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Day Three: On Design Contests

Nothing makes me happier than watching businesses run design contests instead of hiring designers! And just to be crystal clear, since it's hard to convey sarcasm through written words... that was indeed sarcasm.

It's a phenomenon that's been growing in recent years, this idea of design contests as a viable alternative to hiring professional designers for projects. On the surface, it might seem like a win-win situation. The promise of award money might make these contests sound ethical, fair, and even exciting, but they're not.

Why Design Contests Fall Short

Since the majority of designers don't win in these contests, they end up doing work for no reward. Sure, you could argue that they gain experience, but they can do so and get paid as well. The whole idea that experience alone should be enough of a compensation overlooks the fact that design is a profession, not a hobby.

Not to mention that the prize money is usually far below the fair rate for a project of its nature. It's like throwing a bone and expecting professional commitment, effort, and excellence. Here's a more comprehensive look at why design contests are a flawed concept:

  1. They normalize spec work that results in designers working for free: This sets a dangerous precedent where talent and effort are not valued.
  2. They cheapen our industry: By undermining the worth of professional designers, they diminish the perceived value of design work as a whole.
  3. They encourage skipping past important phases of the design process such as research & discovery: Design is not just about visuals; it's about solving problems, understanding users, and creating meaningful experiences.
  4. They imply design work is less valuable than that of other industries: Would other professionals be expected to work for free in a contest? Why should designers?
  5. They often result in subpar work: Without a proper process, collaboration, and understanding, the results often miss the mark.
  6. They can feel degrading to the designers participating: Being part of a contest where your hard work might end up uncompensated is demoralizing.
  7. They encourage a design process lacking in communication between the designers and the clients: Good design requires understanding, collaboration, and iteration. Contests usually bypass these crucial steps.
  8. They are a general waste of time and resources: Both for the businesses and the designers, it's often a futile effort leading nowhere.

Some Final Words

In the world of design, where creativity meets functionality, where art meets business, design contests are a misstep. Businesses need to stop running design contests, or designers need to stop participating. Either way works.

What are your thoughts on design contests? Do you see any redeeming qualities, or do you agree that they are fundamentally flawed? How do you think we can educate both businesses and budding designers about the value of proper design work?

Feel free to reach out and let's have an open conversation. In understanding and respecting our industry, we pave the way for creativity, innovation, and fair compensation for all involved.

Borys Skowron

August 10, 2023

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