Design Competitions: Legitimate Procurement Process, Ineffective Selection Tool, or White Collar Crime?

It’s interesting how long design competitions have been around.

The following quote is from W. Bernard Carlson’s book “Tesla Inventor of the Electrical Age” and relates to the June 1890 announcement by the International Niagara Commission of a contest to determine the best method for generating and transmitting power at Niagara. They invited 28 European and American firms to submit proposals to the contest.

When one of his engineers suggested they submit, the response from George Westinghouse was perfect:

“These people are trying to secure $100,000 worth of information by offering prizes, the largest of which is $3,000. When they are ready to do business we will show them how to do it.”

According to Carlson, the commission received 14 proposals but awarded no first prize. Instead “the commission mined the proposals for technical information”.

Ultimately in October 1893 Westinghouse was awarded the contract to build the generators even though he refused to submit a proposal to the contest.

One hundred and twenty four years later these types of competitions still exist.

Recently the Canadian government initiated a design competition which has been opposed very publicly by the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada (GDC). You can read more at the GDC site.

I believe that these types of unpaid (or poorly paid) competitions to select professionals services firms or access their expertise at pennies on the dollar are unethical and also simply a very poor way of accessing professional services.

What do you think?


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One Response to Design Competitions: Legitimate Procurement Process, Ineffective Selection Tool, or White Collar Crime?

  1. Daryl Silver says:

    Your comments are spot on! Your “Niagara” example highlights the gaps and flaws in present day systems taht are a poor use of most participants time and fail to accomplish thier real goal.

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