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An open discussion: Should we stop supporting “Design Challenges” to protect the craft of Design?

Author: Martin Groschwald
Design Challenge

Unless you have lived under a rock over the past 2 years or so, you have certainly come across one of the dozens of design challenges run by manufacturers, car magazines, social media influencers and various other outlets. 

For students and job seekers, these challenges of course provide a great platform to show their skill and for experienced designers to show that they haven’t lost their beat. 

Looking a bit deeper however, a number of voices have been raised over the course of the years as well that said that these challenges take advantage of the creativity without anything in return. It is pretty much work that’s been done for free and can be used by any manufacturer to get design proposals for free. 

However, we cannot and should not judge any manufacturer who gets a great turnout by these challenges. In this current age, communication and connection with your target audience on social media is of course key – it has become both a tool to recruit talent as well as representing the brand to a wider audience. 

However, what would happen if one idea of a design challenge would appear in a production car but the designer wouldn’t be employed by the respective company? 

Design challenges of course democratize the idea of transportation design. With tools such as Photoshop and 3D tools being widely available (and oftentimes for free), we see people participating in these challenges that are not the traditional car designer but passionate people who love transportation. What used to be done exclusively at the RCA, Pforzheim, Art Center, or CCS is now done in public and anybody can join. 

The problem, one can argue, is of course that the craft of design is being lost. If everyone can join in and potentially someone without education in design gets picked by the judges of each challenge above a professional designer or transportation design student where does this lead the education system and the students learning it?  

If we have all the challenges, do we even need internships in the future or thesis projects? What would be their worth to a company if they could just run a challenge and get many more sketches, ideas etc. than just that of one intern? 

It is not my position to judge whether or not design challenges are the future. In the end, all participants have to choose if they want to share their ideas with the organizer. I do however think that, if you run a challenge, winners should receive more than a thank you post on Instagram, t-shirt or hat – give the winners an experience they’ll never forget: invite them for a proper internship or offer a scholarship. Take it as seriously as a design competition internally…or is the design challenge an attempt to get something you don’t have…? 

I’d be very interested about your thoughts on design challenges. What experience did you make? Would you partake in one? Why to you run them? Will they be around in the future or just a thing of the social media area? 

Send me an email or leave me a message on LinkedIn and tell me your thoughts about this topic.

Images by Niko Pesa