Design Management Award – another arbitrary design award?

Design is one of the major European resources and is increasingly seen as a key element of successful and innovative companies. The European Union has recognized this and initiated the current only Design Management Award, which last year marked the fifth time. Its goal is to promote innovation in small and medium enterprises, to honor outstanding design management practices and to educate the business community and the public in design management. The award has been announced as a Business Award, which aims to reward the excellent management skills of European companies to implement design.

Is this successful or is it another arbitrary design award?
Design awards contribute to the reduction of design on visual and haptic perceptible levels while not considering process innovation, customer acceptance and economic success as key selection criteria. The selection criteria of the Design Management Award should define what excellence in design management is and thereby covering the complete spectrum of design management. Unfortunately, this definition is missing, in what way the entries are difficult to compare and the selection of the winner – by a jury which changes every year – becomes very arbitrary.

Design management is more than the successful project management of design. To successfully implement design management in the company and lead in a sustainable way, it is important to consider the following four topics.

  • Strategy e.g. the orientation of the design strategy towards the company and / or brand strategy.
  • Organization e.g. the setup of a design department, development of skills & competencies and the collaboration with external partners.
  • Processes & Tools e.g. the implementation of an effective and efficient design process, embedded in the entire development process with clear roles and responsibilities.
  • Culture e.g. the building of a multi-disciplinary culture that is open to creativity and user-centered innovation.

Such a framework was communicated by the design management award coordinator only in a research report (not available on their website anymore); unfortunately, this structure is not transparently linked to the award. However the award setup would be a great topic to strengthen and integrate the design management community and to gain a common definition of excellence in design management.

Many companies that do a great job in design management have not noticed the design management award so far and the annual prolongation of the registration period shows that there is a lack of suitable candidates. Nevertheless, the award is important for the design management community and for companies that have recognized the importance of design. If companies are increasingly investing in design, competitive advantage will shift from good design to good design management.

Source: This text was first published in the design magazine PAGE in November 2011.