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Politics of Design Awards: Fallacies, Biases and Issues

Politics of Design Awards: Fallacies, Biases and Issues

Politics, Biases and Fallacies are common issues that design awards try to avoid. This article discusses how to solve these issues and why they arise.

During the A Prime Design Award Gala-Night, I had the opportunity to talk with fifty designers, from seven distinct continents. I asked, if did they ever feel there is something wrong going in design awards? I asked if they were subject to discrimination or nationalism and here are the answers and prominent issues that were highlighted.
Political Alignment (Partisanism): Can politics change the rankings in a design competition? According to many designers, it is possible and some say that it definitely exists. Depending on the organizers' political views, Partisanism in design awards is explained by the fact that the awarded designs and designers are more likely to be chosen from the population that contains the same views. Partisan design awards support designers who share the same views.
National Alignment (Nationalism) or Fascism in design awards and competitions is also highlighted by many designers. The matter pop-ups and becomes subject to arguments every year. Fascism in a design award is a situation when a particular award positions itself as international design award, but awards mostly the nationals within the country of origin.
A Rational explanation why the existence of Partisan and Nationalist Design Award arguments are common among designers (even though I believe most organizations are indeed not Partisan or Nationalist) could be explained by the reach of such organizations: Many design awards and competitions reach an audience similar to that of the organizer. Therefore if the award is organized by a party that is strongly attached to a country, more winners could be from the country-of-origin (such as many national awards which accept international entries) creating the illusion of nationalism (since most winners would be from the country-of-origin). Likewise if a politically aligned organization organizes a design award, in this case more winners would share the same political view since the organizers would initially reach and invite their inner circles to join the awards. Given these principles, national design award programs would always be under suspicion and subject to accusation of nationalism and politics, even though they would not be. This happens because in many cases people do not have enough evidence to judge the process but the results are easier to discuss. To solve issues relating to Nationalism in design awards, the awards that are subject to such allegations could either change their positioning (i.e. stating they are national not international) or they could focus on international reach. Likewise awards that are highlighted by Partisanism could focus on decreasing their political links and try to get more participants from different political views.
Academic Title Bias is a unique situation in design competitions when people with academic titles are awarded more often (or obtain better ranks) than others without academic titles. While it could be considered rational for people with academic titles to be experts in design and in their fields, I have been told by long-time jurors in other competitions that this indeed exists as a real phenomenon due to the fact that people with academic ranks in smaller communities all know each-other and not-awarding your colleagues could create potential issues. Solving this issue is simple; removing all identification related to the people who join awards (i.e. blind review) decreases it. However, the problem is not easily solvable in smaller design awards and competitions where community already knows who designed what. This perhaps explains why international design awards are more fair since in blind-reviewed international design awards, the international jury could potentially be less able to match designs and designers, especially when they are judged anonymously, thus reductions or removal of Academic Title Bias can be seen.
Famous Company Bias is another major issue, this time in both International and National design awards. The phenomenon occurs when the jury is subconsciously effected by the Brand identity of the product designs that are subject to evaluation. This is expected since a reputable company with years of design, research and development would be expected to develop products that are unique, relevant and functional as well as aesthetic. While there is of course a positive correlation between brand identity and expected design value, this correlation should not alter the judging process; each product should be striped of the designers and brand identities and evaluated in such manner to provide a more fair competition. Jury must evaluate all designs without the knowledge of who produced them; only in this way all the products from both smaller and larger companies could be evaluated in a just manner. A further reason why this bias is perceived more than others is dependent on further fees: Some very big international design awards require winners to pay - further fees, some of these fees reach several thousands of euros and winning multiple awards become an issue of finance rather than design quality in such awards, thus of course larger corporations are more often awarded. While we should also note that larger corporations also produce more product designs, still this bias could be reduced or removed by first removing further fees thus making award winning not a financial issue, second by removing identity information and asking companies to conceal their logos thus helping jury judge the designs together with others.
Won Once Fallacy is a special situation in design awards and competitions that provide monetary returns. Since the purpose of some of the awards which provide monetary prizes is to support the development of culture and economy (i.e. support of industrial sectors through organization of design competitions), some awards could usually be won only once. This implies that the designs submitted to competition will not be judged fairly and designers who had already won the awards would be eliminated. To solve this issue, eligibility conditions could be updated in a way and it would be made clear that each designer could only win once. A different opinion is to totally remove this issue: if a designer is really talent, she probably deserves to win multiple times and this could potentially make the competition more fair. However, on the other hand there could be the Always-Same-People-Win fallacy arising, this happens because usually winners of an award joins the same award multiple times. To remove or decrease the Always-Same-People-Win fallacy, design awards should communicate their evaluation methodology and be more transparent about who joins these awards.
Not-Trusting Winners is another issue in design awards and competitions. While in no condition copy-works should be awarded, in some design awards there is a tendency to not to award products or designs that could be similar but indeed different from other famous works when inspected carefully. However in many cases it could be observed that those famous works are not necessary the originator of the ideas, therefore simply discarding submissions from not-known designers could potentially create discrimination towards larger companies and famous designers who have budgets and pr companies to advertise their works. The position to take (a possible solution) is to accept all works and rank them as usual; and later discard or disqualify works that are proven legally to infringe others copyrights.
Age Discrimination occurs in two dimensions: In some contexts young designers will be subject to negative discrimination and their designs would be more often eliminated while seniors are given awards (since senior designers are considered more important for some organizers). The interesting fact is that the opposite could also occur and elder designers would not be given awards (especially for competitions with monetary rewards) to open way to the young generations. In both conditions, this kind of age discrimination should be eliminated by blind judging processes.
Gender Discrimination is an issue in non-democratic design competitions which try to balance female and male winners or not to award third genders or designers with different gender propositions. Any discrimination of such sort decreases the ethics and fairness of such competitions. The way to solve these issues is to have the designs judged blindly without knowing the genders of the designers.
Ranking Modification and Balancing are several issues that are displeasing to designers. Once a design competition evaluation finishes, in some situations jury or the organizers might try to balance the winners; i.e. by changing the number of awards won, status etc, this is totally a non-democratic non-ethical behavior and should not be done. Instead, if a design award and competition wants to organize a less fair but balanced competition, such competitions should better communicate balancing strategy beforehand; i.e. for example the following are type of criteria that could be added to competition terms to improve at least the transparency: each designer could win up to 3 awards, each category will have both young and senior winners etc..
Non-Multiple Awarding is a sub-issue of balancing, some design competitions allows submission of multiple entries, therefore in some situations you might expect a dozens of unique entries from one single designer. In most competitions, that particular designer, even if would win multiple awards could be subject to post-evaluation balancing, thus her number of awards could be decreased to one (such as only grand award) etc. Like any other post-balancing mechanism, this is not fair for the designer. To solve this issue, it is better to award multiple winners multiple times or to indicate early that a designer could win only one awards and that the highest achievement would be given etc.
Another issue in design awards and competitions is the awarding of Jury Relatives, Friends and Students. To solve these issues, it is suggested not to let either jury relatives to join the competitions or to ensure perfect blind judging process so that jury would not discriminate the projects. Another methodology used is to ask jury to not to vote on any designs that they know who did it, therefore in this condition jury members who could potentially discriminate simply states that they know the person and takes a step backward while others vote on it regularly.
Losers fallacy: (Death to Design Awards, Award Mania, Fake Award, Problems in Award, Who Can Judge Me the Almighty Designer, Rip-of Award Phenomenon) These phenomenon occurs when a designer is not granted a design award. Some designers due to their intrinsic motivations could create negative word of mouth for awards which they lose. This is not a desired outcome for other winners since such negative marketing could decrease the reputation of awards through wrong acclaims. To avoid this issue, design awards could take actions to reduce the sorrow and pain of losing designers by either offering them additional services or good reasons and feedbacks why their designs were not awarded. Some design awards would also provide free entry and pre-evaluation to designers to decrease these negative emotions in advance since if a designer does not pay to join, she would be less angry when she loses. Pre-evaluation or filtering also reduces the amount of work by the designers, thus decreasing their initial investment in sense of time and money. Both further feedbacks and pre-evaluation methods could be integrated by awards to reduce such outcomes.
Awarded Work Bias is a situation where design awards with relevant methodology and evaluation criteria could award designs that had already been awarded; since it is safer to award some design that has already won other awards. This negative situation should be evaded by making sure that the entries are blind judged, and to disconnect designers from contacting jury members. Competitions must make sure that designers would be eliminated if they try to call and pitch jurors for their works.
Superficial beauty contest condition occurs when designs are judged without their context, that is why design awards should also require participants to submit not just visuals or renders but also conceptual / integration views (within the context of use), technical drawings, usage manuals and videos regarding how the design works and how people interact with it.
Positive presentation bias occurs when better presented designs get better ranking awards. To stop this, the awarding committee i.e. the design award organizer should incorporate standardized presentation through templates or alternatively push each and every designer to make sure that they are all presented well so that the bias could be eliminated.
Criteria Fallacy: in some conditions it could be observed that the award criteria are set by the organisations and their sponsors. However, the award criteria should be set by the judges and the designers together through surveys and research and through analysis of best practices. Changing the award criteria is changing the rules of the game to someones favor and no one has right to do so in an ethical and fair competition.
Too Technical Fallacy: A further fallacy in design competitions and awards is related to the technical projects. Technical plan and engineering of products are indeed also design, however engineers and technical designers are usually not able to showcase or render projects as good as other designers. This creates an handicap for them; they have a very good very functional product that is not well communicated. In this case, design awards should ask further information regarding projects instead of simply eliminating them (which leads awards to turn into beauty pageants). The issue is solved by a preliminary filtering round where designs that are not enough understood or not well communicated are required to provide further information, visualization etc. Too Artistic Fallacy: Likewise to technical projects artistic projects could also not get enough attention when the aesthetic values of the object is too much, too strong. In such conditions jury might decide that the work is not design but art. To eliminate this issue a separate category for artistic creations could be created.
Politics of Design Awards: Fallacies, Biases and Issues
In this article, some of the political and social issues in design awards are highlighted. To make better competitions and to organize more fair and ethical awards, all organizers are invited to accept these issues and to take steps to eliminate or reduce the existing discrimination, biases, and fallacies.

This article was added on Monday, 27th of January, 2014 at 06.26 am by author Onur Cobanli Tags: politics of design awards, design competition biases, errors in competitions. Read our copyright policy here.




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