Design award programs and competitions have longed played an integral role in the architecture and lighting design professions. Recognition of one's work, whether by professional organizations and/or peers, is an important measure for both individual professional development and collective growth of these design disciplines. But the decision to submit a project (or projects) is not a casual endeavor. Numerous resources, primarily time and money, go into each project submission, and there is no guarantee that the effort will be rewarded.
For the purposes of this discussion, it is important to note a definition difference between design award programs and design competitions. An award program is generally evaluating work already completed, whereas a competition is usually asking for a design problem to be solved and a new project design and proposal submitted.
Making An Assessment When embarking on the preparation of a design award entry package several items should be considered. First, the firm or individual must determine which design award programs they are interested in submitting their work to, and should consider if these are programs recognized as important and recognizable within the specific design discipline. In the lighting design profession the major design award programs are generally considered to be the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD) International Lighting Design Awards, the GE Edison Awards, the Cooper Source Awards, this publication's program, the A|L Light & Architecture Design Awards, and the Illuminating Engineering Society's (IES) International Illumination Design Awards (IIDA). With the IIDA program several local programs, such as the IES New York Chapter's Lumen Awards feed into the international program. There is also a United Kingdom-based national lighting award program, The Lighting Design Awards, which recognizes work by U.K. lighting designers.
Next, one needs to consider the cost associated with the entries. Besides the actual entry fees, there are the monies to be spent on the materials and reproduction services (i.e. photography, color xerxoes) needed to produce the actual project entry. Finally, one must consider how much time can be devoted to preparing the materials. Then and only then, can one fairly be able to assess the workload, the cost associated with the process, and what will be of greatest reward for one's efforts. Sometimes determining how many projects a designer will submit can be as straightforward as which projects have been completed in a calendar year, meet award program guidelines, and have the supporting materials, namely finished photography available and ready to go. For an individual or a small firm, between one and six project submissions per year is a manageable amount. For larger firms with dedicated marketing staffs the number can grow much higher. According to Anna Baranczak at Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Lam Partners, who oversees the firms marketing efforts, given the amount of detail required for each of the entries its easier to focus on a limited number; one entry can easily take 20 hours to assemble and coordinate all the components.
The Materials Each design award program has ever so slightly different requirements, but generally all require the work to be supported by two basic types of information—text and graphics. The challenge for the applicant is not necessarily drafting the actual text, although that certainly has its own share of difficulties, but rather condensing a project description to meet various word count requirements while still communicating all the key project details and information. One approach to tackling the managing of this information is to have two types of documents at the ready, one, a project detail list with basic project information including the project team, manufacturer list, square footage, costs, and so on. Second, is to have a descriptive project account, one that includes the project concept and calls out the important design details. Nothing is worse than sitting down to prepare a design award submission only to find the basic information has not been gathered, pre-empting one's real focus on the specific entry at hand.
Photography In a profession that relies so heavily on visual communication, across the board architects and lighting designers alike will tell you that the most critical component of the design award submission is good photography. “If there isn't sufficient visual documentation, it just doesn't make sense to submit a project,” says Baranczak. Describing a project via images is difficult enough, condensing work that has taken years, into 6 to 12 images. Telling the lighting story is even more difficult since often the images acquired by the lighting designer are originally commissioned by the architect or client and probably do not have the lighting design on their agenda. To combat this problem, some lighting design firms are setting aside the resources to directly commission their own photography. For others it is a matter of establishing working relationships with architectural photographers who are familiar with their work, and who are developing an awareness of how to photograph a project with the lighting design in mind. Particularly if a project entry does not allow room for lengthy text, then the images must do double duty in describing the work.
The advent of digital photography has made it significantly easier in documenting projects and in turn producing materials for project entries. But with this new technology also comes issues of corrections and modifications. And, on the one hand while it can be argued that the image is already an interpretation of the project, anyone assessing an image should be mindful that a minimum amount of adjustment, for example color correction or cropping has probably occurred to some extent. But the underlying issue remains—nothing replaces good quality project photography.
Submitting one's work for design award programs is an important part of design practice, a way to gage one's work. Depending on whether one is the entrant, the jury member, or the design award program administrator, there are different items of importance as materials are prepared. For instance, entrants are looking for clear instructions on the entry form and a contact person to call if they have questions. A jury member, on the other hand is looking for suffiicient materials to evaluate the project, including good project photography that is clear and coordinates with the accompanying text. Meanwhile, a design award program administrator is looking to make sure the proper materials have been submitted for fair and impartial evaluation. And there is one basic don't. Don't xerox entry forms and text descriptions written for other design award programs and submit them in lieu of using the entry form for the specific program you are entering. Nothing is more aggravating for an award program administrator, and it doesn't reassure the jury evaluating the project that you sat down and spent some time thinking the submission through.
Finally, with so much invested in the design award submission process, look over your project entry as if you were on the design award jury. Have you provided all the required information? Is it clearly presented in a way that enables evaluation? Thinking in those terms will contribute to a fluid review process and ultimately afford the project entry a greater chance for review and discussion, hopefully leading to recognition.
LIGHTING DESIGN AWARD PROGRAM DEADLINES
THE LIGHTING DESIGN AWARDS 2008
Deadline: October 12, 2007
IALD INTERNATIONAL LIGHTING DESIGN AWARDS
Deadline: November 15, 2007
IES INTERNATIONAL ILLUMINATION DESIGN AWARDS (IIDA)
Deadline: January 14, 2008
Deadline: January 2008
COOPER LIGHTING'S ANNUAL SOURCE AWARDS
Deadline: January 1, 2008
2007 GE EDISON AWARDS
Deadline: January 2008
A|L LIGHT & ARCHITECURE DESIGN AWARDS
Deadline: May 22, 2008
Entry forms available January 2008.