#52 “Award-winning design” is a hollow credential.

Awards from other design committees are usually pretty meaningless to most clients. Designers awarding designers certificates and trophies sounds sort of silly. What matters most to clients is if you have a success story of your own where your design made someone money or helped them achieve a goal.

I was once in a designer’s studio and saw all of the awards hanging on the wall (art directors club in a big city.) I said, “Wow. You guys have won a lot of awards.” He sort of snorted and said, “Those aren’t really significant.” He knew that happy clients vote with their dollars. That’s the most significant award of all. It’s the applause.

“Award-winning design” is slick design-speak and a cliché hollow credential.

A wall of design awards from other designers is like a plaque on the wall in a doctor’s office saying he’s one of the top doctor’s in America and it was given to him by an organization to whom he pays membership fees. I’ve challenged doctors on this smoke screen and they usually blush.

Awards are not 3rd party endorsements. We pay dues to belong to the club. Or a fee to enter. I’ve seen contests where everybody gets at least an “honorable mention.”

Definition third-party endorsement: Solicited or unsolicited recommendation or testimonial from a customer other than the seller of a service.

An award from a contest of peers is not a  recommendation or testimonial. It’s an unaccredited decision by trial. The judges may be biased or opinionated experts. They could be your relatives – or worse design celebrities. They may choose a ten-year-old’s color crayon of a kitten over my entry because it’s so “cute.”

Real client success is a better and safer story to tell.
If our clientèle is not “design literate,” it’s our job to educate them and not leave them in ignorance. They become better clients that way. If they ever do read a design book, they may wake up and realize award are frequently a sham of designer reciprocity or money-making ventures.

The “halo effect” is a true principle. There are various ways to generate this “feeling” for first impressions. It’s about client experience. It happens in the first 50 milliseconds they step into your site, your brochure, or your studio entry. It bypasses all of the logical parts of our brain. It’s visceral or subconscious.

But yeah. Passionate is the word about me being anti-awards. Using “awards” as evidence brings out my monster. Even Hollywood academy awards. Actor’s presenting actors awards? It goes against my idealist grain.

I’ve paid to go to “laser engineering seminars,” “graphic design seminars,” and other such “accredited” stuff. Some guys sleep through the sessions and at the end everyone gets a certificate that they attended the course. They then take that to their office and hang it on the wall. Thus they are now pronounced an “expert.”

Are awards a “credibility enhancer” for your clientèle?
What do those awards prove? That you met some minimum standard, that other designer’s like your novel work, or how much profit you made your client? I don’t know if it really indicates any of these things.

Credibility is built from three components: trustworthiness, expertise, and enthusiasm. You can’t hold any of those in your hand. They’re intangibles and
compelling stories get those messages across. Usually, honest tales about success and failure (warts and all) demonstrate these components.

If you show me a well-designed portfolio piece, I may like the eye candy, but when it really comes alive is when you tell me what it did for your client. Then I want to buy what that client bought: success.

I’ve seen award-winning designs that only designers could love. They were impractical for the business needs of clients. In other words, designed without limitations of time or money. Most clients do not have those deep pockets to produce “portfolio pieces.” They need to achieve some kind of measurable goal for less.

I’m pushing back on the idea “awards are proof of goodness.” Omitting that claim (brag) and finding a better story to tell will enhance your credibility more.

We all need to improve. Me especially. I don’t claim to be an “award-winning” designer or even a mediocre designer. Be passionate about excellence. You’ll make my world a better place.

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