13 November 2006
Helmut Langer
Helmut Langer

In Parts 1 and 2 of this article, international design competition expert Helmut Langer discussed International Design Award Schemes for work that has already been produced and published. The third and final installment of this multi-part article focuses on International Design Competitions for original and unpublished design work created under a given theme.

Part 3: International design competitions calling for new work to be produced
This type of competition is not so common at the international level as, for example, the biennales, annual shows and annual design publications. But here, too, there's plenty of room for mistakes and pitfalls. First of all, it's important to stress that the best and most cost-effective way of finding a solution for a design task is direct contact between the client and the designer, team of designers or design agency. Yet, there are circumstances in which an international design competition can be sensible.

1. International design competitions open to professional designers
- Open design competitions. Here the organiser is interested in receiving as many ideas as possible. There is no payment for participation. The quality of the submissions can vary enormously.
- Restricted design competitions are open to a selected group of designers only. In comparison to the open competitions, these produce better results.

2. International design competitions open to students
These competitions should always have be relevant to the students' education and bring useful experience. Professional designers are not allowed to take part. The principle of equal treatment for all participants is upheld, and all submissions remain anonymous in the judging. There are both open and invited competitions for students.

Before entering any competition, you should always read all the terms and conditions very carefully. And above all check whether these conform to the international regulations and guidelines for professional and fair design competitions. These rules are laid down by the three world federations (Icograda, ICSID and IFI - see part one of this series).

What do the international regulations for international design competitions say?

The competition brief must clearly specify what the category is and who is permitted to enter.

Deadlines for submission
The period between announcement of the competition and the deadline for submissions can be from three to six months - but three months is the minimum.

Briefing and judgement criteria
The briefing must clearly set out the theme, the aim and the expected type of design (drawings, finished designs, models, specifications, etc.). Attention should also be paid as to whether specific judgement criteria are published in the competition documentation.

The jury
- The jury should be composed equally of men and women, where at all possible, and the jurors should have proper expertise and experience.
- The majority of the jury must be practising designers. Other jury members must have the right specialist knowledge in a relevant subject.
- The jury must be composed of five or more members.
- The jury must be international in scope, which means as far as possible all the continents must be represented. The jury members must be from many different countries, in order to guarantee due attention is paid to different traditions, cultures and visual tastes. No country should have a majority representation in a jury.
- No organiser may be represented in the jury, neither as a member, nor as a presenter, nor in any other form. A jury must be independent.
- The chairperson of the jury must be voted by the jury members from among the jury members, before the work of the jury commences. In order to guarantee the independence of the jury, the jury chairperson may not be determined in advance by the organiser.

Exclusion clause
The organisers, jury members, their families, studios or design teams are expressly forbidden to take part in the competition.

The work presented must be unsigned. No indications of the originator may be evident. The identity of the person submitting the work must be kept in a sealed envelope. The identity may only be revealed after the jury has made its decision.

The prizes and remuneration must be higher than the fee usually paid if the work had been directly commissioned. The organiser must set out clearly how many prizes there are and what their monetary value is. It must also be clear whether the jury may divide the prizes or their monetary value up differently, or perhaps even not award them (e.g. in the case of poor-quality entries).

Care and protection
The organiser must keep the work submitted safe and undamaged while in his care, until it is returned to the sender.

Copyright, patents and use
Participants in the competition should consider protecting their work, before submission, by registering for copyright or patents. This can be an advantage in any negotiations on the use of the design, once a prize has been awarded. Even if no prize is received, such protection can be useful when pursuing any unauthorised copying of the design (inspired by its publication or appearance in an exhibition).

Normally the organiser has an option to take over the rights to use the prize-winning designs for a period of three months of the results being announced. Should the organiser want to do the same with a design that did not receive a prize, this is only possible after negotiation of an appropriate fee. Such a situation can arise, e.g. when the organiser takes a different view to the jury on the results.

Rights of manufacture or reproduction of the design are always subject to an additional fee. They are not covered with the awarding of the prize.

Variations, changes and improvements to the designs are only possible with the written permission of the originator. Copyright always remains with the originator.

If it is the intention to actually use the designs produced for the competition, the creators/submitters of the winning designs or any other design that is to be used should be commissioned to realise those designs or further develop them. Should the submitter/creator not be in a position to do this - whatever the reason - the jury can then recommend another designer or another team to do this in conjunction with the winner. Those recommended must not have any kind of relationship to the jury or the organiser (see also exclusion from participation).

If the organiser does not intend to use the results produced for the competition, he has to make this known when announcing the competition and in the competition details.

Prize money and announcement of the winners
The prize money should be paid within one month of the award being announced. All participants should be informed about who won within two months after the date of submission.

Exhibition, publication
All participants in the competition should be informed within two months of the date of submission, whether the organiser intends to publish or hold an exhibition of the entries. Participants who did not win a prize have the right to refuse publication of their work or its inclusion in an exhibition.

Return of entries
All works that did not receive an award should be returned within two months of the deadline for submissions, at the expense of the organiser. In the case of an exhibition or publication, this date may be extended for up to twelve months. Other arrangements should be clearly defined in the competition details. There is no obligation to return non-originals (e.g. digital print-outs of posters).

If the competition has the endorsement of one of the three international federations, the organiser is obliged to publish a report about the competition, including details of the number of entries, names of the jury members, names of the winners and commentaries of the jury. This must then be made available to the international federation.

In the case of restricted competitions (invitation-only), the same rules apply (including with regard to prize money), but with the following additional points:
- In invitation-only competitions, the designers receive a fee for submitting their design. This fee must be higher than the fee normally paid for producing such a commission.
- The names of those taking part must be sent to all participants along with the competition documentation.
- The organiser must ensure that the briefing and possible dialogue between the organiser and the participants is equal and fair for all participants. This must be monitored by an independent person.

The rules also apply to international design competitions for students. In this case, however, the prize money can be lower. Any use, reproduction or production of the designs must of course be remunerated with a fee comparable to that received for professional design services.

Draw your conclusions
If one of these requirements is not met - in other words the competition does not come up to standard - you should not take part. The same applies if the briefing is unclear, or if an inadequate jury is proposed. Such competitions are not fair.

A few tips
If it becomes clear, for example, that a competition is being held only for the publicity purposes of the organiser, the designer should carefully consider what value any competition success might have (including prize money), if the work is not then used in any way, and no additional fee for that use is thereby generated.

Student competitions are a particular favourite with organisers wanting to carry out cheap PR campaigns.
- With all competitions you should look very carefully at the awards and prize money on offer. Student competitions in particular, can often be a way of getting a large number of designs cheaply.
- Make sure you use your right in good time to refuse publication of your (non-prize-winning) work, or its inclusion in an exhibition, if you want to ensure that others don't draw inspiration from and use your (non-remunerated) ideas in other contexts.
- You have to distinguish clearly between competitions for professional designers and/or for design students, and competitions open to everybody, including schoolchildren. The latter is subject to no professional standards and professional designers or design students should not take part in them.

Similar rules apply to regional and national competitions. In the design competitions described above, the international regulations for international, global design competitions can be distilled down for continent-wide and national competitions. For here, too, all the rules (with the exception of the international composition of the jury) apply as regards professionalism and fairness.


About this article
Part 3 was originally published in novum in three segments: issues 09/04, 10/04 and 11/04. The text is re-published with permission.

About Helmut Langer

Helmut Langer was President and member of the board of Icograda from 1987 to 1993. Since 1993, he has been advising as international competition expert to Icograda and to international organisers of competitions. Helmut has served as juror at many competitions around the world. He received many prizes and awards for his design works, but he no longer takes part in design award schemes, since he is acting as international competition expert. Beside his design work for international organisations and companies he is passing on his experience and know-how as guest professor at various universities worldwide; currently he is a guest professor at Nagoya University of Arts in Nagoya/Japan.

Because of the global concern about raising competition standards, Langer's 'Competition' article is being published world-wide. The article will be published or has been published in German (NOVUM magazine Germany), Chinese (PACKAGE & DESIGN, China and DESIGN in Taiwan), Spanish (several design magazines in Latin America), Korean (DESIGN IN KOREA, South Korea), Russian (KAK magazine, Russia), Japanese (DESIGNERS' WORKSHOP magazine, Japan), and in several other magazines and designers' information services.

About novum
novum - WORLD OF GRAPHIC DESIGN is an international magazine for communication design (German/English). The first issue was published in 1924 - the magazine celebrates its 80th anniversary in 2004. Each month novum shows the best works in graphic design, packaging, web design, advertising, editorial design, illustration and features special topics like trade fair design, orientation systems, typography, event design and many others.