To my friend who thinks I should not accept awards.

OLIVER REICHENSTEIN—iA to Twitter friends like me—thinks it is wrong for experienced designers to accept design awards. Oliver says:

All awards should go from old uncles (like me or @zeldman or who ever) to young people. They need it.

A fair point. To which I reply:

  1. When Happy Cog wins an award, it is going to young people. It’s young designers like Stephen Caver, Yesenia Perez-Cruz, Joey Pfeifer, Mike Pick, Kevin Sharon, Drew Warkentin, Brian Warren, young UX designers like Whitney Hess and Jessica Ivins, young developers like Jenn Lukas, Mark Huot, Ryan Irelan, Matt Clark, Aaron Gustafson, Tim Murtaugh, and Allison Wagner, and young project managers like Rawle Anders, Dave DeRuchie, and Brett Harned whose work is being recognized. (Apologies to young-at-heart Kevin Hoffman, Chris Cashdollar, Russ Unger, and Robert Jolly.)

    When I stood up with Happy Cog’s co-presidents to accept “design agency of the year,” it was on these young folks’ behalf that I accepted it. I am a vessel of their talent and of our clients’ willingness to support their users instead of making safe, committee-friendly choices. It would be wrong of me to refuse the award on the grounds that I am better known than some members of our staff.

  2. We work for these people called clients. And while Jane HTML may know of Jeffrey Zeldman and Happy Cog, Joe Client does not. Moreover, Joe Client may not know how to evaluate agencies. He may know little about web standards and “user experience.” He probably doesn’t follow you or me on Twitter, and doesn’t participate in our community’s passionate debates about everything from the proper semantics for sub-navigation to the value of eye-tracking. He doesn’t know from that stuff, but he knows that if an agency has won awards in a respected competition, that agency must know a little something about what it is doing. If our goal as an agency is to do and spread good work, it makes business sense for us to accept an award from a respected forum of our peers.

By the way, we did not enter the .net Awards, we were nominated for them by the community. Accepting the nominations was like accepting a compliment—the gracious thing to do. Not that I’m apologizing.

So much for “design agency of the year.” I accepted “video podcast of the year” on behalf of my brilliant partner Dan Benjamin, who creates superior streaming content for people who make websites. It is his work more than mine that was honored. And as for “standards champion,” I’ve already said who I think deserved that nod this year. But I accepted the community’s verdict with a blush and thanks.

Winning anything invites enmity; winning three awards is asking for a backlash. But I know that’s not where you’re coming from.

Are awards bad?

I used to hate awards, too. I’ve only recently started coming around.

Designers and creative directors I respect and worked for in the past were almost always winning and judging awards shows. Their work was brilliant, and the awards were a tool they used to balance their power against that of tough-minded account executives and clients. When a client said make the logo bigger, a creative director could turn quietly to his or her wall of awards, and the client would back down.

Nevertheless, awards shows are always political to some extent, and those who don’t win often find fault with those who do. Like you, I had a distaste for awards shows when I started on my own (plus I didn’t think any award show got the web). For over a decade, largely because of my feeling, which other Happy Cog muckety-mucks shared, our agency ignored awards shows.

But we are modifying our views on this, and not merely because we just won a bunch of awards we didn’t even seek (as well as a few that we did). Our industry needs real design discussion, peer review, and recognition. I believe in the .net Awards, as their partnership with A List Apart attests. They are the best our industry has.

Personally, I’m inspired to start actually seeking awards, because Joe Business gets them, and I like to see designers working.

I appreciate the purity of your point of view, and I recognize it as a discussion point, not an attack. We are friends, and you’re a gent. Maybe I am wrong. But I’m beginning to think we don’t need no awards, we need good awards. And when good work wins, it inspires more good work.

Whether you hate awards or love them, the most important thing is to keep wins and losses in perspective, and remember that you’re only as good as your last idea.