COMPETITIONS: GOOD OR BAD?

08 November 2006
Thomas Dickson, Designer MDD, MAA
Thomas Dickson, Designer MDD, MAA

Competitions are more and more commonly used in various fields of design. There can be various reasons for launching a design competition i.e. the client doesn't have the experience to choose a particular designer, or, he's more interested in the exposure involved than he is in good design. There's far more publicity to be had through arranging a poster competition than in just hiring a good graphic designer. The competition, from its traditional roots in architecture, has fostered design competitions covering everything from logos to bus stops, to the design of specific consumer goods.

The past decade has seen a roaring development in both the (design) professional's and the industry's design application. Among the most important achievements is the increased understanding that design consists of a number of related elements: product, packaging, web, graphic, identity, interior design, architecture etc. that all go together and all relate to a company's identity, strategy and culture! But, is this understanding reflected out there in the real world? Profession-wise we argue the importance of the designer, being 'involved from the very beginning' (from before the project is defined) and that one must integrate design in company organisations and use it as a strategic, managerial tool. However, in the sphere of competitions, this goal is often forfeited because the initial competition concept isn't properly formulated. The result is frustration - not least among designers and architects.

Danish Professor of Architecture, Niels Ole Lund and Assistant Professor Flemming Skude have argued (in the Danish Architectural Press) against competitions in architecture. Both claim that competitions seem to promote a superficially spectacular, yet monotonous, architecture at the cost of the serious, inventive and compassionate architecture. What seems to be hot these days, they say, is the variation-of-the-tilted-glass-box sort of building. They are also critical of the clanish nature of juries. Not to mention how the big competitions drain the participants resources. An open competition may attract as many as 2-300 design- or architectural proposals. This easily represents 250.000 working hours and, only the winner can expect to gain anything. Not from the prize allocation, mind you. The remuneration only comes when the project is physically realised. Is that reasonable?

So, what should we do, instead? Focus on the intelligent substance rather than the fancy presentation models and computer animations, which really cost work hours. This kind of competition is used all the time in the advertising world where agencies are required, in record time, to create a story-board sketch for a new campagne, the serious work following later. In this way, the competition concernes itself with creative inventiveness, and not just the number of employees you can afford to allocate or how much you re worth at the bank. Now, that would be reasonable wouldn t it?




About this article

The above article is reprinted from Rum and Form magazine, with permission.

About Thomas Dickson
Thomas Dickson (1958), is a product designer and board member for the Association of Danish Designers. He has studied at the Royal Academy in Copenhagen and at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena California.
Thomas Dickson runs his own design office, Tomcat Design, serving a number of clients, among them Royal Copenhagen, with conceptual product design. He has won several prizes.
He lectures at several universities and design schools. Thoams Dickson is also co-editor of the Danish design magazine Rum & Form and writes for several newspapers and magazines in Denmark.

About Rum and Form
Rum & Form
is the quarterly member's magazine published by Foreningen Danske Designere MDD (The Danish Designers Association). While the magazine is primarily aimed at members, it is also available to interested subscribers professional or not. The magazine usually consists of 72 pages, it is well illustrated and in full colour. Each article carries a resum in English.

Rum and Form covers MDD's design disciplines: industrial/product design, furniture design, graphic design, interior design/architecture and textile design. Rum and Form has correspondents in Germany, Italy and the UK.

The magazine tries to balance the publication of member's work with an international outlook.