5 thoughts on the essential elements of award winning design

Published:  October 9, 2014

We caught up with some of the industry’s top representatives when it comes to criticising and celebrating design, to ask what they think lies behind the kind of work that wins trophies, accolades and yellow pencils. With our own Create Awards coming up, it’s been fascinating to see the response toward competition in the industry — some studios thrive on awards, while others excuse them all together. Looking at the commentary below, it seems that it’s more than a game of who’s ‘better’ or ‘best’:


IBM Smarter Planet by Office — 2014 National Design Awards: Communication Design

Ric Grefe, AIGA

If design is the purposeful use of empathy, creativity, and awe-inspiring execution to improve the human experience, then great design will be work that may move consumers, and may move markets, but most of all moves “me”, whoever that might be. Great design always involves the designer’s head, heart and hand, in varying degrees depending upon the application, but always present. It must meet its purpose, usually with the caveat that drove Einstein: “…as simple as possible, and no simpler.” Yet it always results in the spark of recognition and awe in the hands of a human, who realises it works well and just maybe stirs the spirit too.


Amsterdam Sinfonietta by Studio Dumbar — 2014 D&AD Yellow Pencil: Graphic Design


Whitney Museum of Americna Art Identity (in-house) — 2014 D&AD Yellow Pencil: Graphic Design

Mark Bonner, D&AD

The one, defining element in award-winning design is memorability. We communicate messages via design. Being successfully received is only part of the task. Being successfully decoded the second. Lift off is in being remembered. Originality is memorability’s best friend.


Dinosaur Designs Publication by Hoyne — Graphis Design Annual 2015: Gold

Andrew Hoyne & Dan Johnson, Hoyne

First, ground breaking aesthetics: visual treatments that are genuinely new, and not a pastiche of the past. Second, ideas: sadly lacking each year across all design competitions – a dwindling skill in designers that is not given enough focus during education.

Winner 2013 Identity and branding, Create Awards, by RE: Sydney

Jorge Castillo, Canvas Group

From what we’ve seen, one common feature of award-winning design is that it’s powerful: that it has the power to inspire action or change, to start a trend or movement. The power to change a standard and raise a bar. To inspire and evoke feeling. The power to make other designers wish they had created it! To achieve all that, there must be great passion in both the creative team and the client to exceed the goal they’ve set. So power and passion: award-winning combo.


Bloomberg Businessweek Covers (in-house) — 2014 D&AD Yellow Pencil: Magazine & Newspaper Design


Tamabi by MR_DESIGN — 2014 D&AD Yellow Pencil: Branding

Janelle Rodrigues, Creature

For me, the best work excels in three core areas. The idea: it begins with a great idea or positioning. The visual expression or concept: a visual concept is developed around the idea that is new or from a new perspective, it always tells a story. The execution and craft: the finish is flawless – every aspect of delivering the idea has been well considered. The design is enduring – even if we can look back and place its time in history, it still resonates and is as powerful today as the day it was made. Overall, successful design provokes a clear response – it moves you, motivates you – changes your behaviour, your opinion and promotes a conversation. 


‘Life’ Poster by Derek Samuel — 2012 AGDA Biennale: Foundation Stone


‘Fragile Grip on Life’ Poster by Paul Hanslow — 2012 AGDA Biennale: Stepping Stone

What are your thoughts on design awards? Continue the discussion in the comments below.


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