An interview with Demetrios Fakinos, European Design Awards Managing Director, published in Novum – World of Graphic Design, September 2014.
Interview: Bettina Schulz
This year, too, we are pleased to present to you gold award-winners in the European Design Awards, a competition that itself is quite a success story. Now in its eighth year, the awards again reflect the full diversity and quality in the European design scene; we talked to the initiator of the competition, Demetrios Fakinos.
The European Design Awards have now been held for the eighth time. How did the idea for the competition come about originally?
It was on a plane from Lisbon to Athens that the idea was born. It was all about transferring the Golden Globe Award concept into a communication design competition. That is, having not a group of peers passing judgement, but a group of experts – the people from the trade press.
The competition has expanded enormously – each year it is now attract-ing over 1000 entries. How do you explain this success? What is it that makes these design awards so unique?
We believe the reasons behind our success are easy to spot. I think that it is all about trust: Our audience trusts the jury, because they believe that it has the experience and the authority to make the right decisions and it also trusts the organizers. We have very consciously chosen not to impose winner fees, so that there is no connection whatsoever between the number of winners and the financial health of the awards. If the jury decides that in a category there is no submission that deserves gold, they simply do not award a gold prize (or any prize at all, for that matter). On the contrary, we have a limit to the number of distinctions that can be awarded to each category. So the market, as well as the people who win awards can be confident that they won because they very much deserved them.
Is this the only reason you do not have winner fees?
Not »milking the cow« is a very important, ethical reason, but it is not the only one. We have more practical reasons as well, since we are determined to be truly pan-European we could never have such a thing as »winner fees«. We would simply make participation impossible for a large number of designers who would not be able to afford it. And this applies actually not just to countries, but also to smaller studios, freelancers or young designers. Our structure ensures that we are open to everybody. And this is evident in our results as well. Of course you’ll find among our winners the big players you’d find in other national or international competitions, but at the same time you’ll find newcomers, or studios from smaller countries, that you’ll not find in any other awards scheme.
Even at the height of the economic crisis in Europe, there was no dra-matic decline in the number of entries. There must be a very strong urge amongst designers to measure themselves against the international competition. Or, how do you explain it?
You have to keep in mind that times of crisis call for action. If you want to be less affected by the crisis than your competition, you have to prove yourself above them. You need to take a larger slice of the now smaller pie. One of the ways to do that is by winning international competitions…
The number of countries from which entries are received is also very impressive. You must be very gratified that the awards reach out not only to the leading design nations…
Indeed this is one of the things we are most proud of: we are really pan-European. We receive submissions not only from countries such as Germany and the UK, the Netherlands and Scandinavia, but even from smaller nations. We have a full list of participants starting from Iceland and going all the way down to Cyprus. Of course, most of the time we miss out on tiny states such as Andorra or the Vatican, but when we do get entries from them too (we actually had a submission from Andorra last year), there’s an extra reason for us to be happy. Keep in mind though, that our winners list is equally diverse. This year for example, we’ve had winners from 21 different European countries.
Each year the award ceremony and accompanying conference is held in a different European country – what cities are still on the »wish list« of the organizer?
So far, in eight years, we’ve been to eight different countries. So, the »wish list« is evidently all the remaining European countries we haven’t been to yet.
The jury is made up of people from the design magazines that are involved in the awards. What’s your view of the way it is set up?
Fifteen jury members from fifteen communication design magazines (plus nine jury members from nine blogs and online magazines for our digital jury). It is definitely our strong point. Not only because we boast the most qualified jury in the sector (i.e. people who judge design work as an everyday job – in order to curate their magazine content), not only because they come from 17 different countries (and therefore bring a lot of context to a pan-European organisation) but also because they are in the best position to promote the award winners after the results have been announced. And isn’t this what any award-winner wants? To have their success covered in a most extensive way?
And to conclude, how would you like the competition and the sector to develop in the future?
We are very happy at the point where we are now. Both in terms of acknowledgement and esteem. What we would like to pursue even further is our exposure to the design buyers. With the »European Design Awards« brand it is true that we get a lot of attention. You only need to google the term and you’ll find us in the news in so many languages. Our ambition though is to pro-actively promote even more our winners to the people who could hire their services. And towards this goal, we have a couple of ideas on which we are working on, right now.
Every year the ED Awards identity is designed by a different design studio. Based on a single typographic element, the Meta FF Bold asterisk, how difficult is it to reimagine a brand that is both established and versatile?
It is not difficult, but it is challenging. Experimenting with the asterisk was so much fun. I think we became more and more creative while we were working on the redesign. Our aim was to create a flexible implementation. We like the idea that the brand gets reinterpreted every year. At the same time, the award keeps its identity. We are curious what the brand will like look next year.
Your design for one cover of Novum – World of Graphic Design uses silkscreen print on line and thread stitching. Do you think unusual materials enhance the design experience and, if yes, how so?
Using different materials definitely enhances people’s experience. It is also important that the materials correspond with the content and reinforce it. In our opinion, certain types of bookbinding and print techniques still have their justification. Otherwise, you end up with a beautiful but rather empty cover. Since that Novum issue was about book design, we wanted to present it as a book.
Langesommer is a small-sized studio in a very competitive market. How easy is it for you to carve your niche in such an environment?
We are not aware of carving a niche. We focus on the aspects that are important to us, excellency in typography, for example. Maybe that’s our niche. We are open minded, curious and always interested in new subjects. It certainly helps to have skills that others do not have. Yet, being stuck in a specific field can slow you down. We do what interests us the most, and perhaps that is why we do things well.
How do you see Langesommer in the near future? Do you plan to expand or are you happy maintaining your current scale?
We would love to have one or two more people on the team. They would bring in new ideas and diversity. At the moment, only one of us needs to defend an idea to the other. That’s rather convenient, I guess, but we would also welcome insights and thoughts from others.
langesommer is a studio for graphic design and typography in Berlin.
“We develop intelligent and ambitious design solutions with a high standard of typography from the concept to the finished product. We believe in a both effective and appealing design and are particularly passionate about design as a means of communication. Our focus: Editorial Design—books, brochures, catalogues, magazines, corporate communications and other kinds of publications. Corporate Design—logo, font, color, imagery and implementation.”