Opinion: Design is not a contest

Digital Arts | 05 June 13

Image: Photolibrary.com

smashLab's creative director tells us why only the people that should be motivated by contests are children at birthday parties.

I work a job. It’s a good one – matter of fact, I love it. I meet with people from organizations that are doing interesting work, and get to learn about all of their hopes and challenges. I help them develop a plan, come up with ideas, and build out the required elements.

Those who aren’t designers might be surprised by how difficult this vocation can be, but most are somewhat interested in the pursuit. My hunch is that even a designer’s worst day is better than a life insurance salesperson’s best day.

Most of the designers I know feel the same way: design is an honest craft – not without challenges, but worth all the sweat. This leads me to wonder why so many designers are trying to ruin it.

Earlier this week our agency received an invite from another local shop, inviting us to a “design showdown,” or some other equally inane notion. Our office manager forwarded the message to me, asking, “Interested?” My response: “I can’t imagine anything less pleasant.”

Now, I don’t mean to disparage what these folks are trying to do; it’s likely an effort to build presence for their shop, and connect with others in the community. It’s just that I’m so terribly sick of this trade being invalidated – even unwittingly – by other creative people.

Yes, I enjoy my work; and, yes, I like hanging out with my industry peers. That being said, my job isn’t a contest.

“It’s not a social occasion or dick measuring session. I get paid for my

expertise, like any other worker."

Eric Karjaluoto

When this work is done, I go home to my family, which sees too little of me (or so they say). That’s enough for me – no need for creative showdowns.

Maybe I’m a curmudgeon who needs to relax a little. Besides, this stuff is all in good fun, right? I simply can’t escape the notion that all designers are cheapened as a result of this foolishness. The only people I think should be motivated by contests and gold stars are children at birthday parties. From such pursuits, clients likely see us in the same light. Personally, I can’t imagine a lawyer being excited to spend their weekend in a showdown of their “mad litigation skillz.”

But this silliness will persist, because our industry fails to mature and designers seem incapable of attributing proper value to the work they do. Meanwhile, these same design practitioners point their fingers at clients for not taking design seriously.

(Insert facepalm here.)

Originally published on Eric Karjaluoto's blog. Eric is creative director and a founding partner of the creative agency smashLAB.


Eric Karjaluoto said: Thanks—glad to hear that so many feel the same way!

Eric Karjaluoto said: Yup—they are a real drag. But, these marketplaces aren't going away. So, you need to offer something that they can't. In my opinion, that's insight, professionalism, and reliability.I talk about this a lot in my upcoming book, The Design Method. I'd recommend buying it. (Then, of course, I sort of have to, don't I?) More info: http://www.amazon.com/The-Desi...

Dan said: What about freelancer marketplaces? It's basically a contest, designers have to show their "skillz" to potential clients in order to 'win' the project. A lot of entry-level designers opt for this and a lot of great talent is being cast out because 'cheaper' and 'fastest' desginers win the bids (thus encouraging mediocre works). I truly believe these marketplaces are a disease for the creative world.

Karolina Szablewska said: I think this is a horrible attitude spreading across creative professions and I couldn't agree more.

Eric Karjaluoto said: Glad to hear that. Thank you!

Eric Karjaluoto said: Thanks—I hope you are keeping well. :-)

Eric Karjaluoto said: I appreciate that. Having more folks like you illustrate to students why it's a bad idea is important. It's one thing for others to ask for free work; it's another for designers to actually succumb and do this work.

Eric Karjaluoto said: I disagree. There have always been designers who lean towards form, and others who think more from a functional standpoint. (I put myself in the latter grouping.) It's just that this discussion is always in flux and difficult for many to properly grasp. For the record, the first two chapters of my new book, The Design Method, address this discussion in detail. You can preorder it here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Desi...

Ancient said: One problem with design is it has become utterly client led, secondarily its main obsession continues to be form and not function, hence apple losing its way design wise, If you think apple is good design you love aesthetic design rather functional design. agreed design dick off's aren't interesting, because the judging as always will be subjective and bent towards pure visual aesthetic rather than say legibility readability or clarity when it comes to screen or print.

Carlton Stout said: I completely agree. I even work closely with some young entry-level students and encourage them early to not enter these contests and demand the commensurate wage for their work.There are so many tricks that cheep clients try so to avoid paying for real design work.

Morgan Hirtle said: Good read Eric, miss your sense of humor.

Nisarg Mehta said: Brilliant article Eric. Agree with each & every word of this article.