History of Design Competitions

This Is An Article About The History of Design Competitions, Awards and Contests, and How They Evolved

First design competitions were searching for the “aesthetically beautiful” designs, schematics or drawings. That was the purpose, especially that of architectural design competitions. Today, we see that design competitions have evolved. They are no longer just beauty competitions. As digital platforms advanced, design competitions have become tools with multiple uses. Rules and definitions of "design competition" have changed rapidly and the transformation has been so great that once secondary aims, or externalizes, out of the box thinking, innovative collaboration, outsourcing design, subsidizing design or brand communication have become primary aims in the new era design contests, prizes, awards or accolades. Design competitions also grew in size, from sketches to prototypes to just ideas to complex product / service systems, and shifted in a direction to be more “multi-disciplinary” than ever. New aims such as community building, customer base formation, database building, co-branding with designers, recruiting of employees, money making, creating standards, social working, brainpower collection, trend identification and research have come to be or become possible thanks to the advancement of Technology. Many companies and platforms have appeared which exploit this new phenomenon. Design competitions which were originally established as a one-time challenge with a limited duration evolved beyond this "one-time challenges" into annual events—and then into systematic programs that encompass multiple design competitions i.e. such as dividing a large project into many sub competitions.Early Period Design Competitions: At first, the most dominant type of design competition was architectural design competitions, these were organized for design procurement purposes. In other words, at first competitions aimed to collect design ideas from the public. An early example to such is design competition of a war memorial on the Acropolis in Athens at 448 BCE where many artists of the era were called to submit proposals. Two other notable competitions till 1900s are the competition for the Cathedral of Florence in 1418, and the competition for White House in 1792. During years 1900 to 2000, there have been many competitions that created today’s famous landmarks such as the Eifel Tower, Statue of Liberty etc, the primary purpose of the architectural competitions was mainly to find new possibilities for architectural form; and of course engineering. The aim of competitions at the early periods was to find new realizable forms that could be rapidly turned into buildings.Design Competitions in Pre-Industrialization Era : This era was dominated by architectural design competitions, yet the very first idea and solution oriented competitions were also seen. As far back as the 18th century, organizations and governments staged “design competitions” that challenged innovators to submit prototypes, ideas or schematics to spur market evolution especially for sectors which were not developed.For example margarine was invited this way and the problem of discovering longitude was solved likewise. However, still architectural design competitions were highly common, especially architectural design competitions for memorials; In 1915 a design competition was held for the proposed site for Stockholm’s new South Cemetery called woodland, followed by many others. In 1925, an international architectural competition for the design of a mausoleum complex for Sun Yat-sen the first president and founding father of the Republic of China was held in Shanghai, China. Indeed it has become sort of best practice to organize architectural competitions for especially public buildings, memorials etc. The Pre-Industrialization era competitions were therefore mostly to procure design services (in architecture), but the transformation had started with new type of competitions for collecting ideas or solving social problems.Post-industrialization Era Design Competitions: As communication channels developed and widespread after industrialization of nations, design competitions have blossomed further, not only they spread to different fields but also their numbers increased in the early years from several to hundreds per year. At these ages especially we could see competitions in many design and artistic spheres for design and some institutions started to organize annual competitions that would turn to be prestigious events. In 1953, IF product awards started under the name “Special Show for Well-Designed Industrial Goods” as part of the Hanover Fair, to highlight German design. In 1954, Compasso d’Oro started in Italy to promote design made in Italy. In 1955, Red-dot Design Award started with the name “Permanent Show of Elegant Industrial Products” to highlight best German designs.In 1957, Good Design Award begun in Japan as “Good Design Selection System” to improve Japanese design and to promote the advancement of industry. In 1958, Australian design awards started to promote Australian design. In 1963, D&AD awards started with the name “British Design and Art Direction” to promote British Design and Art. In 1969, Federal Award for Good Design started in Germany, again to promote German design. Till the arrival of internet, by the end of the millennium, many countries had design competitions that promoted the best design in their nations. Now, most of these competitions are now organized in an international level so the award is respectful and known throughout the globe. It is interesting to see that the initial industrial design competitions were once national level initiatives that were mainly designed to spur economic activity have evolved into new forms. Given these early developments, we shall conclude that the aim of design competitions after industrialization was to promote design within a country. Meanwhile, research oriented design competitions have played a major role in the economic growth of nations since the early stages of the industrial revolution as well: Post-industrialization era competitions were more concerned at economic and technological advancement, which explains the birth of good design award schemes to support design sectors; the good design competitions mainly aimed to push design practices to add further value to products produced in a country.Internet Era Design Competitions: With the arrival and widespread of internet, it was now very easy and efficient to organize design competitions, thus many design competitions for almost any imaginable discipline and niche has arisen with many different purposes of organization. Competitions become more international and more diffused.Only within 2009 and 2010, there has been 400 major design competitions were organized, and if we also count the minor competitions or sub categories, the number is well above several thousands; for example consider 99designs.com, which lets anyone to organize a design competition, they alone have more than thousands of active competitions currently open as this article is being written. In 2009 and 2010, we also see first scientifically developed, i.e. synthetic design competitions such as the A' Design Awards, which has now become one of the famous competitions in the world, as well as the rise of European Design Awards, as a consortium by many design publication.The design competitions became a business model itself, creating DCPs (Design Competition Platforms) and even aftermarkets for leftover, non-selected designs. The aim of design competitions after internet era is so varied that they are discussed under two headings; first under “Classification of Design Competitions” which aims to establish a taxonomy, and second under “Business Models of Design Competitions” which aims to explain the reasons why new design competitions are organized.What is a Design Competition? The question what is a design competition cannot be simply answered anymore, however, the basic definition is design competitions are; 1) competitions in which you compete for others’ designs (what it means for organizers), 2) competitions in which you compete for design (what it means for designers), 3) competition of designs (what it means for the audience). The major types of competitions from a designers perspective is explained under “classification of design competitions” a different article I wrote, and the major business models of design competitions from organizers point of view is given in “Business Models of Design Competitions” which is yet another article of mine.In summary, design competitions evolved significantly over the course of time, but I must say, the evolution is not yet over. My insight is that, the design competitions could very well become a new way of working for thousands of creatives in future, but of course there are significant number of issues and technological and social aspects that awaits to be solved.Exerpt:First design competitions were searching for the “aesthetically beautiful” designs, schematics or drawings. That was the purpose, especially that of architectural design competitions. Today, we see that design competitions have evolved. They are no longer just beauty competitions. As digital platforms advanced, design competitions have become tools with multiple uses. Rules and definitions of "design competition" have changed rapidly and the transformation has been so great that on..

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