How are Design Competitions run? Are they fair?

Design competitions provide landscape architects and their practices with a means to promote their skills to potential new clients, judging panels and a wide audience. New and aspiring designers can compete for projects which would otherwise be awarded only to established ‘big name’ practices. However, the design competition often requires entrants to commit far more time and effort than would be required for a fee competition or other method of selection. To justify this effort, practices will wish to be clear as to the potential rewards and the criteria for winning. Some competitions offer a cash prize for the winner, but often it is the prospect of a commission for the project that is the attractive prize.

Some of the things that entrants need to consider prior to entering the competition:

Design commission as the main prize

Do the competition rules make the following issues clear?

  • Whether the design presented in the winning entry will automatically be developed by the entrant into the project design?
  • What the extent of the commission awarded as a prize to the winner will be, and on what fee basis? The Institute recommends that ‘The Landscape Consultant’s Appointment’ with its specific work stages is used as the basis of commissions.
  • Whether the commission and fee are guaranteed or subject to the promoter securing funds for the development?
  • When the design commission will be awarded, and how soon the project is expected to proceed to construction?
Staged competition

Do the competition rules make clear whether or not the organiser wishes to select a shortlist of entries who will then be paid to develop their designs further?Will a fee be paid to each shortlisted entrant in return for the further design development work, and on what basis? Will one of the shortlist then be commissioned?

Judging criteria

All competitions should present the criteria on which the judging will take place.Entrants may wish to learn the identity of the judges, and be satisfied that the process will be transparent before entering the competition.

Design copyright

All competition rules should make clear whether the copyright in all entry designs is to remain with the entrant or, particularly if each entrant is paid a fee, the copyright transfers to the organiser/ promoter.

Design teams

Is the competition being held to select a designer who will lead the further development of the scheme, or a designer who will work within a larger team? How much design autonomy will the designer have within a team?

Their fairness really depends on all of the above factors. If all have been described properly and it’s clear to the entrant what the rewards could be against the invested time, then it should be considered as a fair process. If things are applied differently than stated in the promoter’s invitation (ie copyright handling), then is doesn’t seem like a fair deal for the entrants.

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