Aug 06 2019

Furniture awards under scrutiny

There are renowned design awards presented by prestigious institutions, some given by publishers and others by companies. With this article, we’d like to start a discussion with you about which of them are important and how they are – or can be – beneficial to furniture manufacturers.  

The most important prizes for designers and furniture manufacturers 

Many of the design awards that are highly acclaimed internationally originate in Germany. Take the German Design Award, for example. It has been recognising innovative and groundbreaking products and projects alongside their manufacturers and designers since 1969.

The interzum award, which has been presented at interzum since 2001, is also one of the most prestigious awards in the furnishings industry. Here, awards are presented to companies operating in furniture production and interior design in the core categories High Product Quality and Best of the Best. The ICONIC AWARDS: Innovative Interior will also focus on the furnishing sector. Like the German Design Award, they are presented by the German Design Council and offer furniture manufacturers, architects and designers an international platform.

The iF DESIGN AWARD is older, having been first presented by the Hanover-based Industrie Forum (now the iF International Forum Design) in 1953.

The award that is best known by the general public is probably the Red Dot Award, which the Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen e.V. offers for three design disciplines: product, brands and communication and concept. 

Other major awards from Europe that are presented to outstanding products from all over the world include the European Product Design Award, Italy’s Compasso d’Oro, Britain’s Design Week Awards and France’s Observeur du design.

The Chicago Athenaeum Good Design Award rom the USA has been among the most coveted prizes since 1950, and the “G” mark bestowed by the Good Design Award in Japan is primarily given to technical products and is trusted by consumers as a seal of quality in its country of origin.

Then there are the awards presented by companies and publishers, some of which are less well known or largely only familiar to industry insiders. The extent to which they benefit manufacturers and designers varies from case to case and is sometimes disputed.

Awards – more than an accolade

According to experts, public relations is the area most benefitted by awards. Many offer their winners a large platform and the opportunity to present their products in museums and on well-frequented websites.

Others, such as the Design Week Award, are presented by media professionals, giving journalists the opportunity to meet and report on new design talent.

The German Design Award also cooperates with leading media brands such as Manager Magazin, Architonic, designboom and W&V, which showcase the winners – and thus enable them to achieve a level of recognition that they would otherwise only obtain by means of campaigns and expensive advertisements.  

However, the prizes usually come at a price. From the participation fees to the amount of working time needed to prepare the documentation for the competition, experts estimate that the cost of entering a contest amounts to several thousand euro. And on top of that, some awards charge their winners additional fees if they want to mention the prize in their advertising. 

Is the effort and expense of participating in design competitions worthwhile?

We posed this question to ambista members who have already won several internationally recognised prizes: SCHNEEWEISS interior and ambigence.

The network-based company ambigence, founded in 2018, writes: “We have already won the German Design Award, the Iconic Award, the Red Dot Award and the interzum award. For this to happen within 18 months is of course a huge compliment, and it gives us as founders the opportunity to increase ambigence’s profile. For us, the awards serve as a mouthpiece we can use to tell the world about our plans and to find like-minded people.” 

SCHNEEWEISS interior, which owns the brands Hiller Objektmöbel, BRAUN Lockenhaus and rosconi, is also proud of its own collection of awards: “After all, awards are a kind of seal of approval that you’ve only received because numerous jurors agreed following a critical examination. That’s definitely something you can use to promote your product.” 

We also asked the two businesses what they thought of the criticism levelled at design awards that the costs involved in participation and communication are too high and therefore scarcely affordable for start-ups and young talent.

The response from SCHNEEWEISS interior: “Awarding design prizes is an expensive undertaking that must be commercially viable when it’s not publicly funded. We can imagine that the organisers have to strike a balance between profitability and credibility. In our opinion, this can only be achieved with the help of clear, open communication.”

ambigence cooperates with its partners in order to be able to afford competition entries. This gives rise to its wish that awards should increase their focus on “what can be achieved together, rather than simply the mere presentation of a product from an individual company. Ultimately, the objective is to advance the entire furniture sector and strengthen its position in comparison with other industries.” 

Both companies would prefer it if consumers played a greater role in the awards. SCHNEEWEISS interior would like the awards not to be aimed exclusively at the sector, but to also engage consumers with their content. ambigence writes: “The awards should be used much more to obtain feedback from consumers.

Of course, it’s an honour when a product is selected by a jury of experts. But what good is it if the product is ultimately not accepted by the end consumer? That would definitely make design awards even more valuable for the furniture industry.”

We came across another interesting factor explaining why the awards are worthwhile for the furniture industry in an interview with interior designer Anja Pangerl from Blocher Partners. In a film about the German Design Award 2019, she explains that prizes and awards play an important role in attracting talented employees.

In view of the increasing shortage of skilled personnel, it’s true that it’s becoming more and more difficult for many companies to find and retain good staff. Awards can help.

What’s your opinion? What has been your experience with competitions? Write in and join our discussion about the significance of design awards today, and what role they should have in the future. 

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