I judged a communications awards competition recently that was open to companies, non-profits, colleges and universities, etc. I’ve entered these before, and wondered how work I’m really proud of doesn’t even make it to the finals. Now I have some answers. Hopefully they'll help you as well.
The category we judged was print publications. First of all what we saw – especially in an age where visuals are everywhere and so important in getting attention – was just not very sophisticated.
Here were some common problems with the entries.
1. Didn't Answer the Questions
Many entries ignored certain questions or gave vague answers. That costs you. Those most avoided:
Results. At least 50% of the entries didn’t answer the results question at all and the ones who did weren’t very specific. If you don’t answer the question that shows you were successful, you are done. Also, if your measurements don't match your goals you get dinged on that.
Budget. I think there was only one entry that answered the budget question. Not all entries are created equal. So what if you don’t have glossy pictures, great stock, and beautiful design? If your budget is small we have more information to judge on. So tell us what your entry cost to produce.
2. Pay Attention to the Rules
Your application package. You have to follow the rules of the competition. If your entry form is only supposed to be two pages, don’t submit more than that. Yes you may have more to say, but you’re going to get disqualified.
Type size. We almost eliminated someone because their font was smaller than what was asked for. In the end we didn't because the entry did not score well anyway, but making a font smaller to fit more in, doesn't help you.
3. Your Narrative
Quite frankly, the narrative answering the questions and explaining the goals, objectives, etc. of the publication was in many cases far better than the actual work. A strong narrative helps you depending on how the competition scoring is set up, but if the category is publications judges are going to judge mostly by design. Remember that before you enter.
3. Your Design
All design is subjective but there were a few glaring problems we found over and over again.
Keep it simple. There’s a magazine on the newsstands and available digitally called Real Simple. That should be the mantra of every print and web designer. Far too many entries had really busy pages. We don’t need subheads, and pull quotes and captions and explanations of a headline and charts on one spread. It makes your head spin.Also it looks like design by committee, which it probably was.
One photo is better than ten. I used to work with an art director who was adamant about this. She hated collages. One great photo is far better than several and run it as large as you can. It will draw the reader in and make them want to read.
Don’t run your captions across photos. I don’t know if this is some new design style or what but a number of publications splashed their captions in dropped out type across photos. Why? It just ruins the picture.
Stock quality shouldn’t be nicer than your magazine. We saw some celebrity wedding invitation level stock in magazines that clearly didn’t need it. The printing alone probably ate a big chunk of cost. Design, stock, publication quality should all be equally weighted.
I could go on for awhile but I’ll spare you. We did not judge content, other than the way it was presented but one thing I noticed was a mix of number of columns, font overload, type that would have made Victorians happy, and again a sad lack of simplicity.
If you’re going to do a print publication, and I don’t want print to die, study the look and feel of digital and learn to work in formats that people under 40 can relate too.
Best of luck next time.