Discussion: Design Competitions worth it?

Regular reader Scott asks:

We designers and innovators struggle all the time to get our name “out there” so we can more quickly push our designs into reality.  Entering (and winning) such contests as Muji can certainly help, but at what cost?

If you sit back and look at the bigger picture of what is happening, it is really quite sad.  Let’s say a huge company needs to develop a new fun dispenser for their soap product.  They can spend millions hiring a prestigious design firm to get a filtered short list of a few new ideas put together by a team of perhaps 5 designers, or they can sponsor a design competition – disguise their motive in the form of a “challenge” to the designers of the world.

As in most design competitions, it would not be surprising to see 5000 designers enter from around the world.  Each designer would carefully follow the rules, in many cases pay a FEE of up to perhaps $100 or so and then spend hours carefully and vividly illustrating their novel work, presenting it in the exact form required by the rules of the competition (and the sponsoring company).  They would then submit their invention, their design, their intellectual property to so-called “judges” who work with the sponsor to determine select winners.  During this process, the sponsoring company has the privilege of inspecting the outcome of perhaps the biggest brainstorm session in the world.

The cost to the company is minimal (pay the judges and award $10,000/ $5,000/$1,000 to the winners).  For this small cost, the company gets to see incredibly diverse and innovative concepts from great minds of many parts of the world (ideas that have not be shown before) AND they get the rights to the designs they want AND they don’t have to pay royalties or give the struggling designer any design credit to HIS or HER design, AND they also get free advertisement as a result of being the sponsoring company (it looks like great PR – a win win win for the company).

Are we fools here?  I’m surprised all companies don’t tap into this wealth of eager brains.  We need to form a union to protect our innovations from the corporate world.

If we don’t win, which is often the case, we don’t even get any constructive criticism from the judges for our fee.  So we don’t really learn from the experience (design wise) and honestly, we can’t be certain that the judges even looked at our designs.  We often don’t even get a courtesy email to let us know that we didn’t make the next round.  I wish there was a better way.

What are your thoughts?

I’d post my own thoughts in the comments section – join in with your views!


7 comments so far

  1. KK on

    From the perspective of a designer, I don’t usually enter a design competition with too much commercial interest in mind. It’s almost exactly the same as the mentality for running this blog actually – I spend effort maintaining it; it doesn’t quite give me any financial rewards (it even costs me – time and (not a lot of) money); it gives me an avenue of expression and creative freedom; exposure – well there’s some, not too much, not extremely significant but still welcome anyway.

    For me design competitions are very much like that. If there’s an interesting brief, the mind can’t help but to be piqued and may work on some ideas (if time permits). And ultimately, if it wins, great! If not, let’s see what the winners did (and hope they are interesting). I don’t think many designers enter competitions as a matter of livelihood – pitching and netting a certain percentage of competitions, for example.

    In a nutshell, it’s just for the passion for design.

    That is, of course, my own perspective as designer. As a company, I’m not sure how profitable or useful it really is running a design competition. I won’t underestimate the efforts required to coordinate, publicize, arrange, judge, award and liaise a proper design competition (especially if you’re looking at big global ones with many participants). It still requires tremendous commitment from the host company – it’s not quite just ‘dangle a competition and see how many ideas we can fish’.

    Of course, the company can certainly benefit from the wide variety of ideas (of varying qualities too) from participants everywhere. I’m not quite sure how useful these ideas are though – I suppose if they were really effective the world would long have ditched design consultancies and run purely by competition by now.

  2. Scott on

    Great points, KK. I agree that there is a passion aspect of designing that cannot be overlooked and I admit that I do love the challenge of designing within the contstraints of a design competition. I just wish we would get some constructive feedback from the judges, even if it is just check marks on a form.

    That’s all.

  3. Scott on

    Great cartoon, by the way!!!


  4. lingmiester on

    Personally, I don’t enter design competitions, that take me out of my daily work.

    I see competitions as a vote of confidence.

    However I think you need to distinguish design competitions, that award good design, design competitions that award good ideas, and design competitions that are sponsored by companies with commercial interests.

    I believe your issues are of the last one.

    I dont mind the first 2, but these need to be run by organizations that are indipendent.

    The last one is what Scott was talking about. And probably why most of these are only targeted to students like electrolux for example.

    Most professionals will not enter.

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