Porn for the creative soul

Award ceremonies and design competitions are a dime a dozen. Are they worth the price of admission? Jason Arber has mixed feelings.

Awards are funny things. Design agencies large and small love them and usually allocate an area near their reception to showcase rows of gleaming trophies. The formula is deceptively simple: the more awards, the better the agency. But if you're using awards as a yardstick to measure an agency's ability to deliver creative results, then you need a long lie down in a darkened room.

It's bad enough that some clients are hypnotised by glass cases full of D&AD Pencils, but worse still are the art directors obsessed with winning awards. There are hundreds of design awards in existence, offering trophies, certificates and adulation aplenty. If you enter as many as you can, you're bound to bag a handful based on the law of averages alone. For lesser-known design-award bodies you may be the only entry in your category, almost guaranteeing you a win no matter how bad the submission. Other awards are so specific that you may find yourself winning just because everybody else has been whittled away. How many clients won't bother reading the fine engraving to learn that your award is for "Best Banner Ad Featuring A Cat, A Bathtub And A Monkey With An Afro"?

Chasing awards can be an expensive business. Most require some kind of entrance fee or financial contribution (those black-tie dinners don't pay for themselves, you know). Smaller agencies have to pick and choose their best work to get the maximum bang for their buck. But larger agencies can afford to enter just about everything - even accidentally submitting the floor-waxer if the caretaker forgets to stow it back in the cupboard. Is it any wonder the shelves of super-agencies are positively groaning?

Sick of talent
I'm not completely down on awards. Getting one from your peers does wonders for your confidence, and industry recognition can have tangible financial benefits.

As for the ceremony itself, once the bar has shut and you've gingerly stepped over the art directors lying in watery pools of their own vomit, you might catch a glimpse of your boss picking a fight with his reflection in the lobby. Life doesn't get any better than that!

Even for a casual observer, especially when taken in aggregate, awards can be useful for spotting trends and finding cutting-edge styles and techniques. The standard of work can be extremely high, and it's impossible to thumb through an award catalogue or view entries online without getting jazzed and dizzy with excitement. It's porn for the creative soul.

But if you can't be bothered with the whole dreary business of filling in entry forms and forking over your hard-earned cash for uncertain rewards, then here's my solution. Take the tinfoil carton from any Chinese or Indian takeaway, rinse in warm soapy water and turn upside-down. Tape a spring to the top, garnish with an old USB mouse and spray-paint the whole thing gold. Repeat perhaps a dozen or so times and put your new 'awards' on glass shelves in reception. Bask in the newfound respect your existing clients shower you with, and watch in satisfaction as new clients fight for your attention. Like I said, awards are funny things.