Redesigning Design Competitions

by Kevin Makice

I participated in one of the first CHI Student Design Competitions, back in 2005. It was a lot of fun, and I’ve paid close attention to the event as it has evolved over the years, making a few suggestions of my own on how to improve it. This essay by John Thackara critiques such competitions, making valid points both about the problems and the potential ways to iterate these events:

Most of these problems are the result of bad habits, not bad intentions. And to repeat, it’s because design challenges have such an important role in the transition to sustainability that it’s worth improving them, radically.

Some of the suggestions include:

  • Make a clear separation between awards, on the one hand, and competitions and challenges, on the other.
  • Design the desired outcomes of the competition first.
  • Focus on the discovery of new and meaningful questions to do with with daily life issues — not on pre-cooked solutions.
  • Insist on external partners and a live context.
  • Ensure that there is adequate time, expertise and resources for entries to be evaluated.
  • Make the judging public.

Even beyond the scope of these competitions, some of this advice provides a nice touchstone for our own methods and practices as professionals. It is easy to focus so much on the artifact that we fail to reflect and generate new questions to answer.

The Design Observer Group (July 22, 2011, by John Thackara)