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Entering Design Competitions is Good for Business. Here's Why

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This post
was originally published on Segd.org.

At their best, design competitions promote innovation,
creativity, excellence and sheer possibility. Who doesn't want to be aligned
with those? And winning, of course, brings validation and acclaim. But it's not
all about the glory. There is actually a business case to be made for entering
design competitions'whether you win or not.
Sure, there's nothing better than being called up to the
stage, walking past an audience full of your peers, to receive an award for
your work. That plaque or statue you posed with is a symbol that what you do
really matters, right? That your work is respected and recognized. (Cue up the
Academy Award music here'.)

But let's stop right there for a minute. External validation
is great, but if it's the ONLY reason you're entering design competitions, you
may want to rethink the investment in time and entry fees it takes to be
successful.
Lonny
Israel
and his Graphics + Branding studio team at Skidmore Owings &
Merrill LLP (San Francisco) have won numerous awards for their work, and Israel
acknowledges that the recognition is sweet. 'Distinguished jurors weigh in and
critique our work, and we're very grateful for their acknowledgements,' he
notes.
But there are other benefits to putting their work 'out
there' for evaluation. Perhaps they're less direct than an actual award, but
they're very real, agree Israel and Michael Reed, principal of Mayer/Reed (Portland, Ore.).
Here are a few of them.
Preparing submissions demands that your studio organize,
document and articulate the value of your work'and that's a valuable business
exercise.
'When we enter a project in a competition, it requires us to
organize and document it very clearly to articulate our client's goals and our
design intentions in a very succinct way,' says Israel.
"The act of preparing a submission for a design
competition requires revisiting a project and writing a design narrative that
validates the visuals,' adds Reed. 'This is often a difficult exercise for
designers, but it's essential in truly understanding the underlying value of
design. It's a real learning experience for us because it hones our
communication skills and allows us to reflect on the outcomes."
In other words, preparing design competition entries is good
practice for presenting your work to clients, community organizations, funders
and other stakeholders. Even better, some competitions, such as the SEGD Global Design Awards, require
you to describe your work in terms of the client problem/brief and how your
design approach solved the problem. When you begin to describe your work in
terms of design thinking to meet your clients' objectives, they will definitely
pay attention.
The work can be leveraged for other marketing purposes.
Depending on the design competition, submissions can take
hours or even days to complete. Collecting photo assets, crafting a concise
project description, gaining client approval to release the material and
responding to other entry requirements requires a huge investment in time,
especially for smaller studios that don't have dedicated marketing staff.
That's why it's great that your work can do double, triple
and even quadruple duty for you'even if you don't win. You've already gathered,
documented and written an eloquent project description, right? So make it work
for you. Post it as a case study on your website, translate it into a shorter
blog or social media post, send out an e-newsletter featuring the project or
even use it as the basis for a press release to local and national media. It
also represents a tidy media package to present to design publications that may
think your project is great (especially if it aligns with an upcoming theme or
focus).
It can be a morale booster, motivator and team builder in
your organization.
Submitting work to a design competition sends a loud and
strong message to your team: "We're proud of what we do together. We're so
proud, we're going to show the world." That can be very motivating for the
team members involved, especially if you go out of your way to acknowledge
everyone in the organization who contributed to the project's success.
If done as a team exercise, working on competition
submissions brings even more benefits. In a team meeting, you can contribute
and compare ideas about how the work was innovative, powerful or highly
effective in solving the client's problem. Like design work itself, this is
definitely a case where shared perspective results in a better outcome. And
again, it's good practice for articulating those values to your clients and
potential clients.
Winning = prestige = more clients.
This is the most obvious benefit, of course. No doubt, your
ability to add the words 'award-winning' in front of your name or project leads
to attention, respect and ultimately more business.
Anthony
Vitagliano,
director of experience design for Digital Kitchen (Chicago) was
part of the team that created the architecturally scaled "environmental
mediascape" at Los Angeles International Airport's new Tom Bradley
International Terminal'the project that won Best
of Show
in the 2014 SEGD Global Design Awards. Digital Kitchen has won
numerous awards for its work, and sees the direct benefits.
'We definitely see more potential client interest and
ultimately, more work coming our way due to our awards,' says Vitagliano.
'There's no denying the power of your work being recognized as 'excellent' by a
highly respected jury of your peers.'
The awards that offer the most credibility and prestige (and
promotional punch) are those with established reputations and longevity in a
field of design or expertise'such as a professional design association. You may
want to be aware of competitions that ask for publication fees in addition to
entry fees or communicate a 'pay-to-play' vibe. And you may want to invest more
in competitions sponsored by respected industry organizations. A client's
business arena or professional association (think healthcare or hospitality
design) is also a good source for competitions, especially if you want to win
more business in that sector. 
Entering means you're supporting excellence in your field
(and that's good business).
Lea Schuster, graphic designer at RDG Planning & Design
(Omaha) says her team has had success in more than one design competition, but
they're selective about which ones they enter.
'We try to be selective by asking ourselves if the award is
meaningful,' she explains. 'We like to focus on awards that are part of a
larger effort by an organization often providing funding for the group. SEGD,
IIDA and AIGA are three of the organizations that we submit our work for award
consideration. Participating in award programs with those organizations means
to us that we are supporting their work to serve the design community through
education, camaraderie and elevation of the discipline.'
Pentagram Partner Paula Scher clearly agrees with the idea of being
selective. Even though the firm has staff dedicating to preparing award
submissions, they recognize the work involved and want to make sure they enter
only the competitions that are right for them. She told SEGD recently, "We
only enter two awards, the SEGD Global Design Awards and the Type Directors
Club."
Recognition not only feels pretty good, but is also a source
of connection with your field, your clients and your potential clients.
'In a somewhat indirect way, it contributes to our
reputation,' says Israel.  'Recognition provides an opportunity to
communicate with the industry, past clients and potential clients.' Attending
an awards celebration in itself is a source of connection to the field and
peers. And winning an award can often provide the opportunity to reconnect with
past clients and new ones.
With that in mind, make sure you leverage your award as much
as possible for promotional value. Ask the awarding organization if they
provide press releases and if not, create your own. Blast the news on your
website or blog, start a social media campaign and whatever else you do, make
sure you share the credit where credit is due.
Your clients will love it.
Clients love validation, too, and winning an award not only
validates their design choices, but their choice of designer. Being quoted in
an industry publication, seeing their name on a project credit list or, better
yet, being able to show their boss that a company project has been recognized
by others, is a valued achievement for your client. Even just submitting the
work to a competition in your own or their field signals that you're confident
and proud of the work you did for them. That can only strengthen your
relationship and often leads to more work.

Design competitions are great career-starters.
Ask Katie
Bevin,
a former SEGD student member who entered the SEGD Global Design
Awards with her senior project at Massey University (Wellington, New Zealand).
Her urban typographic installation won an Honor Award in 2011,
and after attending the 2011 SEGD Conference to claim her award, she found
herself in high demand as a junior designer.
'Entering the SEGD awards was definitely a turning point in
my career,' says Bevin, who now works at Holmes Wood (London)
after a stint with Frost* collective. 'I was working as an intern in Sydney at
the time I entered, looking for my next internship to move onto, when my
teammates encouraged me to enter the competition. Winning the award gave me
recognition within the large studio, and I feel this was definitely part of the
reason I was offered a permanent job soon after winning the award.'
The same scenario applies to young studios working to earn a
reputation in a new field. Entering design competitions becomes a smart
marketing strategy and a way to make connections in the community. And there's
no better credibility-builder than an award.
And again, it's not all about winning.
'We design to solve problems for our clients and not to win
awards,' says Lea Schuster, RDG Planning & Design. She admits that the
recognition is ultimately helpful to her studio's financial success, but 'it
means more than that.'
'Sometimes our clients are looking for designers who think
differently in the problem-solving process. Other times a client learns that we
bring more to the table than they originally thought. When we win an award it
instills a subtle level of confidence in our designers and reinforces for our clients
that we will strive to deliver a unique and carefully considered solution to
them.'

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