Reflections on judging a design competition

Last week I was once again a judge for the international Summit Creative Awards. My cohorts in judging the primarily print category entries were Ilan Geva, of the new firm Ilan Geva & Friends, and Simon Coffin of Turner Studios. We spent two full days reviewing, commenting and rating hotel conference rooms full of logos, identity packages, packaging designs, self-promotion, annual reports, brochures, advertising, signage, copywriting, ideas never produced, and other items created by students, designers and creative firms from around the world.

A couple weeks ago I was asked by another designer if I would have the opportunity to travel for the judging. As a matter of fact, I did get to travel - to a hotel about four miles from my North Portland home studio.

Competition results will not be announced until the judging of broadcast, interactive media and emerging media is completed in the next month. Email or letter notification is scheduled to go out to all entrants by April 23 according to competition staff.

While somewhat fresh in my mind, I wanted to post some comments about the competition and my third Summit Creative Awards judging experience:

• Over the course of the Summit Awards history, design work from over 50 countries, on five continents, has been submitted. It is fascinating to see the scope of international work - especially the pieces submitted annually from designers in countries such as Dubai and Kuwait. It sure would be helpful to the judges if all the foreign entries included translations of the project text.

• The new rebranding/logo re-design category was very well received and I enjoyed seeing the many design solutions submitted. Unfortunately, not all submitters thought to include the "before" images for comparison to the final new identity.

• Hundreds of logos were submitted in the various identity categories. (I only had to excuse myself from judging one design I knew a bit too well.) Again, it would have been very helpful to those judging the design if all had included a short description of the type of business being identified - as requested in the call for entries. Taken completely out of context, it was difficult to give some well-designed images the credit probably deserved as a communication vehicle.

• The competition category that disappointed me was direct mail. It would seem that many designers do not understand how to create effective direct mail pieces. Paper folds didn't necessarily work well within the some designs, image/text placements were very awkward in some cases, and the required message often got lost in over-designed or cluttered pieces.

• The previous two years, when judging the Summit Awards, I walked into rooms full of pieces designed using lime green and orange as ink colors. Obviously, those colors were an over-used trend of the years prior to the submission deadlines. This year there was much more variety in the color treatment of materials in all categories. There did seem to be a greater use of earth tones, or subtle colors, that did not "scream" at the target audience.

• Paper textures, special ink treatments, unique bindings, the actual size of some submitted pieces, and even the smell of inks, always give the judges a wide variety of aspects to take into consideration when reviewing a piece of work. While the Internet upload option for competition entries is a valuable convenience for some designers - especially those in other countries who need to take shipping costs into consideration - and works well for logos, ads, and some stationery packages, many pieces lost so much being presented as a flat, color laser print.

• There is hope for the future of the design profession. Some of the student work submitted was incredible. Although the students are not creating projects in a "real world" atmosphere of clients, budgets, unrealistic deadlines and the like, the creativity, execution and presentation - swooshes, bevels, drop shadows and Photoshop effects - was all "there" in many of the university submissions

• Designers do have a lot of fun when it comes to creating their own stationery packages, promotion pieces and holiday promotions. (Again, I did need to excuse myself from judging two pieces in these sections, as there will be showcased in my future book.) Creativity oozed from some of the submitted work created with the designer, or creative firm, as their own client.

• Simple is good! When design work is presented in the competition setting next to hundreds of other pieces, the well-designed, beautifully executed, simple work stands out every time. Designers should consider that fact when sending pieces they are creating for clients - the end result needs to stand out in the sensory-overload world in which we live.

Judging such competitions is a great way to network with other design professionals while participating in a industry event, and possibily be inspired as a designer at the same time. I encourage others to contact industry design competitions in your area to offer your services as a judge or competition staff.

In the interest of full disclosure I should also mention that I participate annually in the Summit Creative Awards as a submitter. Since 1998 I have won 15 Summit Creative Awards, including two golds for identity design. Other designers should consider submitting their work to such competitions. My most recent list of design competitions is posted in an earlier bLog-oMotives entry.

I do want to thank Summit Creative Awards Executive Director Jocelyn Luciano and her excellent staff. The organization puts on a good show and treat the competition judges very well each year. It's a pleasure being associated with the organization.

Photo: Myself, Simon Coffin and Ilan Geva at the Marrakesh Moroccan Restaurant during the judging weekend

© 2007 Jeff Fisher LogoMotives

1 comment:

David said...

A very interesting read, Jeff. Thanks for this.

I know how busy you are, but if you have any judging guidelines you could email, I would be very grateful.

I'm conscious of the fact that some judges will be familiar with the logos being entered, and I'm unsure how to keep the awards as fair and ethical as possible. For instance, you graciously stepped down from judging one of the designs you mentioned in your article. Is there some standard text that you've read in judging rules to cover this base?

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