Call for Submissions: the 2nd Annual User Experience Awards

This June brings the second annual User Experience Awards, which honors and celebrates outstanding UX projects and practitioners. To find out about the awards and the submission process, we checked in with the founder and president of Oxford Technology Ventures, Beverly May, who will be moderating the awards. If you have a project, idea, app, site, or software that you’d like to have considered, you still have a little time to get your ducks in a row — the deadline for submissions is May 1.

Why now? What changed about UX and design to make last year a good time to launch the awards? 
UX has become more widely understood and recognized as a key differentiating factor in an ever-more-crowded digital marketplace. When there’s hundreds of thousands of apps, or dozens or even hundreds of competitors in your space, suddenly the product experience becomes very important for user adoption and retention. UX was always important, but it wasn’t as well understood as a separate discipline and approach, and its importance wasn’t as widely recognized and valued in terms of strategic differentiation. There’s been increasing recognition that a customer-centric design and product approach is really the only way to build high-impact, effective, useful, and engaging products and services. Companies who launch or, more likely, maintain legacy products with bad UX are increasingly putting themselves in a strategically weak position and are opening up the opportunity for a competitor with superior UX to gain considerable buzz and market share. 

What surprised you about the submissions the first time around?
We had hoped for more submissions from tech companies and startups in addition to the digital agencies. That didn’t happen in the first year, probably because it takes time to put together a submission, and the bigger agencies already have an established process for that (though we try to make the submission process fairly straightforward and not too onerous!). We’re hoping for more diversity of submissions this year from across the board — students, startups, tech companies, in-house UX at large firms, and agencies! We also didn’t get many mobile applications — something we hope will change this year as well!

Any winners from last year that were particularly noteworthy?
All the winning projects were, of course, great, or they wouldn’t have won! That said, the Morgan Stanley Matrix application was a perfect submission as far as we were concerned. It was a product that required a lot of thoughtful consideration on the UX, and it had real utility for its users, with clear goals. It was also a product that would never have won a Webby or any of the other existing digital awards. It was a very well-crafted, UX-focused, internal business application intended for traders. Similarly, Modus Associates’ Strategy submission was another piece that wouldn’t have found a place in any other awards. These are the kinds of scenarios that we want to highlight with the awards — the craft of UX in itself, the people behind great UX, and the tangible business impact that thoughtful UX can have.

What’s involved in submission?
We’ve tried to keep the submission process to a minimum, while still giving the judges sufficient information to make an informed decision. The submissions process comes down to a simple story: the problem, the UX solution, why the chosen UX solution was the best solution, and how the UX was implemented. We want to focus on the craft of UX — the process. It isn’t just about showing some wireframes, or a prototype, or a mockup — you have to show how and why the proposed UX was a great approach for the project.

How do the judges submit? Can they submit their own work? 
Each judge ranks each submission on a numeric scale. We then tally the numbers across all submissions. We then discuss the top-ranked ones in a group meeting to determine the winners collectively. The diversity and number of judges means that the submissions are being viewed and considered across a wide range of criteria under the “UX” umbrella.

Judges are allowed to submit their own work or work from their company, as can be seen from the first awards. Some people thought that was odd in the first year, but they probably didn’t know enough about the process. The judges’ companies were obviously the most aware of the awards last year, and they were able to put together very good submissions.

It’s actually very difficult to influence the system — if judge X submits a piece, then that judge cannot rank his/her own submission. The seven other judges then each have to think that submission is sufficiently worthy, or it won’t make the cut. These judges have their professional credibility and reputation on the line, and they are not going to be easily swayed, especially given the volume of submissions. The work has to stand on its own merits, so in fact I’d say that it is harder for work submitted by a judge to be seriously considered.

Similarly, sponsoring the awards certainly doesn’t guarantee an award. It just shows that the sponsor is forward-thinking in UX and in giving their brand exposure to the audience base. The submissions are evaluated independently.

What words of advice do you have for anyone who’s considering submitting?
You should definitely submit! There’s no harm, and you might just win. It’s only the second year of the awards, so the word is only just beginning to get out; they will inevitably become more competitive as time goes by. Also, since we’re instituting categories, you never know if there will be a lot or very few other submissions for a given category — so your chances might be a lot higher than you think!

Also, submit early, and be sure your submission is complete and accurate before submitting. We received a few submissions last year with the wrong links in them. Needless to say, those submissions did not win. We can’t know when someone is just being sloppy, or whether the source file has moved, etc. It is the applicant’s responsibility to ensure the application is accurate and complete.

To learn more about the submission process and to submit your project, visit the User Experience Awards website.