Decoding Design

Behind the scenes at a global design competition

Posting in Design

A video offers a peek at the judging process for the 2012 iF awards, considered to be global "seals of excellence" for product, communication, material, and packaging designs.

Ever wonder how experts judge products for design awards? How much time do they spend debating each other on what is good design and what isn't? Do they ever think about whether a product is too culturally specific to be considered truly easy to use on an international level?

To get a sense of  what goes on behind the scenes, check out this recently released video summarizing two days of evaluating more than 4,000 products by 44 judges for the 2012 iF awards. In design circles, an iF award is considered the equivalent of a seal of excellence for product, communication, material, and packaging design.

And a little bit of background on the iF awards, before the clip: they grew out of a German design trade show in the early 1950s. In the past, the awards were judged separately, and this year marks the first time all of the judges across categories converged for a single, epic judging session. Judges for 2012 included design leaders from top global corporations known for their design strategies, such as LG Electronics, Braun, Unilever, Philips, and BMW.

Out of the 4,322 entries--from 48 different nations--1,218 were chosen to bear the iF label next year. The judges also selected from these 100 "gold" award winners. The awardees will be honored in a ceremony to be held in Munich in February 2012.

The video illustrates not only the challenges of singling out great design that appeals to users on a worldwide level, but also the increasing importance of cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary design approaches to do so. While the clip doesn't reveal any "secret sauce" for design excellence, it does remind anyone who watches it that to achieve the status of an iF award, at least, a design must be well-functioning, simple-to-use, and attractive to appeal to design-savvy users--the official iF judges, yes. But more important, consumers, too.

Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure