#71: 3 Things I learned about Winning Awards


About a week ago I had the opportunity to attend the ADDY awards and was shocked to have won three (two silver and one Albuquerque 30) for some posters I designed. I have to confess that I’m sort of a strange creature when it comes to anything competitive. Whether it’s sports or design or anything in between, I am super competitive. That’s not the strange part however. The strange part is that I love competition but I have a hard time with the idea of not being the best, not being a winner. This can be good but it can be really unfortunate. When it’s good, I push myself to be better, to compete with myself and to not care whether I win, as long as I get the thrill of the competition. But it can be kind of sad when I go into the mode where I just want to protect my ego; in other words, once I’ve entered I always feel like I need to go into it thinking I won’t win just to buffer the disappointment in case I don’t win. Thinking about this led me to realize the three things I learned about design awards.

  1. It’s okay to have high hopes whether you win or lose
  2. Enjoy the honor of winning and using it to push to be better
  3. Focusing on the award when you design will hold you back

What I learned this time around is that (1.) It’s okay to have high hopes whether you win or lose. It’s great to enter competitions and believe that you can win. For me this means that I need to stop trying to act like I don’t care if I win, because I do. When I walked into the venue where the awards were being held, I was very much trying to convince myself of the reasons why it would be “ok” to lose. But I cared very much if I did if I’m being honest. Was I excited and honored to receive more awards? Of course. But (2.) I want to remember to use these awards to remind myself that I can always push to be better instead of sitting back and thinking I’m good where I am. I also wanted to re-post parts of the blog I wrote after I won at the Adobe Creative Jam in 2016. Mainly because (3.) Focusing on the award when you design will hold you back. I one hundred percent believe that I won my ADDY awards this time because I was not focused on any kind of award when I designed my posters. And that is the one thing I want you to take from this, that it’s good to win awards and enter competitions, as long as the competition and winning is not your end goal.

So here’s the excerpt from last year’s post, you can read the entire thing here.

Why you should not design for awards

So even though I do think design awards are important, there is an inherent flaw in these awards that can be a hindrance to our core design thinking. 

The flaw is that awards can create the wrong mindset when it comes to how we approach our designs if we aren’t intentional.  

If your focus is on getting awards, instead of trying to solve the problem and get a message across for your client, then your thinking is wrong and ultimately unproductive. If you are using your client as an avenue to get to an award-winning design, then your thinking is wrong. The Oscars are coming up soon, and it got me thinking about the actors and how they approach their work. I’m sure there are some actors that choose roles carefully, hoping they will get an award at the end. But I feel like many of them just do the best work they can, and if/when they are recognized for those abilities then it is just a bonus. 

How we think about awards can either help us or hinder us. Just be passionate about your work, do your very best at every part of your process, and the awards won’t really matter. 

It requires a shift in focus but it can really revolutionize your work when you remember why you are designing. The why is the very most important question behind every design, and really effects how you relate to your work.
I do have mixed feelings on design awards, because they can be a good motivator and gauge to see the kind of work that other designers are doing. They can be a great source of inspiration, and winning could definitely give you confidence in your work going forward. But they can give you a sense that you always need to prove yourself, mainly to other designers, and allow room for the wrong goals. You should absolutely enter awards if you can and have a desire to, but don’t approach your designs with winning awards or impressing other designers as your goal. 

Design amazing work, then enter it for an award; don’t look to the award while you are designing.

It’s good to have goals, but unless you are only creating personal passion projects, your primary goal should be solving your client’s problems.  I have found that I have been able to work with some great clients and have had some amazing opportunities without a single award on my shelf. My goal is always to create the best solution for the client I have in front of me. Confidence comes in knowing yourself and your abilities, and believing that you can do great things. Clients are attracted to a designer who shows through their work that they know what they are doing, not just a designer with awards. If you design to the best of your abilities, then awards may come after that, but it shouldn’t matter if they don’t.  
So remember that there’s nothing wrong with awards but make sure your intention and mindset when it comes to awards is in the right place. Your work will speak for itself, whether or not it is accompanied by ribbons and trophies. Design is a wonderful world. I hope you’ll join me here, because design matters.




  1. I feel like I have the opposite problem: I don’t consider awards at all and when it’s time to enter, I have nothing that would “stand out” in a competition. Do you think there is healthy amount of “award awareness” when developing your work throughout the year?

    1. Hey Paul! Yes, I would say that I think it’s more of a subconscious awareness of the possibility that if I do my very best for the client and for myself, that something will eventually be “good enough” that is a little bit of a driver I guess. That being said, I don’t think that design awards are the end all to knowing you’re good. Sometimes consistent paid work can be much more of a confidence builder because it means people need you and find value in what you do, as opposed to a few [highly subjective] judges saying you’re a winner or not. Does that make sense?

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