Helge Aszmoneit

Design awards A historical, critical study in a political, economic, societal and cultural context


Today, bestowing awards on products and services for their good design is a standard instrument in the marketing mix. Design prizes, not to mention the form they take and the way they are organised, kindle strong emotions and are repeatedly the subject of controversy amongst the actors involved at their various levels. The emergence of design prizes coincided with the critical appraisal of them and you have to wonder what the criticism is based on: the awareness of corresponding historical models or romanticised expectations? This brings us to the fundamental question of this research project: What historical, cultural, economic and social conditions have influenced, shaped and altered the motivation, production, levels of meaning, evaluation criteria and functions of design prizes?

To date, nobody has conducted a thorough analysis that places design awards in this context. The only exception to this is the special show and prize “Die gute Form” (Good Design) from Switzerland (1949-1968), which has been the subject of intensive analysis.[1] In the case of other awards or design prizes efforts focus only on providing excerpts of their history. Arguably the best-known design awards (and some of them exist to this day) hark back to the 1950s. But the aim is also to examine the nature of product awards that date back further still and ultimately begin with industrialization, which is where the academic study of design history tends to start: How are we to evaluate the prizes awarded at the world exhibitions and the triennials in Milan? How did sample shows at trade fairs, museum sample exhibitions, public sample shows, product knowledge and sample books contribute to informing and providing guidance for trade, the consumer and industry prior to 1950? 

Following an in-depth analysis of the artistic assessment of products light will be shed on the linkages, development and significance of selected design prizes. Jurors rely on certain evaluation criteria as a basis on which to select products for a prize. Having such criteria in place suggests the design achievement is subject to an objective appraisal. But how is such an evaluation process conducted, what are the underlying conditions? Which criteria were applied when and in what competition? And why are design prizes with their respective evaluation criteria always also a reflection of how design is conceived in a specific time?

[1] Erni, Peter: Die gute Form. Eine Aktion des Schweizerischen Werkbundes. Dokumentation und Interpretation. (Baden, 1983)


Prof. Dr. Klaus Klemp

Prof. Peter Eckart