On the eve of the 2019 edition of the prestigious NASSCOM Design4India awards ceremony, it is necessary to question the value that such events contribute to the respective sector or practice’s development and influence—especially given the proliferation of such events and the insidious whiff of backdoor manipulations. Here are five indicators that we could use to determine whether such events help or harm their domain:
1. Constructive Competition
By their very nature, awards foster a competitive mindset of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. They create an environment of hype/overstatement, secrecy and seeking out ‘unfair advantage’ amongst its participants. Such toxicity can be avoided by making the procedures and the actual process open, inclusive and consensual, extending honour and respect to commonly-admired (or lesser-known but worthy of admiration) practices & projects. Controversy cannot be entirely avoided, but it must be early-detected and thoroughly-addressed. The aim must always be on strengthening the practice community, not fracturing it.
2. Raising Standards
Year on year, awards must push for and reward new standards of excellence in the practice. While it is true that they can only draw on the applications actually received (which may not feature any real improvement over the previous year), this only underlines the case for the awards to go beyond passive rating of applications received and play a more proactive, curatorial role.
3. Propagating Value & Contribution
Let us not forget that awards play a major role in building and spreading a public profile of the profession or practice that they celebrate. In other words, they are key to communicating its value, impact and contribution to the economy, to society, to the nation and world in general. Oftentimes, awards stay confined to technical accomplishments that may be appreciated only by a narrow body of specialists and fail to convey their wider relevance and import.
4. Attracting Talent
When thinking about ‘industry awards’, what comes to mind is the professional community and its high-level industry clientele, and perhaps policy makers and shapers. However, a major ‘target audience’ for awards is also young talent—the creative and intellectual potential in our society which will power the practice to new heights in the years to come. Extra effort must be made to include and involve students and other young enthusiasts to get involved and join the field.
5. Reflecting Reality
Last but not least, one of the most common accusations against awards is that they showcase a very narrow slice of reality—often not even that, what with concept projects or prototypes rather than their actual manifestation and execution on the ground. While this should not inhibit audaciously speculative or blue-sky ideas from being honoured, care must be taken to balance these with demonstrable, verifiable and value-able on-ground accomplishments. Reality is not usually glamorous, and the practice needs to humbly accept it without losing its quest for excellence.
As an industry expert and professor, it is my honour to be part of the jury for this year’s awards. I hope we will do justice to all the applicants and apply the above guidelines (and more such that we together articulate) to strengthen the practice of design and innovation in India.
Arvind Lodaya is a part of our Illustrious Jury Panel for NASSCOM Design4India Design Summit & Awards 2019 “Embed 3.0: Unleashing the Power of Design Disruption”. Join us as we explore bleeding-edge conversations that are reshaping the future of design.