How to win design awards, and why it matters

Marketers tell us why good design is so important to a successful campaign and a selection of design award judges reveal what makes a winning entry.

The marketers

What is the value to your brand of top-quality design?


In January 2013, ITV undertook what we believe to be the most ambitious rebrand ever undertaken by a media business. The logo, identity, brand behaviour and advertising were all changed. We now have a modern, flexible and dynamic identity that stands out in a crowded marketplace, embraces all aspects of our business and is much better suited to the emerging digital landscape. To win creative awards is always great but most importantly, our viewers, customers and colleagues are universally positive about the new ITV brand.


It is always great to receive positive feedback on a brand identity, but having the Made in Britain marque win a Design Week Award has also helped to raise the profile of the marque and the campaign. As we’re asking our members to use our brand identity alongside theirs on a vast amount of different products and materials, having this reinforcement of design quality helps us to pitch the concept to our members. Furthermore, by receiving this award, we know that the identity is doing its job.


Fantastic design is central to the success of our business. For example, we redesigned the Baileys bottle to make it taller and sleeker but the black colour remains core to our brand. We updated the symbol on the neck of the bottle, which is iconography that is used across the industry. With the Chocolat Luxe variant, we took the iconic black bottle and used a beautiful design aesthetic to differentiate it and add luxury cues. Our creative focus is on women who tend to like nicely designed things and aesthetic appeal is definitely important.


What makes great design depends on who you are talking to. If it’s luxury communications then it will be different from other segments. The more you go to the upper segment and the more romantic relationship you build with your audience, the more you need to decode – either you belong to it or not.  The more you go to a lower and a broader audience the simpler the message needs to be. Both need a clear structure in terms of design. It needs to be uncluttered. It’s important to have a great graphic and understand colours.

The judges

When judging design awards, what do you look for in winning work?


We look for an original, beautifully executed idea, just as we always have. Good things never change — surprisingly hard to find, these rare diamonds lie beyond vanity and way past commercialism. Some shine so brightly, with such fire and light, that they change the way we look at our own work forever. At D&AD, we award these elusive wonders ‘The D&AD Black Pencil’. The true power of work like this is not in celebrating it with semi-precious metal, but in sharing it. Only then can it inspire even greater work in the future.


I’ve been lucky to work on some of design’s frontiers, first in Silicon Valley creating first-generation consumer digital products, and now back in London enabling design-led approaches to social challenges. For me, a winning design or designer must explore a frontier. As German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer put it, ‘Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see’. The genius of design is to create new ways of living and of improving the world. When on a competition jury, I expect nothing less!


The most important thing is recognising the power of the big idea behind the design – a design that has visionary and not just visual power and that pushes boundaries, challenges the status quo and ultimately drives positive change. These game-changing designs of the future will cut through the white noise of today’s world to deliver unexpected creativity that creates something clear and original. Award-winning designs of this kind should demonstrate their value in a number of ways, in conjunction with creativity. They also demonstrate a trusted relationship between client and designer, as it often takes a courageous client to approve award-winning work.


To put it simply – a good idea, well executed. So what constitutes a good idea? In my experience design juries agree on this surprisingly quickly. But a truly winning idea is one that’s brave enough to stand apart and tread new ground – that’s where the intense debating starts. Designs that come out on top tend to disrupt the category norms, rather than lazily conforming to an established formula. But it’s worth remembering that execution has equal weight when it comes to the judges’ final choices. Perfectly considered materials, beautifully crafted typography, arresting illustration and intelligent copywriting can further elevate an entry from agonisingly close to glorious victory.


Producing clever ideas and executing them beautifully is the formula. No matter how ingenious the concept is, if it’s not presented well, it’s not award-winning. On the flip side, if something is fantastically executed but has no meaning, message or purpose then it’s boring and isn’t award-winning either. As I work with interactive design, I also look for innovative ways of using new technology – but the same principles apply here too.


I am looking for the impossible – the rarest of things, a bit of magic. Relevant but truly unexpected, single-minded without compromise. I want a piece of work that visually seduces me and reels me in, communicating without the 200-word explanation. It will leave me with feelings of admiration and envy, pondering how they thought of such a great idea and how the hell they got it through. At the end of the day, it will be the idea I can’t get out of my head – the project I end up boring everyone with back at the studio as I try to create the impossible too!


Design Week Creative Survey: Award-winning work

Angus Montgomery

The top six consultancies in this year’s Creative Survey, compiled by Marketing Week’s sister brand Design Week, have clients ranging from Levi’s to a self-employed proofreader. We take a closer look at how the winners handled such a diverse spectrum of briefs.


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