Creative design and multimedia challenges can help agencies capture, communicate and project a concept or aesthetic that would be difficult to achieve with a grant or contract. In these instances, agencies may require a truly collaborative approach to achieve a goal or meet a need. This challenge type can be used to address a range of needs across the visual and physical spectrum, spanning from graphics, logos and posters, to complex video productions and CAD designs; from user interface and customer experience solutions, to aspects of software and development; from architectural design, to urban planning and more. In tapping the crowd, a challenge can generate ideas, concepts and designs that extend far beyond an agency’s mindset, scope of understanding, talent or skill.
Judging criteria can consider aesthetics as well as how well submissions intuitively, simply and fluidly convey a message; promote ease of use and understanding; or perform a function. Agencies should offer details on how the judging criteria will be weighted.
At the beginning of the planning process, consider whether the desired product is already available in the marketplace and if it can be obtained through a professional services contract. The design field is flush with creative minds that are capable of producing excellent work—design services can be found at a wide range of price points. However, a challenge is an appropriate vehicle for outcomes that otherwise can’t be obtained through the procurement process. For example, a design competition may be the best way to generate a broad range of ideas. It’s also a good way to solicit ideas from those outside of the design profession.
The use of design challenges can also elevate awareness of an issue and engage new audiences. For instance, hiring a design firm to produce a logo, poster or multimedia message may deliver a good end product. But if your agency seeks to elevate awareness about an issue(e.g., childhood obesity or opioid addiction), then the process of using a challenge can provide an outcome that procurement cannot. The ability to get a procurable product or service for free should not be the primary motivation to use a design challenge. Let your desired outcomes guide your choice between challenge or procurement.
If your desired outcomes extend beyond simply creating a specific design product (e.g., raising awareness, gathering nondesigner ideas or seeking out-of-domain expertise) consider carefully who your intended audiences are for these outcomes and include the relevant stakeholders in the outreach process.
For example, if you are developing a “Childhood Nutrition” poster design challenge with the intention of raising awareness of healthy eating habits in a K-12 environment, you may want to work closely with school groups, teacher groups and others to ensure that your challenge is taken up by the desired audience: K-12 students. In this example, the process of engaging these stakeholder groups in considering the issues around childhood nutrition can be as impactful as the winning designs.
3. Determine up front how you will use the intellectual property, and draw the line on the number of revisions from your winners.
In the design phase, you should work closely with your legal team to determine how you will use the intellectual property generated through the challenge. Determine up front what type of ownership or licenses you will require from the solvers to utilize the resulting designs. Make sure you include any required licenses for underlying intellectual property that the submissions may be based on or otherwise utilize.
Making an award does not entitle agencies to an open-ended number of revisions or iterative changes. This practice undervalues the design work. In other challenge types, there’s typically one award for a solution. In design competitions, some follow-on may be required and even anticipated by solvers, but challenge managers need to know where to draw the line. Work closely with your legal teams to avoid overstepping. It can help to set clear expectations for follow-on work in the challenge terms and conditions
Some design competitions are part of a multi-phased or a linked challenge. For example, in the HUD Innovations in Affordable Housing Student Design competition, the design and implementation of solutions were split into two phases. In the first phase, solvers submitted a design in the form of a site-level schematic. Solvers who advanced to phase two were required to further refine their designs and analyze the environmental and economic impacts of implementation. If you suspect your solution will need several refinements or iterations, consider splitting it into separate phases, or even separate but linked challenges.
Trying to avoid a lengthy procurement? Creative solutions take time, whether you’re using a traditional procurement vehicle or running a challenge. Instituting an unreasonable timeline may not equip solvers with the necessary time to research your initiative and its design needs. Cutting the competition too short could short-circuit the crowd’s ability to deliver a usable product, or deter participants from the very start.
When determining the timeline for your challenge, look at examples of other successful design and multimedia challenges. How long did each phase take? Were there revisions required? Remember to build extra time into your challenge if intellectual property issues will need to be resolved, and communicate early in the process with your legal team.
Also, consider your additional objectives such as raising awareness or brining in outside expertise. For example, a student design challenge may need to be timed around an academic calendar.
To increase the likelihood of a successful outcome, an agency should provide background context about the initiative. It’s important to define specific goals or offer a baseline for what the design should accomplish. This should be done in a way that sets some boundaries, but doesn’t limit creativity.
Make sure to provide specifics on the product format to be delivered (e.g., file format, vector graphics, resolution, color and black-and-white versions, 2D/3D, dimensions, etc.). All of your technical requirements should be specified in the challenge submission requirements. Make sure these are clear and exact. Your evaluation and judging process will likely be subjective. Be sure to make your judging process transparent. It is a best practice to solicit input on your evaluation criteria from potential solvers (e.g., in a Federal Register notice) before finalizing your documentation.
Agencies can collect a wealth of creative concepts in design competitions at no cost. In return they should be prepared to provide feedback to every participant, not just the winners. In traditional procurements, vendors can request information on why their proposals were not accepted and agencies are obliged to provide feedback. The same should hold true for design competitions. By providing input, agencies collect a wealth of ideas and build a network or community of solvers for future engagements.