Design is a service. And when it’s done commercially as a service, it’s not a hobby, as some may believe. There are skills to learn, practices, theories and principles. Like everything it can be a hobby. But what blurs the lines are professionals who work 40 hours (even more if you work freelance or run your own design business), and amateurs who make a poster for their friend’s birthday. Nothing is wrong with being an amateur or using Photoshop as a hobby. In fact, I urge more people to know how to use the basics of Photoshop. I believe it should be though as part of a school curriculum.
With that disclaimer in place, the problem with design is when it mixes the amateur world with the professional world. This is done many ways but most notably and (unfortunately) accepted in the form of design competitions.
Any professional designer in their right mind would never enter a design competition. They understand their worth.
Design competitions accentuate all the bad aspects about working in the design industry in general. From; Not being paid for your time and services, to other ‘low-balling’ designers who don’t know their own worth setting a low standard for the industry, which I will explain lower. There are many elements of competitions that are unhealthy to the design community.
To start; you won’t get paid for the work you do. Most competitions run a ‘Pay-as-you-win’ model. The time you spend working on a design, the weeks you put into it does not guarantee you will be paid for it. Regardless if it’s of the highest quality and solves the problem effectively or not. If it isn’t picked to win, most likely you won’t be paid for your time on the project. Who knows, there may have been thousands of entrants into the competitions if you happened to enter from a popular competition website.
No other industry works on a competition method to get work done for them. When you want a plumber, you don’t ask 10 local plumbers to come in a solve the problem, and pay the one who solved it the best way? That would be ridiculous, but it’s what is happening when you enter a design competition. This exact method.
Contests aren’t focussed on what solves the problem most effectively or on building up a relationship with a client, which are in essence, the 2 most important aspects of design as a whole. They’re only focussed on what looks good. Contests are the beauty pageants of the design world. Shallow, and with low expectations, allowing everyone and anyone who knows how to use Photoshop a chance to enter.
This mentality can end up saturating the market/industry with amateur designers who think they are professional, even if they have/have not won any competition. This saturation can end up lowering the cost/pricing expectation to businesses because they are dealing with amateurs that don’t know how to conduct themselves professionally or how to price their services accordingly. Not only that, but do they have the knowledge of design, it’s theories and practices to be able to perform effectively in the first place.
What happens then is that the bar gets lowered as the barrier for entry becomes weaker, thus standards drop, which can create an uphill battle for other designers, professional designers, the ones who make a living at it. Businesses begin to get accustomed to negotiating lower and lower pricing when trying to hire a pro designer. This type of practice is rampant in the design (maybe the creative) industry. If you commission a contest website to run a design competition for you and it costs your business €10 to run it. That doesn’t say much for your business.
This creates a problem for professional designers across the industry who are trying to make a living vs. the increasing shallow rates that business are willing to pay for premium services. They have put in the years, they have experience, they know the industry, they understand how to solve problems and make a living at what they do. Think of the designers you follow on social media. Do you ever hear of your favourite designers entering competitions?
This doesn’t just create a problem for professional designers, but everyone else as a result of this ‘race-to-the-bottom’ culture. It’s our responsibility, as professional designers to ensure that people outside our industry know what to look for when hiring a designer, and know what they want even before they hire one.
As a business/professional, before hiring a designer, have an understanding of the problem you wish to solve and what this design professional can do for you to achieve the end result. Say for instance, you want a new personalised logo for your business because you don’t like the previous one anymore. Why don’t you like it anymore? Hs your business undertaken a new direction or goal? Introduced a new product to a previously unexplored demographic to your business? Has there been a change in CEO, management, owners etc.?
When you come to a designer with these questions answered, it’s not that you are doing the job for them, you’re accelerating the process and allows a professional designer to understand your needs and create a successful project around that. Even if you don’t know why you want a new logo, but you know it has to change. A good designer will help you understand the ‘why’. On the contrary, do not hire a designer to change your logo (based on the above example), because you “prefer the colour blue”.
Designers don’t make things because they simply look pretty. Designers are problem-solvers.
Granted, design competitions are not the sole reason why we have this ‘low-balling’ mentality in the design industry and would be naive to assume it’s caused by competitions alone. But competitions certainly promote this mentality as I’ve described above.
It’s up to the professionals to pave the way. And it’s up to you, as a designer/creative/artist working professionally in your field to educate those outside of our industry about how we work. Do not let someone dictate your price or your process.
This is the way you work, and it’s unique to you. Imagine if, you are approached by a large client (an international bank), and they say “We love your style and want your work for an upcoming campaign, but you’re going to have to do it our way”. This is absurd. An amateur would fold in this time, giving into every demand, request or change by a large client. A professional knows their worth, they understand how to identify and solve the problem presented, how to price the work they do on the value they provide the client, and can do this in whatever manner or process that they are accustomed to. All because they know what they are doing, they have experienced it before and they are confident in their ability.
How do you become confident in your ability? Learn, expose yourself to various experiences and situations in which you learn how to manage and solve in the future.