, an award with social media popularity as its starting point, would have very little meaning for us. 


3. Coming to the specific methodology of this particular award, there are glaring problems with it. I’d only like to point out two. One, the categorization is stupid. How do you separate Graphic Design and Brand Design? Beard Design was actually nominated in the “graphic design” category. Anyone who’s seen our work knows that 90% of our graphic design work, is brand identity design. This is what happens when you combine confusing categorization with social media voting. Worse still, there is a “UX” category. What does this even mean? An all-encompassing category for all digital work? This is ignorant of the many facets of designing for the screen. At the very least, there would be a Web Design and UX/UI category. Anyone who understands designing for the screen even a little, would understand that a good web designer may not necessarily be a good UX/UI designer and the other way around. Two, some of the nominations are ridiculous. The UX category has a $2 bn mobile ad network, a hardware manufacturer and a “UX studio” who has text as images on their homepage and hasn’t figured out a way to make their website responsive yet (in 2015, can you believe it!). This is symptomatic of the problems of a poorly thought out nomination process and “popularity” as the criteria. Design studios are not Bollywood superstars. You cannot judge them by popularity. Otherwise you get a Salman Khan. 


This is not to take away from the enormous effort spent by Pool Magazine on this exercise. I’m sure they’ve put in hundreds of hours and will spend more in the next round, all with good intention. Its a first-step and I’m sure they’ll fix these problems as they move along. 


However, we’ll sit out this one and won’t be participating in the next round. 


Abhisek Sarda

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