Discussion: Design Competitions worth it?

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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?

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