Thursday, November 16th, 2006

Beauty pageant

Beauty pageant
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Last night, ideasonideas was the recipient of a Merit award at Vancouver’s Lotus Awards. This was a nice surprise for us, and certainly made us happy. Frankly, it’s a blog—the idea of it even winning an award seemed pretty unlikely. Regardless, we sat, met some people, enjoyed a little conversation, and watched the show. It was pretty cool too. The voice-overs were very MTV awards-esque, and the presenter said “fuck” in a darned funny way. There was, however, a bit of a stink that arose through the evening.

Something was amiss

The Lotus awards are intended to celebrate both advertising and design; however, the pecking-order between the two seemed rather clear. I believe it would be fair to say that it was an ad show. First of all, the people were just too good looking. I know, it sounds odd, but ad people are “L.A.” and designers are, well… “Cleveland”. (No offense to those designers who are more “L.A.”—you are still looking fine. This reference only applies to the rest of us.)

Admittedly, this is a most superficial observation; nevertheless, it was clear who was hosting the party. For those of you who have no idea as to how the Lotus Awards work, I’ll summarize it as such: The show awards many winners with honourable mentions, called “Merits”, followed by a much smaller number of “Lotuses”, which are intended to acknowledge the most exemplary work.

The show is hosted by the Advertising Agency Association of British Columbia. As such, their strong representation makes some deal of sense. Heck, it’s their party–they should be allowed to come out on top. I think that’s why most would look past the fact that there were 29 advertising categories and 15 in total for both the design and interactive segments.

At the end of the night however, almost all of the advertising categories were awarded Lotuses, with multiple awards in some; whereas only one third of the design categories received such recognition. This equaled a total of 28 Lotuses for advertising categories, and only 5 for both of the design disciplines. Hmmm…

Talk at the “outside” tables

Now, from this sort of an imbalance, one could infer that the advertising people in Vancouver are simply brilliant, but the designers here? Well… not so much. My opinion? I don’t know—it just doesn’t seem as though our communities are really that far apart. Many of us cross these boundaries or straddle these worlds. This in my mind brings the above numbers into question.

How did this discrepancy come into being? Most of the small studios were seated at the perimeter of the room. Although I can’t confirm this, I tend to believe that the discussion at these tables was mildly different from that found at the centre of the room. As I looked to the tables around us, there was a bit of a bewildered sensation on many of the faces, followed by a couple of tables clearing out completely about two-thirds of the way into the ceremony.

As I listened to the discussion that ensued, a couple of people wondered out loud if the whole thing had to do with a bit of a silent turf-war. The general question went as such: Are the big, traditional agencies getting a little territorial, given that their large-budgets now have to compete more with the likes of new media companies and small brand firms, who produce strong work without the exorbitant rates?

The question I asked on the drive home, however, was a different one.

How the hell do you judge design anyway?

Ads are relatively easy to understand. They have to be. As a rule, most advertising must reach the lowest common denominator with some kind of value proposition as rapidly as possible. This makes sense. As Peter noted in the office this morning, the brilliance in some of the winning ads last night was that anyone could see them at the transit station and walk away with a smile.

Design however is different. It’s more layered and complex. It rarely takes the form of a one-liner or a quick joke. Design systems often have to address more specific issues and psychological motivators, not to mention the need to remain relevant in years to come. A corporate identity system for example needs to be built around more than securing a moment of attention from a passerby.

The question that I continue to ponder is how any committee can accurately judge the effectiveness of design, without adequate understanding of the design problem. If design and ads were people, good ads would generally be extroverts. They stand up and command attention. Design however would sometimes be more of an introvert. It is often supposed to be transparent, as it takes the back-seat to the purpose it serves. As such, design solutions require closer inspection in order to fully appreciate.

Should design awards require client feedback on the effectiveness of a solution, or are we just making pretty things for our friends to smile and nod over?


My second question – which is more personal in nature – is centered around whether design awards matter to me. Upon reflection, I have to admit that they sort of do. Shit; that’s embarrassing to say, but I have to admit that I appreciate accolades for our work as much as hearing that I don’t look as fat as usual.

As much as I believe the notion of design awards to be pretty silly, we’ll likely try to go for some of them in the future. I also keep hearing that they are good for connecting with new clients, which is something that we’re always happy to do. Perhaps they are a necessary evil, as we all work to gain awareness for our work, in order to continue leveraging interesting projects.

It sure would be nice however, if each design award out there demanded a brief paragraph describing the specific challenge, and how the design solution managed to address these challenges.

Sour grapes?

I write this article half-heartedly, as it could seem like an inappropriate reaction to the fact that our award wasn’t quite as nice as that shiny, glass thing that some took home. I’m happy with our award for Merit and I don’t believe that a blog had any right to win one of the higher honors. That said, I was disappointed to see the entire design community treated as a less-relevant cousin of the ad industry. (Regardless of how “Cleveland” we may look.)

Either way, we’ll probably be there next year. It was a fun night out, and the salmon was really good. Although, next year I will drink more.

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