Getting Evaluations . . .
I personally apply for awards for the simple and selfish reason that there is no less expensive or unobtrusive way to receive objective evaluations of my designs. As of the writing of this article, PeaceWorkDotCom has received over 100 awards, ranging from "pat-on-the-back" awards (my wife refers to these as Valentines) to top honors from highly acclaimed award programs.
If you browse our Trophy Case, you will see the progression quite clearly. The reason for this is that I ask for blunt critique when I receive less than a top award. A lot of sites are happy to tell me where my design fell short, and those critiques are what has molded PeaceWorkDotCom into the site it is today and will continue to mold it into a progressively better site.
It is especially useful to me when, in the middle of a batch of Gold awards, a Bronze or Merit creeps in. It is my experience that these critiques result in the most effective fine-tuning sessions. Generally this occurs because of subtle errors or problems which have been overlooked because of their subtlety or because the problems are intermittent and haven't shown up prior to this fateful and timely evaluation.
Granted, Top level awards feel good and I treasure them all, but they really don't serve my intended purpose. I hope the day never arrives when every submission I undertake results in the top level. If that ever happens, it will mean I'm through with the site and I'll have to dump it and start all over again.
But They Don't Always Tell . . .
When I first started applying for awards the average critique-per-award ratio was less than 1 in 10. At first I was miffed and would respond to the notices with "Great! Thanks! Now tell me why." This method proved to be a bit blunt, and the responses received were often either a terse "We're busy" or no response at all. I really wanted the critiques, though, so I managed to suppress my irritation and began experimenting with "tone" to achieve the desired results.
What works best for me is starting my request for a critique with the sentence "As a web design firm it is crucial that we know what award givers consider when evaluating websites. Your observations will help mold our site and will influence the way we design websites for our customers." I have enjoyed a 99% success ratio with this type of request.
When asking for a critique, what you're really asking is for the evaluator to take time out of his or her busy day to do you a favor. It's only right and fair to ask for that favor nicely and it doesn't hurt one little bit to let the evaluator know you appreciate the time he or she is giving you.
It's Not a Matter of Laziness . . .
A conservative estimate of the time required to do a serious evaluation is twenty minutes. If you multiply this amount by the number of submissions an awards program receives (sometimes over a hundred a day), you will perhaps begin to understand that they may simply not have time to respond to even the most polite request for critiques. I'm sure those who are too busy to reply to requests wish it were otherwise, and I'm also certain they're not generally being lazy or "snooty."
There are days when I can't find the time to accomplish everything that needs to be done and a request for a critique on such a day would be shelved for another time or would be answered with a cut-and-paste of the judges' notes. Sometimes it is simply impossible to take time to respond personally to a request for a critique. If your request for a critique is ignored, please accept the fact that they may simply be too busy and quietly move on.
The harsh fact of the matter is that the award giver doesn't owe you anything. It is up to you to take the extra steps needed to acquire the desired information. In a perfect world, it may not be necessary, but we all know this world falls far short of the perfect mark. I agree that there are ethical considerations, but this is a two-edged sword. Even if you feel you have been treated unfairly, it is also unethical to retaliate without a reconciliatory attempt.
There are a few ethics organizations that will mediate for you without cost. These organizations exist, in part, to assure that ethical practices are maintained in the awards process. If you find it necessary to contact such an organization, it is still a good idea to remain pleasant and simply state the facts as you perceive them.
Anger Is a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy . . .
The best advice I can offer is to expect the worse and celebrate when the worse is not realized. It does no good to rant and rave and can even hurt your chances with other award programs. The Internet Awards Community is a surprisingly small and close-knit one and it is safe to assume that a pebble tossed from one shore will cause ripples on the other.
Always be polite in your e-mail requests and double-check each one prior to clicking "send" for potentially threatening or obtrusive statements. I can tell you now that any threatening e-mail I receive is sent to a folder named "FutureLawSuits" and not given a second thought. It will all remain there, in limbo, unless it is needed to defend myself or my company against legal action.
Being courteous is always a good thing, even though more and more people seem to be losing the habit. In electronic communication, where facial expression and vocal tone cannot be seen or heard, it becomes even more crucial that the rules of politeness are observed.
"Don't get mad, get even" is a cute saying and generally will get a chuckle, but please don't adopt it as a way of life. Retaliation will only result in counter-attack until one party has given up. If you did manage to "bring down" the object of your unaffection, what purpose would it serve beyond assuaging your ego?
So Move Forward . . .
Award givers are generally a goldmine of useful tips and information. It takes a rare individual to offer a serious award; the time and dedication required are phenomenal. The owner of a quality awards program has advanced far beyond the novice designer stage and has arrived at a level where they are qualified to look at the work of others and judge it.
In light of the fact that they have generally already given their pound of flesh, paid their dues, done their share, it is only right that as the person desiring their critique, you give your pound of flesh, pay your dues, do your share and go to the effort of explaining why you want the critique.
I won't make excuses for unethical practices, indeed I condemn them openly. It also is not my intention to give the impression that the burden of propriety should lie on the one who seeks awards. However, the fact is that the award giver has already expended considerable time and effort and is not otherwise obligated except for the point of honor which demands that aid should be given when needed, requested and valued.
As my grandmother often said, "anything worth having is worth working for." I believe that adage is applicable to advice and commentary. If you want useful and honest critiques, seek them out. Be diligent and courteous and don't forget to say "thank you." I can think of no better reason for seeking awards than the valuable information that can be gleaned from the opinions of those giving the awards; can you?
The next move is yours. Good luck.
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