The Case Against Design Contests The Case Against Design Contests

The Case Against Design Contests

by Patrick James

July 30, 2010

Here's a contrarian take on design contests
, from Don Norman at Core77:

Why are shows bad? Shouldn't we reward good design? Sure, if that's what the shows accomplish, but they don't. In fact, I believe they do harm to the profession. They reward the visible parts - styling - and ignore the most important, but hardest parts: interaction, experience, truly meeting needs, and even economic success. Oh sure, the rhetoric that accompanies the awards often heaps praise upon these other aspects of design, but that praise is not based upon solid evidence. No tests or studies, no independent evidence. As a result, the contests perpetuate the myth that industrial design is primarily about style and that brilliant styling leads to success in the marketplace. Both statements are false.

Norman, who has served as a judge for a number of design competitions, fears that aesthetics will always trump functionality when dealing with hypothetical or untested ideas, which ultimately has a negative effect on the profession. Does this mean contests should be abandoned? No, he writes, but "it is time to design the reward structure for the design profession so that the designs that advance the field, that make a real difference in the world of products, services, and all the other problem areas in which modern designers work receive recognition."

Translation: We need to design better design contests. Maybe we should hold a design contest for that.

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The Case Against Design Contests