Design Competitions, Yea or Nay?

business, design, freelance, non-profit, Uncategorized

I’m having  a bit of a philosophical debate with myself over the thought of entering design competitions. I’m really on the fence here. Part of me really likes the idea of the exposure, the cheaper-than-advertising self-promotion, and of course the ego boost that comes with placing in a competition. But part of me really hates the idea of not doing proper marketing, filling the pages of a magazine or website by paying them to host my work, and also the fear of rejection. I think of these competitions as a way for the magazine researchers not to really have to work that month. Is it a cop out for the publisher to do competitions? Do I really want my work up against everyone else for critique? Is that the point? If the client is happy, isn’t that all that matters? I don’t know what to do. Anyone had any success in building business after winning or being featured in a competition? These things can add up monetarily, so I would have to be really selective in my competition choice and would hope for a return on the investment. I welcome any comments or opinions on the matter.

Beyond the  industry magazine/online competitions, there are a lot of other competitions that have no real prize other than exposure. I know there’s a big industry debate (and cross-industry debate) over the ethics surrounding such competitions. Charlotte, North Carolina held a competition for their Democratic Convention 2012 poster and only $1 per poster sold is going back to the artist. Presumably, the artist believes in the organization, I guess. That’s better than some though – last year the Huffington Post was bombarded by angry designers accusing them of soliciting speculative work, when they put out a call for people to submit new logo ideas for the online mag. They claimed not to be soliciting design work for free, but this is really common practice and I can’t imagine that all of these supposed non-solicitors are genuine. Techradar has a good article related to free web design. These kind of “competitions” are happening every day in all areas of design. According to most reports lately, architects and other people in art-related fields are the most unemployed in America. Why, then, are we entering “competitions” for free work if there’s no promise of a paying job at the end? Why aren’t we all charging for spec-work? Why do some designers feel it’s okay to partake and others don’t? Aren’t there better ways to build a portfolio? I’m not saying I haven’t done this in the past, but I think we can find a better way and teach the next generation of designers to learn from our mistakes. I would think that if folks in the design industry stopped entering/supplying, then the hosts of these competitions and calls for free work would have to start paying. We would all consider our work to be more valuable. So would our clientele.

While I’m on this rant, I’d like to add that we need to come up with a clearer definition in the design industry on what’s “pro bono” and what’s just working for free. Designer David Airey wrote about how to find pro bono-worthy organizations, in order to help the public good and boost your portfolio. To me pro bono implies that you’d be doing the work for a non-profit, some organization you have a special belief in, etc. But maybe that’s just me. On a lighter note, hop over here to see Jessica Hische’s infographic on “Should I Work For Free?” Hits hilariously close to home.


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