“Knowing that the design profession regards design awards highly – as far as establishing credibility as a designer – how much time (and money) should one spend entering contests? Or, is time better spent promoting yourself through good client work for your portfolio?” -James
The answer to this question is dependent upon where you are and where you are trying to go. If you have little to no awards and you have been in the industry a while, you might want to get a few under your belt. If you are trying to get into a design firm/agency that feels you need them as a qualifier then maybe you should focus on it as well.
I have always been of the mindset that “If you do good work and serve your clients well, good pieces (and potential entries) will come from it”. That said, I look at entries the way most of us have been taught to look at our portfolio. Only your best work. The best way to get good work, is lots of work, lots of real client work. It has been my experience that real client work is also what most perspective clients want to see.
Generally, they want to know what you have done, who for (i.e. competitors, clients, big companies, etc.) and how expensive and reliable you are. Outside of our industry a lot of clients don’t know about the AIGA, The Art Directors Club, Ad Federation or even about HOW, Print or Communication Arts. Most of the time you list the award and then have to explain what it is if they ask. Don’t take this the wrong way I am not saying that awards aren’t important. I am saying that they have their place. Awards make an impression on a resume or in a office/lobby display case. They can start a conversation and build some credibility. They can also separate you from the competition. Ultimately it depends on your goal.
What is most important to you may not be to me. I have always wanted to do good work for my clients and have them be happy with the end product and results. I want them to be happy and come back to me again. I want their business, trust and if I can get it, their respect. My clients happiness and repeat business are the awards that are the most important and in the end and will bring you the greatest acclaim.
Good luck and thanks for the question.