Confessions of a Contest Junkie: Why I Can’t Quit Design
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m a design contest junkie. I definitely have a love-hate relationship with design contests and competitions, but I keep coming back for more. I always wonder what it is that makes some people love the thrill of the game, while others loathe their existence and are adamant that competitions should not exist. I decided to take a look at my motivations for entering design contests and why I think it is ‘worth it’.
The heart of the matter comes back to design. I love design – like, really love it. I think I may even make my husband jealous sometimes when I fawn over the latest building or product that is just ‘sooooo perfect’. I have a huge appreciation for design that is well thought out and executed. It really makes me happy. To be able to recognize a stroke of brilliance, a well crafted solution and appreciate the intentions and efforts put into it is something I can identify with; I hope my designs will resonate with others in a similar way that just…well, makes people happy. I think that is my ultimate driver in design: I want to improve the world around me so that people, upon seeing a design, sigh a happy sigh and go ‘ahhh, that makes life better and more beautiful’. I think at the root of all designers is a desire to improve the lives of those around us and it is the reason why it pains us to see bad designs: we know there is a better solution that will make people happy and we want to see that solution implemented.
In addition to a driving passion to improve my surroundings, I also love the thrill that design competitions offer. I’ve never been an adrenaline junkie; in fact, I dislike things that make me nervous or are scary. Yet, for some reason I love the rush of the design challenge, of submitting something for critique, the waiting period for judging and announcement of winners…I love all of that. I love looking through the other entries, and I love seeing all of the creative solutions to the same problem I was given. It is amazing to see how different people will take a single task and come up with amazing and diverse answers that I never would have considered. I think there is a kindred spirit even amongst competitors. It also helps me stay fresh and at the top of my game. Let’s face it: showing up and doing the same thing at work everyday can become a bit redundant even if you love what you do. Participating in competitions allows me to try my hand at things I may never otherwise design: skyscrapers, parks, theoretical floating villages. You name it, you can do it!
Of course, another reason is simple: winning is fun. Who doesn’t like to win now and then? It is sometimes easy to get caught up in the potential prizes, but for me (and likely for many people), the sheer act of being chosen for something is very meaningful. Architects and designers are awarded projects and jobs based on subjective opinions. Sometimes, it just feels nice to be the one that is chosen.
So what about the practicalities? When does someone like me find time to participate in these types of competitions? Isn’t it just a game of chance, like winning the lottery? Well, yes and no. For me, I try to implement at least some strategy. Competitions definitely take up a decent amount of time. I can be the first to tell you that it can be a sacrifice to spend evenings and weekends at the drawing board, but who said good things would be easy? As for odds, it all depends on the contest. The fewer the entries, the better your chances in most cases. First, I pick contests that I’m passionate about. If the prize is great but I really don’t care about solving the design problem, I likely won’t come up with a very good solution. It’s practice for choosing clients and turning down ‘good work’ that isn’t a great fit. Next, I treat each contest as if it were a client: I craft my solution to the parameters of the project (the program), and I even go as far as to tailor some aspects to the jury, if I know something about them. How will they view the work? What are they looking for? What will speak to them? If possible, I try to participate in contests with a good public viewing option since it is a great way to share the design with a lot of people. Unfortunately, those tend to be the ones that require public participation in the form of voting. I have to admit, I don’t like the voting model very much. I think it detracts from the quality of the work presented and I think it wears out those who support me as a designer. Turning design contests into popularity contests isn’t the best way to promote good design. As fate would have it, the contests I have participated in have been mostly fueled by public votes. For better or worse, it seems to be an ongoing trend with the prolific social media and ‘sharing’ tools available. It makes sense for the contest sponsor, as they get a lot of traffic and views for their company. I just wish the judging and valuation of a design was not based on how many friends each person had and was selected based on merit alone. To each his own!
In the end, even if I don’t come out as the first place winner, I still find value in the participation. Above and beyond the aforementioned benefits, it adds something new to my portfolio. As a young designer, it is helpful to have a spread of projects that can be directly attributed to one or two people rather than a huge team where and individual’s role can get lost or diluted. Individual or small team projects can help define a young designer and position them where they want to go. These types of contests are also great at teaching management skills. It takes a lot of ambition, self discipline and communication to get a design off the ground, formatted and submitted. Even the ‘vote for me’ campaigns teach a lot about perseverance, public opinion and the importance of networking. At the end of the day, even if you don’t win, you have an awesome portfolio piece, more experience on honing your design and description skills and a boost for design appreciation. I encourage you to participate in a worthy competition – ones that are free to enter, benefit others or are just plain fun. We all could use a little more fun in life!
Support my ‘habit’
Voting ends May 15
I would love your support in my latest design contest which depends on public votes for 20% of the final score. I had the help of my amazingly talented friend, Jerry Chen, who supplied the renderings. He’s stuck with me through many competitions, providing the renderings for each contest we’ve done together. We make a great team, and I would love to finally be able to compensate him for his time and skills. This competition will award $20,000 to the first place winner and $5,000 to two runners up. Can I count on your votes to get us there? Just follow the link above, and enter your email to vote. You may vote once per email address. Thank you for supporting me & design!
I was recently asked where I find the competitions to participate in. I tend to look on Death by Architecture, which keeps a list of all active competitions and you can sort by deadline, eligibility and more: http://www.deathbyarchitecture.com/searchCompetitions.html?method=SearchPublic
Written by: Brinn Miracle