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Assigning a Quality Score for Design Competitions

Home > Theory > Assigning Quality Score
This article explores the idea of assigning a quality score for design competitions.

Assigning a Quality Score for Design Competitions - What are the core qualities that makes a design competition good, fair and effective

Abstract: Design Competitions have become a common way to gain fame and authority in the last years, thus the demand for design competitions skyrocketed, with increased demand and high-rates of participation, number of competitions also increased exponentially and finally equilibrium was reached. However, in this case, we now have around 400+ International design competitions organized each year, plus thousands of local competitions are being organized throughout the world. With increased amount of choices, the designer now faces a decision to choose which competitions to participate and which not. This created a demand for a quick way to identify which competitions are worth designers’ time and which competitions should the designer stay away from.  However, due to enormous amount of information available (submission criteria, terms and conditions, call fiche, brief etc) of each competition, designers usually read only the brief and continue with submissions. It happens in many cases that the designer might even lose rights to her own design by just participating in such competitions.  In addition to this, there exists some competitions that are absolute loss of time, but on the other hand we also see that some very good design competitions such as with respected jury, tradition and organizers are lost in this ocean. This article explores how we could identify good design competitions by assigning a score to specific criteria.

Impacts and Benefits: Design Competitions have impacts on four important levels: the participant, organizer, jury, sponsors. For each of these involved parties, we shall dive deeper to see what they are actually seeking to gain.

The participant is usually a designer; designers mostly join competitions for a possibility of gaining fame through winning competitions. Fame is provided by advertisements, press communication and publicity campaigns after competition results are announced. A second reason to join competitions is to earn money by collecting award prizes. The third reason is for self-improvement, to improve their skills by practice and feedbacks. A fourth reason is to have their projects, designs or ideas realized. A sixth reason is to improve their career and cv and to have potential recruitment opportunities. Given all these points, we could summarize that designers participating in design competitions are looking for: fame, money, career improvements (including realizations), and self-improvements (through feedbacks). The participant could also be a design studio (also includes advertising agencies, architecture offices or any other business with design as core competency); design companies focus more on the fame and prestige earned by winning the award, so that they could commercially use this fame to get better or more customers.

We have four types of organizers: Non-profit organizations, Institutions, Enterprises and Design Competition Businesses. Organizers have different goals depending on their nature and the target of competition, so rather than categorizing the types of organizers or generalizing the aims based on the types of organizers, we should focus directly on the aims. These aims are not ordered as different type of organizations will have different priorities. These aims are as follows: One of the aims is to support design culture by backing up designers through monetary and famosity aid (usually by non-profit organizations, universities, associations, museums, institutions etc). Another important aim is to collect ideas and designs focusing on a particular issue or problem (usually by enterprises). A third aim is to earn profit (usually by design competition businesses). A fourth aim is to advertise the organizer in a positive way, by creating a reason to make a pr-release or by building brand identity through competition involvement. A fifth aim is to advertise a product, service or platform (by enterprises) by asking participants on how to improve or configure them. A sixth aim is to increase design culture within the organizer; this is done by building a database of designers and registering participants to their human-resources departments records, to recruit new employees and find good talents. A seventh aim is to build a database of customers, especially in publicly voted competitions, where designers are asked to invite their friends to vote for them. An eighth reason is to deepen customer relationship and engagement through the competition. A ninth reason is trend-analysis by collecting ideas for products and services. A tenth reason is to outsource innovation to the masses.

Sponsors usually share similar aims with the organizer and they aim one of the 10 points that were introduced above, however the most dominant aim is to advertise themselves or to have secondary benefits such as if the organizer shares the participants databases with them. Although, we could say that the aims of the jury members are also usually aligned with that of the organizers, again we have several important aims. Academicians, taking part in competitions, are more concerned about the impact on design culture; one of their primary aims is to support designers, a second aim is to gain credibility, a third aim is to gain fame, a fifth is to gain money. Companies and business people that take part in the jury, focus more on issues such as publicity, credibility, and trend-analysis, and any other secondary benefits that might be given by the organizers such as sharing the voter's database with them. On, publicly voted competitions, everyone can act as a jury member; in this case, one of the most dominant aims is to support the friendly participant by voting positively. Another very important aim is to try to earn rewards and collect money as many enterprises also offer such benefits to voters. A third aim is to effect company decisions and trends, for example by voting on the specifications or configuration of a product. The last aim, in publicly voted competitions, is self satisfaction by taking part in a big event.
At this point, we could talk, in economics sense the pareto-perfect and worst case scenarios. For the pareto-perfect scenario, we aim to maximize the sum of total utilities for all the involved parties (all, the participants, the organizers, the sponsors and the jury is better-off or happy to be involved in the competition). As we said pareto-perfect, it means that there everyone is equally and highly better-off. For the worst case, we consider that no one is happy and all of the involved parties are worse-off.


The perfectly well-organized, quality competition provides the following returns: Designers earn credibility, fame, self-improvements, career improvements and money, and their projects are realized. Design Studios earn fame, credibility and prestige, their projects are realized. Organizers reach their goals, for example by supporting design community with such involvement, advertising themselves, getting insights on new trends, getting new ideas, forming connections with potential clients and new employees etc. Jury members gain credibility, fame and money. People on the street have better life, by improving life quality thanks to new innovations, products or projects that arise from the competition. People on the street enjoy good design, in form of finished products, projects or only as publications, and gain new insights.


When analyzed from an economic point of view, this well-organized event is desirable for all the involved parties (pareto-efficient situation) and creates positive impacts on all levels, but truthfully speaking, it is not possible to run a pareto-perfect design competition without money, workforce and proper knowledge. Especially money is an issue as it is a negative factor on one of the involved parties; either paid by the participant, the organizer, the sponsor or as by the jury by means of time allocation, money decreases the sum of total utility gained for all involved parties, furthermore the competition could not result a pareto-optimal situation as the results and gains will be different for all the participants. However, near perfect competitions are possible, with everyone still better-off but with different utilities.

The worst competition, on the other hand, is a disaster: Designers can lose time, money and ideas. Organizers could exploit designers in monetary terms, steal designs in a legal way, or they could too loose substantial amount of money (especially when working with the wrong people as there are many different competition organization businesses), organizer could lose credibility and time. Sponsors lose money and credibility. Jury could lose time and credibility. In most cases for worst type of competitions, it is the participant that suffers; they lose money, time and ideas, and the organizer earns profits, ideas and time. It is almost not possible to have a pareto-worst competition where every involved party is worse-off, as at least one of the parties involved, such as the company that organizes the competition, or the design competition business ( a company that organizes design competitions for other enterprises) earns profits.

When considering the best and the worst scenarios, we will immediately realize that there is not a perfect design competition, nor there is a worst one. If we want to think of a near-perfect competition which is of high quality, we should focus on balancing and pareto-maximization of the utilities of each involved parties, such that every involved party (participant, organizer, sponsor, jury) should be better-off after taking part in this competition, to be able to do so, we need to determine both the needs and benefits of involved parties, and also we need to account for the potential loses or efforts of the involved parties. We have a need to consider the cons and pros in a way such that we could identify which competitions are good and which are not good.

When identifying what is a good competition and what not (assigning a quality score), we have two options, first for ease of operation, and generalization, we could determine what "public" prefers to be a good or bad design competition. We have to ask for opinions on key aspects. Key points could, for example, include but not limited to; expected publicity, monetary awards, feedbacks, project realization, cultural improvements, the jury, sponsors and so on so forth. We could break this generalized score into four levels: for participants, for organizers, for jury, and for sponsors (as for each of the involved party, the aims are different). In this method, we define the best-practices and the most desired points for different parties, and we allocate different weights into each of these points, so that we could in the end have a score that we could be used to compare competitions. On an advanced level, by the help of ICT, we could even create a special interactive form where each party (a participant, an organizer) can enter their preferences to judge design competitions on personal level by assigning different weight for different key points (you might initially think that everyone could do it very fast mentally, but it is not the case due to asymmetric information and time constraints). In all ways, in the end, we are assigning a quality score for design competitions, by voting on key points and by weighting them, positively and negatively. For both the generalized and personalized scoring, basically, a quality score for a competition can be assigned by considering key points. (to remind once more, key points could be bits of information such as the jury, the sponsors, advertisement possibilities, the history etc.). We shall devote a whole section for this.

Assigning a quality score for design Competitions is important, to emphasize once more: Thanks to the improvements in the information technologies and with the widened usage of internet, the number of design competitions skyrocketed. Anyone can run a design competition easily using existing ICT platforms, services or by making their own website. Some of these competitions are dangerous: participants could lose right to their designs just by participating. Some of these competitions are profit-oriented: the return of investment (both time and money) is insignificant. Some of these competitions are not credible: there is not any valid authority behind the competitions, there is not any voting criteria, patronage or jury. Some of these competitions are sided; only the organizer wins (remember the famous quote: casino always wins). A designer, has to make a choice to join a particular competition, and even deciding to join a competition, without making designs, but just deciding, if rightfully done, is a time consuming task if a designer is to check the competitions validity: The designer has to read the "Terms and Agreements" to learn about designers right, payments and awards, must conduct a research about the validity, credibility and reputation of the competition, and perhaps ask some colleagues for further information. It takes a great deal of time, if all of these are to be done correctly, so in most cases, these checks are not conducted: Many designers, join a competition after reading the brief only (and in some cases they even not bother reading the brief). So, bad surprises follow, and this creates a negative impact on the design sector and design culture (we have already talked about how design competitions could affect all the involved parties positively). Designers, afraid to lose their design rights, their money, time and everything else, join less and less design competitions. Sponsors, afraid to lose credibility and money, stop sponsoring such events, and jury members, especially academicians, will find themselves involved in insignificant events. With less design competitions organized, we lose potential gains of life quality, new product and service ideas and many others such as potential fame for young designers.

Now that we are searching for a quality score, we should start by identifying key points by dividing costs and benefits into indivisible sections. Costs are not necessary monetary costs, they are also time, credibility and any other factors. Benefits, again are not again solely monetary, they are also fame, credibility, social affects and others. After identifying key points, we need to define, for each key point a weight. For the "generalized" score, the weights will be based on the best-practice criteria combined with the should-be criteria. Best-practice weights are reached by analyzing current design competitions. While doing so, we check each of the design competitions with great detail by checking the values for the key points. Should-be weights are what we, in an academic and rational point of view, consider to be important values for different key points.

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