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History of Design Awards & Competitions

History of Design Awards & Competitions

A Brief introduction & history of design awards and competitions; what is the first design competition organized, how did design competitions changed over the centuries? Read to learn.

Early Periods: At first, the most dominant type of design competition was architectural design competitions, which were organized for design procurement purposes (for commissioning design services) (Strong, 1996, p. 2). These earliest design competitions aimed to collect design ideas from the public by creating an incentive.
The First Design Competition: An example to early competitions is the design competition of a war memorial on the Acropolis in Athens at 448 BCE (Nasar, 1999, p. 29) where many artists of the era were called to submit proposals, this design competition is referred by many as the first design competition ever held professionally.
Design Competitions in Middle Ages: Although Architectural design competitions were still popular as the dominant type, painting and decorating calls had started in these ages as it is seen as an alternative to commissioning. First design tenders were held.
Artistic Age (1400-1900): Notable competitions till 1900s are the competition for the Cathedral of Florence in 1418, and the competition for White House in 1792. (Prinz, 2011, p. 9). 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 (Spreiregen, 1979, p. 2). The aim of competitions at the early periods was to find new forms and to procure designs.
Post-industrialization Era (1950-1990): As communication channels developed and became widespread after industrialization of nations, design competitions have also blossomed, not only they spread to different fields but also their numbers increased in the early years; from several to hundreds. Around mid 20th century, some design 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. Now, most of these competitions are organized in an international level so that the awards could be famed and known throughout the globe. Post- Industrialization era competitions were organized mainly to promote design within a country.
After 1940s specialized competitions started launching, that were awarding the very best designs in a niche category. Two examples are important: 1940's competition at Museum of Modern Art: Organic Furniture Competition, and a 1977 Chair Design Competition. (Gardiner, 1977, p. 7) These two competitions provided fame and fortune to the people who joined them. For instance Charles and Ray Eames has won the MoMa's competition, and Motomi Kawakami won the 1977's competitions, these names became famous, also due to the awards. We could say that the concept of design award has born around these times as, designers participated in an event to gain fame and respect; it is not to procure designs, but just to bring together best entries throughout the world.
During years 1990 and 2005, 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. Only within 1990 to 2005 there has been 400 major design competitions were organized.
If we also count the minor competitions or sub categories, the number is well above several thousands (for example consider a DCP which lets anyone to organize a design competition from their online platform, they alone have more than hundreds active competitions currently open simultaneously. There are many other DCP's such as Crowdspring, Mycrobrust, DesignContest, Ad Tournament, Hatchwise, Pimtim, Cribu, Shicon, Zooppa, Springleap, Hatchwise, Elance, Astada, Minted etc.
Around 2005, the scope of design competitions changed drastically. The design competitions became a business model itself, creating DCPs (Design Competition Platforms) and even aftermarkets for leftover, non-selected designs (Design Leftover Markets). The aim of design competitions after internet era can be discussed under various business models.
Danger of DCPs: The DCPs lets anyone to organize a design tender marketed as a design competition, usually DCPs are places where people will steal your designs, and you cannot do anything at all. I talk about this issue in another article called Design Theft.
After 2005 internet became widespread and accessible worldwide, and with the rise of social platforms and content management systems, organizing design competitions and awards become very easy from a technical point of view. However, awards started to lose popularity because the amount of awards doubled almost each year. In 2009 and 2010, there were several thousand competitions and contests combined together.
In 2010, A' Design Award was launched, entering the global design award space, different that Reddot, If Design Award, and Good Design Award, this competition was developed as a part of a Ph.D. thesis in Politecnico di Milano and is a modern interpretation of the old good competitions but especially crafted for the modern age; the A' Design Award was optimized for advertising and creating publicity for winners meanwhile providing a fair competition platform.
In 2011, there were more than 1000 design competitions that were organized professionally, and several thousands of contests that were organized within design competition platforms (DCPs). Awards have become more popular, and designers started to get confused about which competition or award to join. This is indeed good as the market was becoming competitive, thus more could be provided to winners, but indeed, it was harder to grasp what is happening at each competition, their terms and agreements were becoming confusing and a standardized approach was required. launched in 2010, with a mission to standardize information about design competitions by presenting them in an uniform way. There exists many websites or blogs which you could check the competition details, but what people do usually is just copy-paste the announcement - call for papers text. is different and analyses each competition under 20 main details and hundreds of sub-points, and provides a quality score for all these points. The Quality Score is a standardized scored based on transparency, and is available to visitors to determine which competitions to join and which competitions not to join, likewise is an interesting site where you could see all the active design competitions in a fashionable way. is a website where each of the competitions that have been reviewed by is listed, here the best competitions are ranked with descending score. is a website where special editorial reviews about design competitions can be accessed, competitions are discussed from a point of advertisement value, impressions value, consultancy value, impact on perceived utility based on a likert scale. Also gives insights regarding the participant profile.
Strong, J. (1996). Winning by Design - Architectural Competitions. Oxford: Butterworth Architecture.
Nasar, J. L. (1999). Design by Competition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Prinz, F. (2011). Competition Architecture. Berlin: Braun Publishing.
Spreiregen, P. D. (1979). Design Competitions. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Gardiner, H. G. (1977). The 1977 International Chair Design Competition. San Diego: American Institute of Architects.

This article was added on Monday, 27th of January, 2014 at 05.26 am by author Onur Cobanli Tags: design awards history, design competition history, history of design awards, history of design competitions. Read our copyright policy here.




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