The Design Competition Survey & Conference

Are competitions an ethical method for securing design? Do they identify new talent? Do they liberate creativity? Do they advance the skills of the participants? Does the public benefit? Do they strengthen or weaken the design professions as a whole? Design competitions can mobilize thousands of talented people across disciplines to creatively tackle pressing challenges. But these competitions can also be wasteful, less-than-fully transparent, and even exploitative.

Architectural Record and the Van Alen Institute sought to investigate the state of design competitions today, questioning their historic, current and potential impact on design, the public, society, culture, and the built environment.  This investigation was performed first through an online survey and then through a conference at the Harvard GSD that built and expanded on the survey respondents’ insights. 

Bruce Mau Design worked with the Van Alen Institute to give the entire conference, survey results and communication tools a visual energy that felt appropriately optimistic yet investigative, intellectual yet fun. The resulting iconography is playful, but speaks seriously to the complex set of forces that shape design competitions' past, present and future.