SDN Contest Boycott
As part of the 2009 SDN conference this fall Volkswagen is sponsoring a “service design competition” on the topic of automotive mobility and future services. The idea is to propose a brief abstract with visuals regarding the design of a new vehicle service in the hope of winning a 1000 € reward and a paid trip to the conference in Madeira.
I’d like to encourage readers of Design for Service to boycott this contest. Working for free or speculatively (on “spec”) devalues our profession. We should collectively take a stand against it.
Design “contests” have a long and pernicious history in the worlds of graphic design, advertising and architecture but I haven’t noticed a contest like this in the service design space until now. My background is in graphic design and both AIGA and the Graphic Artists Guild have long debated the ethical nature of such work. I can see why companies love contests; they result in dozens or hundreds of free design submissions in return for a modest payout to the “winner” well below the cost of hiring the designer directly. In this case 1,000 euros probably translates to less than a day with an established design firm.
In a service design context this is even more destructive. Is SDN honestly supporting the notion that service designers should churn out a potential design in isolation without ever having met the client? Is that desirable — or even possible? It feels like the worst of “genius” design folly shoehorned into a service design context. Even then it’s not clear that what Volkswagen is asking for falls within the realm of service design. It gives the impression that a GPS for your car somehow qualifies.
I want the Service Design Network to succeed but this contest is disappointing and reflects poorly on the organization and on service design as a practice.