Design competitions and you


I would officially like to go on record by stating that design competitions are great. I would also like to go on record by stating that I have never actually won a design competition. But, the true results of competition work are not always measured by a first place victory.

Design competitions oftentimes allow designers to consider societal or cultural issues that they might otherwise never encounter on a typical, day-to-day basis. They also allow designers to truly hone their graphic presentation skills along with their articulation of opinions, ideals, or design values. Ever heard the expression, “practice makes perfect”? That has always been how I’ve looked at design competitions – practice. Truth be told, I have never actually entered a design competition with the intent of winning. Seems like a waste of precious time, right? Not to me.

In fact, any design competition I have entered – regardless of the outcome – has benefitted my own personal skill sets by allowing me to think outside of the proverbial “box” and develop my own design process (RE: #winning). I know what you’re thinking: I developed my design process enough throughout the six grueling years I spent in architecture school; shouldn’t I be catching up on the last episode of Mad Men instead of wasting my time on a design competition? Luckily, those same six years in architecture school taught me the noble skill of multi-tasking – also known to architecture students as watching television developing your concept while designing.


Recently, I entered a design competition with two of my very good friends from Catholic University – one that might not have initially seemed of any interest to three upcoming (well-dressed) architectural designers. The competition was through The Battery Conservancy in New York City – an organization aimed at the revitalization of Battery Park as an active, public landmark for the city. The competition brief was simple: design a versatile yet economic seating element to be used when public events are held in the park. Hold the phones – did I just say seating element? Will this chair include wood studs spaced at 16″ O.C.? No? OK, great.

Normally, designing a piece of furniture would not be my go-to venture; but in this case, it was a great experience because it allowed me to realize the prevalence of design in every facet of life – a critical notion to accept if you are going to be calling yourself a designer. Our design was entitled BIN.CHAIR – a stackable, ergonomic piece meant to be economic in cost, easy to fabricate and replicate, and attractive enough to activate The Battery Green for public events. Finally, and most importantly, the chair is meant to be a versatile element in that it can accompany a range of activities outside of seating. For us, versatility means the Consevancy will get the most bang for its buck  with a chair that can be used until the day it can no longer stand.

Having the opportunity to work on a competition such as the Battery Conservancy’s only re-emphasizes the notion that design competitions are important for students to pursue post-graduation. Competitions like these will keep your skills sharp, and allow you to delve deeper into any number of areas within the design world. And, you just might be pleasantly surprised at how fun designing something as simple as a chair can be.

While a chair has not yet been selected for fabrication by the Battery Conservancy’s panel of jurors, our entry was lucky enough to move onto the next round of judging – placing it in the top 50 of c.679 design entries. Maybe, just maybe, my luck is finally starting to turn around. That, or maybe the competition gods are just starting to feel bad for me at this point.


*A special thanks to Michael Hoak and Michael Iskandar for their collaboration on this project. Interested in learning more? Michael Hoak can be found here and Michael Iskandar can be found here.

Happy designing.

*New York skyline image courtesy of The Battery Conservancy.

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