Design View | Articles and opinion on design professionalism, technique and culture by Andy Rutledge

Redesign Competitions: looking for a commitment or just a roll in the hay?

May 30, 2006

I’m hosting a competition. I need a partner with whom to have a serious relationship but I don’t want to invest any time or effort in finding the right woman; I shouldn’t have to. I’m a great man and any woman should be proud to be with me, so I’m holding auditions. I’d like for all interested women to visit me and show me your “wares.” I’m definitely looking for someone with a hot bod, and not afraid to show it off. Extra points for staying the night and letting me sample your attentions and enthusiasm. One lucky winner gets a $400 wedding ring and the prestige of having me for a partner (‘cause I look good). The rest of you just get screwed. Awright, who’s with me?

This is the basic translation of every redesign competition invitation for any company who has ever held one. Is it apparent now just how disrespectful such competitions are toward those they solicit? Given this clear context, how many of you are still willing to defend this sort of behavior? Aw c’mon, I know you’re out there. I read your apologist responses and defenses of these competitions all the time.

The irony is that most of those who participate are doing so in hopes of buoying their professional prospects. The joke’s on them and it’s a sad joke.

Let’s examine this apt analogy in more detail. When looking for someone to spend the rest of your life with, a hot bod and a willingness to put out are not exactly the appropriate exclusive criteria for selection. They might be part of the package, but they’re largely irrelevant to the fundamental and foundational issues involved with healthy relationships. Those issues are far more complex and far more meaningful.

It’s no different for a company’s site redesign effort. Mere “eye-catching design” from designers willing to produce work without hope of compensation is not exactly the sort of thing that meets a company’s vital and complex online presence needs. Nor is this willingness a good indication of the quality of the solution or the professionalism of the individuals involved. In fact, this behavior indicates quite the opposite for both the company and the participants.

In either case for one of these redesign competitions the expressed criteria for selection have absolutely nothing to do with how the actually relevant needs, desires, expectations and aims can be met and addressed. So how on earth can this sort of thing be considered a good thing for anyone involved? Plain and simple: it’s not.

The results of redesign competitions support the idea that design is nothing more than decoration or eye-candy. How could it indicate otherwise? Design is a process that begins with research and discovery. Every aspect of the client’s needs, aims and desires, along with the brand’s needs, context and purpose; in addition to the current and desired target audience’s expectations, needs, desires, culture, etc… MUST be weighed, measured and considered thoroughly before any design solution can present itself.

The term “design whore” is not even applicable to the image that is thus created. Whores are professional and whores get paid. What do you call someone who doesn’t even have the self respect to expect or demand payment?

So tell me, where in these design competitions is there any consideration of these vital elements of the design process? This sort of information is not available to the misguided individuals who throw in with these ridiculous efforts. These competitions involve a wholly unprofessional process and context. The irony is that most of those who participate are doing so in hopes of buoying their professional prospects. The joke’s on them and it’s a sad joke.

But that’s not all that’s wrong with these competitions. Let’s imagine the volume of uncompensated work that is invited by them. Let’s say that the redesign effort, including the design work and the basic HTML/CSS templates generation, would be $5,000. Now let’s imagine that 450 people participated in the design cattle-call. One gets paid a few hundred for his or her effort (which is a tragedy in its own right), but the rest don’t. The result is that $2.25 million worth of work goes uncompensated because of one company’s disrespectful solicitation.

Yes, it’s very definitely a joke on all involved. The problem is that the joke is also on the design profession as a whole. Every time one of these competitions is held, it tears a little more at the fabric of our profession. Every designer who participates in one of these competitions steals a bit more credibility from the true professionals in this industry.

The term “design whore” is not even applicable to the image that is thus created. Whores are professional and whores get paid. What do you call someone who doesn’t even have the self respect to expect or demand payment?

A designer? Say it ain't so.

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