Are design competitions as good as their judges?

After reading this blog : http://thatsflawesome.com/2012/11/24/electrolux-is-the-worst-design-competition-there-is/
I started to wonder whether design competitions like this are of any value to students and recent graduates. I can see the big idea : technology driven by human needs. There is always a very slim chance of getting a groundbreaking entry. However, in many cases, there will not be any earth-shattering entries, but there has to be a winner, because it’s a competition… and then the winner will be a concept that can’t be produced or developed in any way.

Sure, it’s good practise for pitching and selling your concept, but these things are becoming outdated because people can now judge ideas much better than they ever did before, thanks to the internet.

There are really good design competitions, like Dyson graduate award, but there are not so many of them compared to the mediocre ones. Overall though, students have a poor chance of winning them … it’s like 1 in 5000 in some cases. So are design competitions a good time investment for students and are they as good as the people who are judging and organising them? Or should they learn more about enterprise and making their ideas work in the commercial environment?

Blue Sky vs. getting an actual thing made.

Electrolux (and most competitions) are Blue Sky. Of course Blue Sky is important (read this article: How America’s Leading Science Fiction Authors Are Shaping Your Future) and it has the advantage of being quicker to produce very eye catching images. Most concepts are a few ideas rolled together, and Electrolux might find that unravelling just one idea from one entry can be worthwhile, apart from all the PR benefits.

Dyson likes making actual things, and finding potential employees who can do so as well. Making something that works and can be manufactured is much harder and takes more time. Most crowd-sourcing sites had to stop with the Blue Sky stuff, now you have to show a working prototype. But if someone has spent the additional time and effort making a working prototype, why would they hand it over to a competition with a history of rewarding perpetual motion machines, magic pixie dust and hubless wheels?

That article sounds like it was written by a very bitter design student.

Design competitions should clearly outline in the brief what the expected out come is. If the expectations are easily manufactured products for today that is fine. If it’s a blue sky competition then that is fine also, but one camp shouldn’t be getting mad at another because it should be outlined in a way that makes sense for students.

I remember being in school and having a similar project where a classmate wanted to design a railgun that shot spacecraft into orbit. Now I’m sure Elon Musk will tell you that is totally possible, but obviously the professor had much different expectations for the outcome of the project.

Designers live in both worlds - just look at the number of designers we swoon over like Daniel Simon and Syd Mead who have made careers out of designing the future of things. Nobody ever showed up to Syd Mead’s reviews and said “Syd, that will never work!”

Design competitions are just that. We may go back in 15 years and laugh when someone designs a flying air cleaner robot.

I actually did that for a design assignment back in school, lol.

I think blue sky thinking and design is important. If we only designed what was possible today, where would we be tomorrow? I’m a believer that you have to fail a lot to succeed big eventually. Especially for students.

Blue Sky thinking is great and all, it does help us push forward in some aspects. However I do think the article does have a point when it comes to some designs trying to solve a non-problem such as the case it points out with the spoon that tastes for you.
A few years back I saw Ferrari held a design competition for design students, and one of the winning designs was a Ferrari car that had an advanced auto-pilot that would be able to navigate and run a race track. Some designs just have a really hard time answering the question of “Why?”

The article does make at least one good point;

“In Electrolux, these design challenges are cursory. A design appears to be environmentally friendly if it just has a few recycled parts combined with wishful thinking. Designs often seem to just have ‘recycled materials’ or even more ambiguous terms like ‘green manufacturing’. Or ‘green’. If the challenge has space constraints, the design is simply smaller, or miraculously foldable, with no apparently reduction in its effectiveness.”

I really have issues with a lot of designs that are being put out. Designers don’t really seem to understand “green”, so they do stuff like this, without any real basis for their green claims.

What I got from the article is that there is a difference between blue sky and blue bullsh!t.

Blue sky has some basis in the laws of physics and reality.

Blue bullsh!t has basis only in magic and marketing gibberish.

btw, not only does my anti-gravity lattice ball clean the air in my home, it also washes and waxes my car. What do I win?

What do I win?

Why, a FLYING CAR, of course. :wink: