Checking out the competition

I recently judged digital designs for the University & College Designers Association’s (UCDA) annual competition, and the experience was an eye-opener. Unlike print design competitions where judges meet on location and review entries together, the digital judging was done remotely from our office computers. I was surprised at the amount of time it took to evaluate each entry. Unlike a print piece that can be sized up fairly quickly, a digital entry may require several minutes of study before getting a well-rounded picture. All in all, it took me several hours a day for about three days to complete the judging. This meant hours of tedium that were occasionally interrupted by a few gloriously smart and moving experiences.

After all three judges submitted their results, UCDA provided us with a spreadsheet compilation of our votes. I was astonished to see how closely we agreed on the award-winning work even though we had no discussion with each other while voting.

What makes an entry an award-winner? For me, the exceptional work did one of two thingsā€”it had an emotional impact on me and/or it taught me something. When design fails to make us feel or learn, there is not much reason to pay attention. When we shine, the work we do in educational marketing stands up to the best out there. That’s quite an achievement when you consider that schools rarely have the extravagant budgets of the corporate world. It proves, once again, that throwing money at a problem doesn’t solve anything. Great ideas, however, can and do.

Here are links to several competition entries that inspired me:

Vassar Admissions
University of California
Arts at Stanford

Online magazine
Brenau Window

Chatham University
Oregon State University
Simon Fraser University

Here is a complete list of gold, silver, and merit award winners. The digital entries are on the last page of the list.

White space

Photographer Jonathan Bjorklund took his camera and singular vision to the Arctic to record a place most of us will never see in person. These spectacular photos showed me that the Arctic is a more colorful place than I had imagined. Take a break from the clutter in the office and follow the link to the complete photo set.

Bug On Flower

A red-sky sunset, a gull over the water, and a bug on a flower are all subjects you should not shoot if you want to be considered a “serious photographer.” Each of these genres is wildly popular on photosharing sites like Flickr and “real” photographers love to heap scorn on them. Cliche` or not, there is something refreshing about so many people around the world enthusiastically recording these simple scenes. The photos may not be considered art, but they are evidence of our collective fascination with the natural world. I’m happy to share the planet with people who can’t resist shooting pictures of bugs on flowers. After all, these are the people who will be passionate about protecting bugs, flowers, trees, and the entire natural world from increasing environmental challenges.