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How to Lose Design Competitions and Alienate Judges

How to Lose Design Competitions and Alienate Judges

Michelle Taute

Landing your work in a design annual or winners’ gallery isn’t going to catapult you to instant fame and fortune. But even an honorable mention award can help you slowly raise your profile in the design industry. It’s another accomplishment for your resume, and if you’re lucky, your award-winning project just might catch the attention of your next boss.

I’ve been involved with a number of different design competitions over the years, and hands down, it’s the work that lands you on the winners’ podium.

But it’s also true that you can take yourself out of the running before you even get started with these easily avoidable mistakes.

1. Be arrogant.

In one competition where I moderated the judging process, the entry form gave designers the chance to explain why they should win. One company wrote on five different entry forms “because we rock.” Let’s just say the judges weren’t impressed. A little humility goes a long way.

Ignore the directions.

Every design competition has slightly different rules and requirements, and these can change from year to year. Here’s just one way skipping your homework can knock you out of the running: If everyone else sends the requested original samples and you send images, you’ll have a hard time standing up against a table full of print work the judges can pick up and touch.

Don’t explain your work.

Often, judges are faced with hundreds—even thousands—of entries. They consider each and every one, but they may only have a few minutes to decide if you’re out or if you’ll be seriously considered as a winner. Make it easy for them to understand your project. Write a short paragraph that explains what your project is, who it’s for and the problem it solved.

Submit broken links or damaged samples.

It’s hard to appreciate the genius of your poster design if it arrives dirty and tattered. On the interactive front, this translates to links that simply don’t work or that lead to sites that are still under construction. This happens more often than you think. Take the extra few minutes to check the quality of your submission.

Make it impossible to find you.

One of the best parts of my job is interviewing talented designers and writing about their work. But on more than one occasion, I’ve struggled to track winners down. They’ve left contact information off the entry form all together or it’s no longer current. If you’re about to graduate, open a gmail account instead of providing a university email that may not work in a few months. You don’t want to miss the chance to talk about your design work.

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