Web & Graphic Design

Running a design contest – tips for first timers

The outcome of every design contest, from the client’s point of view, is picking the most appropriate solution from a significant amount of submissions. It also doesn’t hurt if you can get it at a noticeably lower price than what an advertising agency or high priced design bureau would normally charge. There are two ways to approach this situation: either as a boss or as a businessman. In the first scenario, you would unload all of your everyday frustrations and nastiness on a bunch of designers, more or less willing to put up with it for a potential win. In the second one, you would actually regard them as the target audience for your contest and find ways in which you can motivate them to achieve the best results.

Don’t hold your hopes too high in finding similar information on any of the websites hosting this type of contests. Just like those dealing with stock photography, project bidding and other contributor based communities, they are more interested in keeping the customer happy. They might know the rules of the game such as a referee does but they don’t know it first hand as a sportsman. What they usually fail to realize is that if the content’s quality is lacking, then sales will too.

At the end of the day, unless you’re one of those intermediary agencies specialized in running design contests for their clients, rather than doing actual work, you won’t have to deal with this too often. That’s why rushing and constantly complaining about it being tiresome to manage, it’s not only a real waste of time but also very impolite. After all, when compared to the designers, you’ll be spending a lot less time reviewing, then they will spend working. That’s why if they perceive you don’t care about it, they probably won’t either.
Here are just several elements that would motivate designers to engage in  your project:

  • the prize – a decent or generous amount will often mean the difference between amateur and professional submissions;
  • the brief’s quality – a thorough brief will usually speed up the process and help designers create better quality work;
  • the amount of feedback and ratings received for each submission – essential for improving the designs and getting plenty of revisions;
  • the overall respect and tone of communication between the contest holder and the designer;

You should also maintain a fine balance between how you want your product to be perceived and the amount of resources you’re willing to invest in promoting it. If you’re bragging about how you’re aiming  for a premium or high end spot, then you should take care that you can reflect that into the way the contest is run as well. To avoid appearing shallow and  eventually creating negative word of  mouth, it’s best to award a motivating prize, create a  professional written brief, treat the designers with the respect you’re hoping to achieve for your brand and don’t change the rules (aka the requirements) halfway through the game. Normally, this would be considered common sense advice. However, a quick search would show just how often most of these guidelines are blatantly ignored and the end results fail to impress.

Also, try not to forget that this is not some philosophy class in Ancient Greece, so sharing ideas and inspiration between designers is a big turn off. Because in the end a participant is either a winner or a loser, nobody wants to see parts of their designs (and time) contributing to the financial welfare of the competition. Not only that, but unless you’re actively coming  up with concept ideas, suggesting other designers try a certain path you’ve seen in one submission it’s also more or less copyright infringement.

Supposed you’ve reached the point where you have to make a decision and pick a winner. Usually, there are three main types of individuals whose opinions will weigh in more or less:

  • You should always have the last saying in this. It’s your choice because at the end of the day, it’s also your hard earned money on the line, your job and your credibility. Nobody else will take the blame if things fail miserably, yet they might take the credit if it works out fine.
  • Your friends and family. It’s quite common to hear clients say how their spouse told them how they didn’t like the colors or their beer buddy didn’t think it was a manly enough concept. However, before taking their feedback into account, you should definitely see if they fit into the target audience. You might hold a lot of respect for them but unless they’d be willing to spend money on your product in real life, then their choice is not only useless but also harmful. Would you sell organic soy milk to junk food aficionados? I bet not.
  • The designers can give you a lot of insight into why they picked certain design elements. It’s only risky if you can’t spot a very convincing smooth talker from a bunch of seasoned professionals. Otherwise, you’ll have a lot to gain if you lend an ear or even ask for additional information. Their experience will help anticipate any problems that might arise and take care of minor details which often go unnoticed, but can make or break a piece.

At the end of the day, holding design contests should be just a means to an end: finding a good designer for your brand while minimizing the risks associated with it. Of course, you could run one for each and every job there is. However, a brand is best promoted when it’s part of a coherent branding and marketing strategy. You won’t be able to achieve that if you constantly swap designers, no matter how thick or well constructed your identity guide is. There simply isn’t enough time for the newcomers to get to know the gist of your product and how it related to your target audience. In the end, the result will be choppy and the savings insignificant compared to the amount of time and money wasted during the process.

You might want to check back in the future as i would be covering certain aspects of successfully running a design contest, more in depth.

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