Competition in Design: Wise or Waste?

There are many professions that promote competition. Design, in particular, lends itself to one-upping that coworker, the competition, and sometimes the jurors of an awards competition. Unlike art, design in advertising can sometimes be measured by the return on investment. Well-designed campaigns can be judged by sales figures.

Of course, it’s not always so black and white. There are herds of beautiful designs that get produced but never make the front page. There are strong strategic ideas that work perfectly for the client but—for one reason or another—don’t effectively catch fire. Blame the medium or blame media—ideas sometimes just don’t get fertilized. Conceiving an idea, it seems, takes just the right formula.

But there’s an even bigger hurdle to hurdle. Ask designers or copywriters at any agency in the world what their best ideas were, and they’ll give you their answers. Ask them if their best ideas were ever published, and I’m certain you’ll receive a resounding “No” in response.

In our industry, the best ideas don’t always win over our audience: the client. And that’s fine. The ideas that make it to the coveted awards competitions have to be ideas that have been produced. That means that the breadth of work we see is far narrower than what’s been attempted.

So is all this competition worth it? Is it worthwhile for companies to put in the added effort, costs, and resources to submit their ideas? Is it worth the long hours, the nail biting, and the limited publicity for the results?


Andrew Carnegie once said, “And while the law [of competition] may be sometimes hard for the individual, it is best for the race, because it ensures the survival of the fittest in every department.”

Love or loathe competition, it’s what drives us forward as artists (dare I say humanity?). Whether it’s friendly competition among colleagues or a battle against yourself, our need to move forward with bigger and better ideas is what helps us evolve—producing work that’s relevant and effective.

An informal survey of six nearby designers about competition showed a fun split between men and women. The women designers seemed to feel that collaboration is always the key to producing better work. The men felt that working in isolation and then exchanging ideas later was better. Both groups agreed that a spirited awards competition against other agencies would be a great way to unify ideas and kick some competitor ass.

What it would really do, however, is give designers more of a stake in our projects. Competition promotes creativity of the purest and highest order. It pushes our spirit further. It makes our ideas soar higher. Art is the essence of our humanity.

If that’s a little too grandiose for you, be sure to check out my last post on annual reports. I guess what I’m saying is, forget return on investment for a second and think about what we’re doing here.

What do you think? Competition in design—wise or waste?

Author: Eric Swenson


One response to “Competition in Design: Wise or Waste?

  1. Illeyah Draunidalo

    Wise definitely, its an effective way to measure progress, push boundaries and deliver more.

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