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February 19, 2010
Designing to Win

Every year, design organizations and magazines send elaborate call-for-entry campaigns, enticing hopeful designers to enter their work. The process, fees, and paperwork can be daunting to some, but keeping an eye on the prize can be easier than people think.

Selecting work

In order to streamline the decision-making process, keep a list of worthy projects throughout the year. If there are more selections than dollars in the budget, ask design colleagues to review and narrow down the entries. Solana Crawford, founder and chief design officer at DESIGN about TOWN in San Francisco recommended looking at the winners of previous years.

“Look at your work and make sure it is at the same level or above." she advised. "Be as objective with your work as possible, and don’t submit anything that looks too outdated."

While James Smith, founding partner at Smith Design in Glen Ridge, New Jersey suggested entering if you can afford it financially and mentally.

“If you feel confident you’ve got a winner, or at least a competitor, and can afford the entry fee, go for it," he said. "It’s a great way to measure your progress against your competition, as well as see what the judges were looking for."

"Whatever competition you enter, you should expect to win with your entry. Otherwise, save the money and the hurt ego.”

Entering design awards 

The awards presented from design associations and design magazines are the most coveted to receive since they are chosen by peers. However, don’t over look other avenues that value design and offer award programs. Folio: Magazine, for example, is a trade magazine that covers the magazine publishing industry and hosts a yearly design award called the “Ozzie’s," highlighting editorial design.

Even though many designers may have never heard of the award,  it is coveted within the magazine publishing community.

“Choose what [design competition] will give you and your firm the best exposure," Smith said. "It’s all about keeping your brand out there, but it’s also nice to win.”

Tracking deadlines and entry fees

James Pietruszynski, partner and creative director at Soulsight in Chicago, chooses design awards based on three criteria: price, notability, and exposure.

Since entry fees can be steep, organization is important. To avoid missing deadlines and paying late fees, maintain a calendar with deadlines and costs. Take advantage of discounted rates, such as early entry specials, student discounts, and member or quantity discounts.

Read the directions carefully when preparing design entries, as some award programs will disqualify an entry if any part of the application process is incorrect. Give proper credit to the staff associated with the design.

Also, proofread the paperwork, especially names, and make sure the copy is legible. If you're unsure what category the work belongs in, call the design awards directly so you don’t risk being disqualified.

Marketing your win or managing your loss

Congratulations you’ve won! Winning a design award changes you from a designer to an award-winning designer. Market the win by using the award logo on your Web site and on marketing materials. Don’t be shy. Showcase certificates and trophies in full view of potential clients.

If the entry doesn’t win, don’t get discouraged. Continue to push the creative envelope and work hard to produce new work. Review the award winners to see how your entry measured up, and be honest with yourself. If you feel your entry was superior, submit to other design awards.

The design process isn’t about winning awards but producing the best design for your client. If your client is happy then you’ve already won, so consider a design award the cherry on top.

Remember to savor your wins and shrug off any losses. There’s always next year.

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Ana Paula Rodrigues is employed at Nielsen Business Media as an Art Director for an award-winning magazine. Additionally, she freelances and also donates her design services to non-profit organizations. She is currently a board member for the Art Directors Club of New Jersey. She has served as a judge for several design awards and has been awarded a number of design awards. Read her blog.
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