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10 Tips For Running A Successful Design Contest

Whether you’re developing a new company or rebranding an existing one, a design contest can be an amazing way to gather talent or discover a new way to tell your company’s story.

However, running any sort of contest has its challenges. Here’s how to navigate the potential hurdles — and reap the rewards! — of a design contest.

Do your homework

Vague, confusing creative briefs or project guidelines can derail your contest pretty quickly. Every contestant brings their unique style to the table; without guidance, you may very well get a dozen entries, none of which are usable.

You should also be clear about the format and size in which entries are delivered. Be sure that your brand identity guidelines are in place, then clearly communicate them to contestants before you start. Then, create a rubric by which you’ll score the entries.

Some common elements to evaluate are:


Use of color

Use of fonts

Ability to communicate story

Compliance with brand guidelines

It’s important to set standards for entries so that it doesn’t seem like you’re judging subjectively. The clearer the guidelines are, the less frustration there will be for everyone involved.

Give feedback

For a designer, feedback is the key to their success. Unfortunately, many clients don’t have the right language to give effective feedback. Don’t let that be you! Be sure that you know the words to use when talking to the designers and evaluating their work.

Know how to assess a design’s saturation, hue, composition, and resolution. Talk about how the design functions and feels, rather than using vague descriptions.

The worst thing you can say to a designer is that “it just isn’t right.”

Compensate fairly

In a design contest, you’re typically only going to use and pay for the winning design. That doesn’t mean that you should skip compensating the other contestants in some way. It will boost your brand’s reputation and entice more quality designers to compete if you offer some form of reward.

For example, you could obtain sponsors for the contest and give all contestants a gift card.

You could offer all the designers a free or discounted month of your service or a free product. If you’re able, a small stipend can go a long way in building a talent pool that’s invested in your company.

You might even end up hiring past contestants at a later date!

Set clear rules

As with any contest, establishing clear, firm, and fair rules for contestants’ conduct and performance is essential to the success of the contest. Communicate to all designers how they will be evaluated and judged. Identify any disqualifying activities.

It’s usually a good idea to implement a strict no-plagiarism policy.

Have reasonable expectations

Remember to keep an open mind and accept the potential for future revisions. For example, if you love a design but hate the colors, provide constructive feedback rather than tossing the design out the window. Often, the designer can easily alter the colors to your liking.

On that note, don’t set a low bar, then hold contestants to high standards. Neither should you set high standards then be nervous about judging contestants.

Be clear about what you’re looking for

Express the level of innovation or complexity that you expect, then align that with your evaluation rubric. By doing this, you’re more likely to get the results you want.

Wrapping Up

A design contest is an excellent way to recruit new talent who can give you a fresh new look for your company. You may also find that their interpretation of your brand gives you new ideas for how to market your company. Above all else, ensure that you combine fair, clear rules with careful, measured evaluation. With an honest approach, you’ll be most likely to have a successful design contest.

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