Formidastic student design competition sparks ethics debate

A student and graduate design competition organised by Dutch company Formidastic in conjunction with sports brand Asics (pictured) has reignited the debate about the ethics of competitions in the design industry.

Formidastic specialises in the conception and organisation of competitions aimed at design students, recent graduates and emerging designers. It is organising an unpaid competition – Fill the Box – to design a pair of Asics-branded trainers. The designer behind the winning design will receive a payment of €5000 (£3387), as well as the chance to see his or her idea put into production. The competition closes on 29 June.

Formidastic was established by a group of former design students from the Design Academy in Eindhoven earlier this year. Its chief executive Ruud Hendrikx says it was the lack of competitions for students that inspired him to action. He sees competitions as an invaluable platform for motivation, winning recognition and gaining a foothold in industry. However, Design Business Association chief executive Deborah Dawton is concerned about the integrity of such competitions.

‘Student competitions can be a great way to propagate innovation, but when a commercial element creeps in a submission will essentially become a commissioned piece of work. It’s akin to a medical student being asked to carry out heart surgery. Students don’t have the experience to deal with big brands on a commercial level, and in my view it devalues design in the long term,’ says Dawton.

Hendrikx says that Formidastic consulted Dutch design association BNO’s website for guidance on copyright in relation to the Asics competition, but discounted the body’s advice on student competitions – which is largely the same as that of the DBA – seeing the production of a winning design as key to ‘stimulation’ for design students.

On the issue of copyright, Hendrikx says competition participants have full intellectual property rights over their designs, and only the winner will hand over the rights to Asics.

‘I think we should ask the winner of this competition, in three months’ time, what he/she thinks about this,’ Hendrikx says. ‘We, as young designers from one of the most influential design schools in the world, have another opinion.’

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