13 November 2006
Helmut Langer
Helmut Langer

Part 1: International Design Award Schemes - for work which has already been produced and published.

In recent years more and more international award schemes, biennales, or annual shows are on the global markets. There is already a veritable battle for prestige going on among the organisers of international award schemes. This inflation is contributing to a devaluation of awards. To take part in all of them you'd have no time for any new design work, because of the time-consuming job of getting together the work samples, labeling them, producing the requested photos or digital files, packaging them up, filling out the entry forms, and finally sending them off.

All of this costs not just time, but money, too. Some biennales and triennales still don't charge any fees, but more and more organisers are demanding entry fees, even some organisers screw the designers. But the payments often don't stop with the entry fees, if your work is chosen by the jury, then you could be in for follow-on costs: extra money for the awards presentation exhibition, the travelling exhibition, the publishing on the web, or the yearbook etc. Sometimes these additional expenses are hidden away or written in the small print of the contract. Sometimes you are asked to agree with your signature to accept the cost for the publishing in the annual, but aren't told the actual level of the payments until later.

Before taking part in a competition then, you should therefore read carefully the entire conditions for entry in the competition. Especially you should check if the conditions comply with the international regulations guidelines for professional and fair international competitions and award schemes, as set out by the three world bodies for design:
- International Council of Graphic Design Associations (ICOGRADA),
- International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID) and
- International Federation of Interior Architects/Designers (IFI).

What do the three design bodies set out in their guidelines for international design award schemes?

Listed below are the most important criteria that an awards competition must adhere to:

Deadlines for submission
The period between the announcement of the rules and conditions and the closing date for submissions is normally no less than one month and no more than six months.

The jury
The promoters shall appoint a panel of five or more judges an equal number of men and women, if possible, who have appropriate and relevant competence and standing. If a competition has several categories and for each of them a separate jury is installed, then each separate jury must have a panel of five or more judges.

The number of practising designers serving as judges should be more than those of other experts. Judges, who are not practising, should have expertise of relevance to the competition.

The jury must be international. The judges shall be selected from different countries and world regions. No majority representation by one country should be allowed on the panel. An international award scheme should have judges, if possible, represent all five continents, to consider and balance different tastes, traditions and cultures.

No organiser or sponsor may be represented in the jury, neither as a member, nor as a moderator, nor in any other form. A jury must be independent.

The judges shall elect a chairperson from the panel of jury members and decide on the voting procedure. In order to guarantee the independence of the jury, the jury chairperson may not be determined in advance by the organiser.

Exclusion clause
Judges, their families, studios and design teams must be explicitly excluded by the organiser to take part in the competition.

Pre-selection committees
At some competitions (e.g. biennales), when a large number of entries are expected, a pre-selection committee may be set up to carry out the preliminary selection of entries. These committees
also have to fulfil the above-mentioned criteria, with the exception that only one international member has to belong to the otherwise national pre-selection committee.

Judging criteria
Attention should be paid to any judging criteria set out in the application documentation. Careful consideration should be given to whether your work is suitable to be assessed on these criteria. It could be the case that your work was designed to other criteria, for a very specific client commission. If a competition does not state any judgement criteria, and you do participate, then you are entering with open eyes into a dubious lottery game.

Draw your conclusions
If only one of the above guideline is disregarded - thus the check is negative - then you should strictly not take part. If no judging criteria are defined, an improperly composed jury is installed or the organiser 'meddles' in the jury, your chances for success are less then rosy. You would be doing yourself, your profession, your clients and also society in general no service by taking part in unprofessionally organised competitions. Such competitions project a distorted image of design in public, in some areas (e.g. product design) prompt false behaviour patterns on the part of consumers, set up false models for the next generation of designers, and do harm to the cultural, social, economic and environmental dimensions of design. Such competitions do not produce good results - they serve only a subjective lobby.

About this article
Part 1 of this multi-part article was originally published in novum 07/04 and is re-published with permission.

In Part 2 of the 'Competitions...' article, read about Cost Benefit Analysis, Client Involvement, and more...

About Helmut Langer

Helmut Langer was President and member of the board of Icograda from 1987 to 1993. Since 1993, he has been advising as international competition expert to Icograda and to international organisers of competitions. Helmut has served as juror at many competitions around the world. He received many prizes and awards for his design works, but he no longer takes part in design award schemes, since he is acting as international competition expert. Beside his design work for international organisations and companies he is passing on his experience and know-how as guest professor at various universities worldwide; currently he is a guest professor at Nagoya University of Arts in Nagoya/Japan.

Because of the global concern about raising competition standards, Langer's 'Competition' article is being published world-wide. The article will be published or has been published in German (NOVUM magazine Germany), Chinese (PACKAGE & DESIGN, China and DESIGN in Taiwan), Spanish (several design magazines in Latin America), Korean (DESIGN IN KOREA, South Korea), Russian (KAK magazine, Russia), Japanese (DESIGNERS' WORKSHOP magazine, Japan), and in several other magazines and designers' information services.

About novum
novum - WORLD OF GRAPHIC DESIGN is an international magazine for communication design (German/English). The first issue was published in 1924 - the magazine celebrates its 80th anniversary in 2004. Each month novum shows the best works in graphic design, packaging, web design, advertising, editorial design, illustration and features special topics like trade fair design, orientation systems, typography, event design and many others.