[Note: I started investigating interaction design work recognition and awards as I started working on the Women In IXD book I am currently writing. Coming from a background of graphic design, I was quite familiar with the practice of designers submitting work for awards and recognition. I was curious what organizations recognized interaction and experience design and when they started. I was also digging in to see if I could discern any gender distribution in the awards. Unfortunately, because interaction and experience design work is a team sport, it is often difficult to know who the actual designers are on the team. This piece has ended up being tangential to the main body of work for my book so I am sharing it here as an interesting piece of history.]

As Interaction Design and User Experience Design emerged with the growth of the internet, it evolved and became a distinct practice from the more academic HCI. Designers who had a habit of submitting work to competitions and design annuals began submitting their digital work to these same outlets that had previously recognized excellent print work. 

A short timeline visual indicating when various organizations started recognizing Interaction, Experience and Web Design work.
A short timeline indicating when various organizations started recognizing Interaction, Experience and Web Design work. (click image to open a larger, more readable version)

Towards the end of the 20th century, Print Magazine spent several years in the early nineties, starting in 1992, delivering a Computer Art and Design Annual. This was separate from the regular design annual and it featured work that had been created using the Computer as a design tool. This was, in its way, a novelty compared to the traditional way print design had been created up to this point, and was treated as such at the beginning. It’s interesting to look back at these annuals today—back then, they collected information about what software was used, what platform was used—as if the tools used were as important as the ideas and pieces presented. The novelty of using these tools rather than traditional methods still concealed the underlying revolution that was taking place in the practice of design.

It wasn’t until 1996 that they changed the name to the Digital Art and Design Annual. This was also the first year that interactive screen designs were shown in their own category. These entries were almost all web designs or motion graphics. Of the 13 projects featured in the annual, 7 were designed by women. In comparison, in 1997 the first webby awards were awarded. The Webby’s were an award created to exclusively honor excellent website design. They featured 70 websites, with 14 winners. 

The next year, the Print Annual fully acknowledged Interactive Design as a category—considering asynchronous collections of screens together. There was a surge in web and cd-rom projects—54 were showcased. Of these, 23 list women designers or creative directors on the projects and for the first time we see the title Information Designer. In 1998 the Webby Awards officially became hosted by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (IADAS).

In 1999, Interactive Design was the first listed category in the Print Annual and showcased 59 winning entries with 28 women listed and we see the first instance of Information Architect listed as a role.

By 2001, the Print Annual was being called Interaction, Print’s Digital Design Annual and included all new categories—animation, cd-roms, websites by type and we see the rise of Flash enabled sites. The introduction to the annual speaks of over 1800 submissions with 54 winning submissions. This explosion of submissions exemplifies the explosion of work for designers in this interactive space, as we entered the 21st century.

In the AIGA annuals of the same time—starting in 2001—we see both Information Design and Experience Design categories included in the Year in Design annuals alongside the traditional print graphic design and book design awards, although as early as 1995, the annual mentions interface design even if it wasn’t a unique category (it was bundled in a category called Objects of Design but no screens ended up in the annual). Despite being added fairly early in the life of the field, the numbers of works included were never on par with the other categories. In 2004 there were only 3 “interactive” works included and in 2008 there are only 5 works included in the annual compared to hundreds of pages of brand identity systems, annual reports, posters and the 50 books of the year. What’s not clear is if this is because submissions were low or because AIGA was not really invested in Experience Design as they called it or in the outputs of the experience design community. 

What’s not reflected in these awards and annuals is the growing community of practitioners and alternative outlets for community. By 2008 there was a robust Information Architecture community and an Interaction Design community with conferences for both. 

[Update] In 2009, Cooper Hewitt added an Interaction Design category to their International Design Awards. That year, Lisa Strausfeld was a finalist in the new category and Bill Moggridge was given a lifetime achievement award. In 2010 she won the Interaction award for her work on the One Laptop per Child project. It wasn't until 2018, that another woman, Neri Oxman, won the Interaction award. In 2020, they renamed the category Digital.

The IXDA Interaction Design Awards began in 2010, complete with awards ceremonies and celebrations of excellent work. By 2012 there were over 300 submissions from 33 countries, and 26 featured projects and this number has grown each year with close to 60 projects featured in 2021 with 11 category winners. 

In 2011, Core77, an online journal covering interaction design as well as industrial design, launched its inaugural design awards. The organization sought to recognize a wide variety of categories including Interactive Design Web & Mobile, Graphic & Brand Design, Products & Equipment, Packaging, Apparel but also Service Design, Design for Social Impact, Education, and Speculative Objects—each of the categories awarded to both professionals and students. Over the years the categories have become more refined to account for built environments, consumer tech, personal wearables, among others. They continue to include Social Impact work, Speculative Design and to split the awards across both professionals and students. Because of the nature of teams working together in the corporate environment as well as in agencies, it is impossible to understand the balance of their awards across genders. The juries for each of the categories over the ten years running are fairly balanced and over the years have become more diverse.

ACM and SIGCHI (Special Interest Group Computer Human Interaction) have been recognizing people in the HCI and research field since 1998. Lifetime service awards, lifetime achievement awards, SIGCHI academy nominations, Social Impact awards and outstanding dissertation awards all recognize work in the field of HCI, with a strong emphasis on academic research. In fact, most of the recipients are professors or students in academia and it wasn’t until 2009 when Aaron Marcus was nominated to the Academy that a professional practicing designer was included in any of these awards.1

Of the 36 Lifetime Achievement Awards, 8 have been awarded to women (and that includes the husband/wife team, Judy and Gary Oslon, in 2006). Of the 36 Lifetime Service Awards, 11 have been awarded to women. Of the 24 Social Impact Awards, 11 have gone to women and nominations into the SIGCHI Academy since 1998, out of 148 total, only 44 have been women.2

Women still lag behind in being recognized for their work in the field despite authoring a multitude of books, articles, research papers, speaking at conferences, running conferences and workshops, as well as teaching—we see it in the numbers historically and in the workplace. Our ability to be good team members and not take credit for our work, especially when executives,  team leads or managers are male, means that our work isn’t being recognized or documented well. Without that documentation and recognition being called out, women disappear and the representation across the field skews to men who are more inclined to speak out, to take credit and write about or speak about their accomplishments.

(1) Ben Shneiderman, Encounters with HCI Pioneers : A Personal History and Photo Journal (San Rafael, California: Morgan & Claypool, 2019). p 139

Other bibliography:
Print Magazine September/October 1993, XLVII:V
Print Magazine March/April 1995, XLIX:II
Print Magazine July/August 1996, L:IV
Print Magazine July/August 1999, LIII:IV
Print Magazine July/August 1997, LI:IV
Print Magazine July/August 2001, LV:IV
A16A: The Annual of the American Institute of Graphic Arts 1994–1995, #16
365 AIGA Year in Design, 2001, #22
365 AIGA Year in Design, 2002, #24
365 AIGA Year in Design, 2003, #25
365 AIGA Year in Design, 2004, #26
365 AIGA Year in Design, 2005, #27
365 AIGA Annual Design Competitions, 2006, #28
365 AIGA Year in Design, 2008, #29
The Webby Awards, https://winners.webbyawards.com/winners
Core77 Design Awards, https://designawards.core77.com/
IXDA Interaction Awards, https://awards.ixda.org/