Eric Karjaluoto

Design is Not a Contest

I work a job. It’s a good one—matter of fact, I love it. I meet with people from organizations that are doing interesting work, and get to learn about all of their hopes and challenges. I help them develop a plan, come up with ideas, and build out the required elements.

Those who aren’t designers might be surprised by how difficult this vocation can be, but most are somewhat interested in the pursuit. My hunch is that even a designer’s worst day is better than a life insurance salesperson’s best day.

Most of the designers I know feel the same way: design is an honest craft—not without challenges, but worth all the sweat. This leads me to wonder why so many designers are trying to ruin it.

Earlier this week our agency received an invite from another local shop, inviting us to a “design showdown,” or some other equally inane notion. Our office manager forwarded the message to me, asking, “Interested?” My response: “I can’t imagine anything less pleasant.”

Now, I don’t mean to disparage what these folks are trying to do; it’s likely an effort to build presence for their shop, and connect with others in the community. It’s just that I’m so terribly sick of this trade being invalidated—even unwittingly—by other creative people.

Yes, I enjoy my work; and, yes, I like hanging out with my industry peers. That being said, my job isn’t a contest. It’s not a social occasion or dick measuring session. I get paid for my expertise, like any other worker. When this work is done, I go home to my family, which sees too little of me (or so they say). That’s enough for me—no need for creative “showdowns.”

Maybe I’m a curmudgeon who needs to relax a little. Besides, this stuff is all in good fun, right? I simply can’t escape the notion that all designers are cheapened as a result of this foolishness. The people I think to be motivated by contests and gold stars are children at birthday parties. From such pursuits, clients likely see us in the same light. Personally, I can’t imagine a lawyer being excited to spend their weekend in a showdown of their “mad litigation skillz.”

But this silliness will persist, because our industry fails to mature and designers seem incapable of attributing proper value to the work they do. Meanwhile, these same design practitioners point their fingers at clients for not taking design seriously. (Insert facepalm here.)

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