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Entering Design Competitions? Contest Jury Members Share Insights about Design

When entering a design competition, what things should you think about? And, what makes "good design"? To give you ideas and insights on how to think about design today, here are experienced contest jury members who share how they think about the definition of good design.

Ned Dodington

Ned Dodington is the curator of the Animal Architecture Awards. The website is concerned with the role of ecology and biology in architecture.

Good design is a state of equilibrium. It is a balancing act in two or three dimensions where multiple complex ideas or forces have been synthesized into a clear and elegant unity. For me, there is little else that is more difficult to achieve.

The winning projects for the Animal Architecture Awards each present this condition in their own way. Every project selected demonstrates a clear, pleasant and digestible solution to one if not more very complex issues.

I have a keen interest in biology and as you are probably aware, biology itself is often cited as the premier locus of good design. To some extent I would agree that there are many magnificent examples of very good design in biology. Overall however I see the biological process of mutation and evolution as less about good design and more about unending iteration and adaptation. But I cannot deny that for me there is a strong sense of poetry in biologic form. The synthesis of matter and energy that produces the spiral of a snail shell or the multidimensional curve of a femur is beguiling to say the least.

Visit Animal Architecture Awards and Ned Dodington's website.

Stefan Guzy

Stefan Guzy is the founder of ZWöLF, and a jury member of the Art Directors Club. The ADC Awards was founded in New York in 1920 with a mission to connect creative communications professionals around the globe and to provoke world-changing ideas. They focus on high standards of excellence in communications for the industry, and encourages students and young professionals entering the field.

While judging the design submissions for 90th Art Directors Club Awards in New York I was surprised by the huge amount of good design in a lot of the categories. These posters, books and packagings were well executed with good layouts and nice typography. But I really missed the unexpected beyond excellent craftsmanship:
What defines that a book is a book?
How legible does a poster have to be?
Is there something beyond a corporate design with logo, custom typeface and color scheme?

If you want to succeed in a design competition (and in your design career) you have to focus on the power of simple ideas in graphic design. Submitting an awesome shop opening invitation for your barber shop next door has more chances to impress the jury, than a comprehensive but less powerful annual for one of your country's top companies.

Ryan McManus

Ryan McManus is the Senior Art Director of the Barbarian Group, and a jury member of the Art Directors Club.

Let's get this out of the way: "good" Design isn't about a novel font choice, or a slick interaction, or even a groundbreaking interface. Those things are important, and lovely, but they’re the tools of good design, not design itself. At its core, when all the superfluous ego is stripped from the term, Design is a relationship between two people: the Designer and the User. This is a strictly monogamous relationship, by the way, and though flirtatious temptresses like "client demands" and "awards consideration" can distract, the only true love a Designer has is for their User.

Like any lasting relationship, Design depends on many small failures and course-corrections to survive. The Designer who concocts their perfect crystalline solution in solitude and presents a fully-baked execution will likely be met with disappointment, not perhaps at first with their Client, but ultimately with their User. The idea of failing often is key - too many of us fear it (it's not good for the ego, after all) but it's the most informative process we have. Look to nature - nature uses an iterative agile testing model for every possible design, and the price of imperfect solutions is a swift death. Our designs need to be the same - relentlessly evolving, adapting and perfecting in the face of a constantly shifting problem.

Good Design isn’t ever finished - it’s iterative because the problem it’s solving isn’t static, either. This is obviously a dicey topic to broach when it comes to clients, and much of that stems from an ignorance into what Design actually is. Too often, Design has been used interchangeably to mean “style”, as if a pure aesthetic solution might be the goal. This might work OK if you design wastepaper baskets, but when Design is relegated to a purely aesthetic role, the underlying power of the process is ignored.

We’ve been designing since the dawn of our history, after all. Those early hominids who first realized that a rock tied to a stout stick was a more effective hammer than the rock alone were the earliest designers: they saw a problem, tested designs, and adapted their behavior to a more perfect solution. Every hammer that has come since that moment has simply been a refinement on the original design - lighter, stronger, more durable. These improvements have been incremental but necessary - the small adjustments to flaws in the original solution.

In fact, when Design is good, when it’s at its best, the aesthetic considerations should go almost unnoticed to your User. Think of film scoring - at the ideal, the score blends seamlessly into the background of the film, setting a tone without making you aware of itself. Great design solutions are the same - they dissolve into the relationship between the User and the object, getting out of the way, letting the relationship take over.


Follow the Barbarian Group on Twitter.
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Gustavo Morainslie

Since 2008, Gustavo Morainslie coordinates the project and poster competition Segunda llamada. The competitions are focused on graphic design with the purpose of supporting sustainable developments.

During school years all of us studying graphic design were taught how to make good design: messages were the “what” and all the stuff related with graphic aesthetics was the “how”; this simple formula, mixed in the correct amounts, usually resulted in successful communication. Voilà. A+ in our homeworks.

After some time we were facing clients and deeply discussing how to effectively solve problems related to their brands and companies. Achieving objectives for the REAL world: Thanks to our designs Article A sold more units than Article B. Our favorite teacher would be proud of us!

Then, at some point, some of us realized that the REAL world was not about selling more A than B, that there were far more important issues, and that well applied graphic design could make a huge difference (for better or worse).

Good Designers, then, must understand the time and place in which they live; and therefore assume their responsibility to contribute to social, cultural and environmental causes.

It´s not only about brands, it´s about PEOPLE. When did our society forget about that?

Follow Segunda llamada on Twitter.


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