Design contests

I have a consumer fitness product that’s just finished a first round of market testing. The device is very functional and has great promise, but it’s aesthetically uninspiring. Actually, it’s just plain ugly.

We’re considering the idea of contacting our local design school (Cincinnati’s DAAP) about the prospect of having ID students do some designs.

Is that common? We’re basically a startup that’s used most of our available funds on tooling up the prototypes and paying for market testing. So, we’re looking for options on getting a “design upgrade”.

I would greatly appreciate some feedback. Thanks!




Thank you for the quick response and I’m eager to learn more.

Are you saying this is bad:

“RISD’s practice of providing students with real-world challenges attracted Progressive to the partnership”


Did they do it for free? Did they solicit a bunch of designs to use one? I don’t know how the program was structured so hard to say if it was bad or not.


I believe it was a student contest, so I would say …yes they solicited a bunch of designs to use one. As for cost, that’s what I’m hoping to learn. I would assume there would be a cost.

How common is this in design schools?

I wouldn’t have thought this harmful at the student-level, but perhaps I need to do some more research.


Creating a great, manufacturable design is often many hours and months of hard work that is very involved. I’ve seen many peopel who try to “cheap it” on teh design and end up spending more fixing things downstream. I do think there is a bit of “You get what you pay for.” If it’s something that is mass produced, it makes sense to get the necessary funding and do it right with professionals. I wouldn’t risk my multi-million product cause usually free or low balled come with little responsibility and a real project requires people with real responsibiities and incentives not to mention commensurate pay. Alternatively some designers would do it if they were cut in on the action in lieu of upfront pay but I think some upfront money is needed since we all need to eat and have bills to pay.

My one concern about going to a school and have them develop the idea is that they have as much knowledge as you do in going through the process. Im not saying you guys are stupid, but I think that you may end up with some poor choices due to not really knowing the process. This may be a situation where you would want to get someone that has been through all of this before.

This may be a situation where you would want to get someone that has been through all of this before.

There are lots of very talented students … who know very little about process and material constraints, your constraints, or have the dogged incentive derived from the personal financial involvement in your project, that you do.

You know what you are talking about … you should be talking to someone who knows what they are talking about (and that comes from experience).

All of these points are appreciated and forcing me to rethink this.

But don’t misunderstand…we have a great deal of respect for the professional sector. Our situation is a little unique in that we have already engineered a product, selected materials (my partner is a mechanical engineer), modeled the design in 3D (yes we paid a professional designer to model our drawings), tooled up (sorry…had to go to China for that), and built a batch of units. Now, we simply have to make this thing attractive and inspiring. And, the kicker is, we’re really running low on funds. So that’s where we thought it might make sense to go the student route.

So if you guys were in our shoes, what would you do?

Sounds like you are done. You don’t need a designer now, you need a salespeson. A designer (esp. a student) will likely not be able to slap lipstick on the pig you’ve created which is what it sounds like you are looking for. If it’s all tooled up and built, what do you expect them to do? Throw a couple of nice stickers on it and paint it red to make it nice looking?

If you are looking to start from scratch, that’s another story, but most likely any designer worth their time would not just put a new box around your hardware, but probably bring more to the table to make it more attractive functionally and user-wise… doesn’t sound like you want to pay for that though…



So if you guys were in our shoes, what would you do?

Well, you’ve certainly been completely upfront (I’d use the term 'transparent" but it leaves a taste in my mouth).

And so has Richard.

What you describe is a typical, I’m sorry to say, chain of events in many manufacturing companies; engineering dictates what and how the product will be built and that dictates what it looks like… “Industrial Design” works best co-incidentally with engineering, in my opinion.

You have no, or very little, money to work with. Get the product into a Trade Show ASAP and “clean it up” next time around. The old saying, “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” may apply. Perhaps you could always market toward the “all-business, no-frills” consumer.

That said… post some photos for us. Maybe you’re just too close to the project to see it from a different perspective; perhaps a coat of red paint and some snazzy stickers is all it does need… .

It’s not as though we couldn’t raise additional funding :slight_smile:

We have been to trade shows with the device. When we demonstrate it’s capabilities, people flip. But at first glance, we get, “what the heck is that goofy thing?”

Progressive certainly has the money, but chose the college contest route.

And they went from this:

to this:

…with a student contest.

I’d be willing to share drawings privately, but wouldn’t be comfortable posting them here.

I don’t know what that thing above is, but IMHO it looks worse after. It looks like a kid’s toy. I’d use that as an example of why not to hire a student (not that all students are bad, but that thing looks like the typical terrible first year project).


The reason the Progressive contest is maybe more acceptable is that people have heard of Progressive. In a students portfolio that could be a huge project it shows they worked with a high dollar brand got something very functional out of it. Plus it is a product with clear change. What you are offering is not that. You are a start up you don’t bring brand recognition. You are also not talking about allowing the changes that Progressive did. With a full redesign of the product, packaging, and graphic application that is a full project. You are talking about maybe stickers or graphic application on a small to nothing budget this is not going to end in the same kind of success Progressive had for you or the student.

YES, I agree, it looks like a toy.

BUT, that’s where the insurance companies are these days.

Geico has the gecko…
Aflack has the duck…
MetLife has Snoopy…

and Progressive has Flo and her new toy!

So maybe Progressive felt that this design was in line with the ‘fun and games’ nonsense that many of these insurance companies are pitching.

Singletrack, you are partially correct. We don’t have the brand recognition of a Progressive Insurance.

But we are certainly looking for more than paint and stickers. That was never our thought.

So it’s starting to look like our idea of a “design upgrade” really amounts to a full redesign (i.e. full project).

So maybe Plan B becomes, “Let’s get some preliminary concept sketches, show those to the investors to get them excited enough to dump money into a full redesign, and then go hire some professionals.”

I suggest that there may be a whole lot more involved to your product than there is with Progressive’s My Rate trip sensor/recorder re-work; read: “simpler” (smaller size, fewer components, fewer materials, few mechanical interfaces, fewer tools, less expense, etc.)

In the end, it may come down to if whoever re-designs your product isn’t “capable” then you will be wasting your funds. Now that isn’t to say that a student is not capable, but if you selected a student generated “design” who would carry it through to completion? Typically, as we all have experienced, student life seldom, if ever, allows for more than keeping up with curricular work loads. And design projects seldom, if every, are complete and require massaging to reach production; which means continuous design input. If you are saying that “you” will provide the final design work, I would offer that that’s how you got to where you are now…

Leading to…

Plan B becomes, “Let’s get some preliminary concept sketches, show those to the investors to get them excited enough to dump money into a full redesign, and then go hire some professionals.”

And when it comes time to find “some professionals” you couldn’t find a better source than the Core77 Design Directory

Nice segue, huh… … ?

I thought I already wrote this…

That is even worse. Having students work for free, so you can get money to pay someone to do the project and not even use the student concepts?

There are so many things wrong with that both from a moral and execution perspective. The students may come up with something impossible to produce, or not even have enough experience to address your real problems. I guarantee you that if you were to follow this approach and then later hire a real designer you’d be in a situation with more problems and a totally different scope, and not be able to deliver what you showed your investors…

Your best bet is to get just enough money to pay a pro for some nice eye candy concepts and real evaluation of where you are at (so you know how much work is really involved) so you can show that to investors to have a plan and $ in place to do the project.


Lmo, I tee’d that one up for you!

What do you guys think about using and getting some designers from India to bid on this?

JUST KIDDING :laughing:

R, didn’t mean to suggest we’d use students for the concepts. I meant professionals for that, too!!