Dwell competition to exploit young designers for free work


This is not a new problem, I'm certain. But it's disgusting that Dwell magazine has teamed up with the San Francisco luxury condo project The Infinity to solicit what is clearly free design services with the promise of 'special recognition', whatever that is. Here are the specifics:

"Each of the three winners will be given a budget of $75,000 for the purchase of furniture and other items necessary to implement the winning design. This budget is not a cash prize, and none of this amount is to be paid to any winner. The entire budget of $75,000 will go towards furnishings and other materials for the condominium, and no cash award is provided to the winners nor shall winners receive any compensation for any assistance winners may provide to Sponsor in implementing the winning designs."

There are two high profile architects involved in the project already. Is it simply that the client doesn't want to pay the contracted designers to do the interior work, prefering instead to exploit young designers who will provide just as good design work (if not better) for nothing?

totally pathetic. I know this goes on all the time, but it was horribly transparent this time.

Apr 21, 07 8:42 pm

evil bastards...

Apr 21, 07 9:19 pm

i thought this is the idea that college was based on?

Apr 21, 07 9:33 pm

send em my way.... i could use a nice 75,000 build budget for some furniture items......i need the cash to get a shop ....


Apr 21, 07 9:39 pm

mdler is gonna be in Dwell!!!

Apr 21, 07 11:51 pm
gold spot

A Priest goes to a whore. After he has availed her services he put on the clothes, ready to leave.
Whore asked him.."what about the money, Father?"
To which the Priest replied, "Not from you dear, not from you"

Apr 22, 07 12:26 am

I got some great 2dCAD blocks worthy of their floor plans! Then, Just put the DWR catalogue products in the schdeule ....Voila!'s that for a Free Design ideas.

Apr 22, 07 12:25 pm

"See you later decorator" SHUT THE FUCK UP TOD!

Apr 22, 07 3:54 pm

I fart in your general direction!


Apr 22, 07 5:05 pm

I think I'm actually going to write Dwell a letter about this. I don't generally go there, but that's really upsetting that a magazine that purpots to promote the value of design is devaluing it in this senseless manner. If they just said that there's a $5,000 fee and a $70,000 budget, that would have been a much more responsible move.

Apr 23, 07 1:20 pm
vado retro

there will be no shortage of entrants as a win means ten of thousands of dollars of free marketing for you super genius design firm of the future.

Apr 23, 07 1:52 pm

Could someone post a link to the details on this?

I can understand how it would make sense if it were a straight out design competition or a charrette....but to be asked to play decorator and be given a budget and not even get your own reality show out of it, seems a little bit like a raw deal to me.

Apr 23, 07 1:57 pm

A description of the competition is on Bustler at this link. You may want to also place your comments there...

Apr 23, 07 2:26 pm

Thanks Archinect, duly noted. I will finish up my current meaningless task and drop a comment over there.

On a side note, does anyone else visualize a big green floating head when they see that "Archinect" has posted on Archinect?


Apr 23, 07 2:32 pm

done. Am I really the first comment over there? wow.

Apr 23, 07 2:37 pm
liberty bell

Done and done.

Is this the "agitation" talked about over on the purple thread?

And WonderK, I see more of an enormous but hazy hand reaching out to a universe-sized keyboard.

Apr 23, 07 2:54 pm

I saw you guys' comment on that site. Great!! I agree that it should be be boycotted.

Apr 23, 07 7:47 pm

as the original post on this thread, i think we should make more of a stink about this. At the very least, cancel your subscription to dwell if you have one. I certainly will.

Apr 23, 07 9:22 pm

i don't think dwell will see the bustler comments unless directed there. their email for contest questions is . i can't think right now, but maybe we should make them aware of the comments at bustler and/or here.

Apr 23, 07 10:13 pm
liberty bell

Just set an email to contests at dwell. Thanks for the link aml.

Apr 23, 07 10:21 pm

this is what I sent to Dwell via the email link:

"dear Dwell - I'd like to echo other comments you might be receiving about the Infinity Design Challenge. As a subscriber to your magazine and as a professional architect whose work has been published in your pages and who teaches on the faculty of one of the nation's most respected schools of architecture, I was incredibly disappointed to read in my current copy of Dwell that this competition, endorsed by your magazine, appears to be a call for free design services with absolutely no compensation. The exploitation of young designers is not a new phenomenon, but I would imagine that part of Lara Hedberg Deam's mission for Dwell was to promote the finer side of design culture and to make it more widely accessible for designers and clients alike. It is simply inexcusable when a respected magazine like Dwell endorses a 'design challenge' that neither results in a commission for the selected winner nor provides any compensation for design ideas, intellectual property, or time in order to so transparently promote a high-end luxury condo project on which the developer and others will make a killing.

I am hoping that this is simply a misrepresentation of the intentions and goals of the Infinity Design Challenge, your company, and Ms. Hedberg Deam, and that Dwell will be able to address these concerns with its readers in the next issue. If not, I am afraid I will have to cancel my subscription and take my work, my clients, and my students elsewhere."

they won't care. But it felt good.

Apr 23, 07 10:55 pm

That's a lot more impactful than anything I've got to say. I hope that hearing that a designer whom they've featured in their pages no longer approves of their message makes some difference.

Apr 24, 07 1:08 pm

yes, good letter bp3!

Apr 24, 07 1:20 pm
not without

what ever happened to subversion? win the contest, propose something very dwell/wallpaper-ish that they will like, then fill their condos with piles of urine soaked toasters, dixie cup chaise lounges, and oral surgery photos.

Apr 24, 07 3:57 pm

We'll let you spearhead that particular approach...

Apr 24, 07 4:47 pm

great letter bp3!

I also agree that it is despicable to take advantage of designers in such a matter, but I can't help but wonder if it can be a reciprocal relationship.

I mean, when we had a Starbuck sponsored Charette at school, which effectively ended in the Starbucks team getting free design ideas (the student winners got $100 gift card to an art supply store), I thought it was rather irresponsible for Starbucks to get these ideas without compensating anyone. (Starbucks irresponsible...what? never.) But, on the other hand, the winners got to put it in their portfolio/ on their resume and made some contacts that otherwise wouldn't have been accessible to them. Is a student example completely different?

Though I don't think the acclaim is enough "compensation", I wonder if it is the only way to sort of play the corporate system that we are up against? We do research for professors, who get compensated for publishing books, while we rarely see a penny (other than work-study dollars). On the other side, if you are young, without much of a resume, a claim of contribution to a publication can help you get better jobs and hopefully result in you making more money, right?

I am not defending Dwell at all, as I wouldn't be involved out of principle, but I am honestly asking if it still can be a great opportunity for distinction, which can ultimately lead to more success (long term)? Or is that simply not enough?

bp3, I respect your proactiveness (is that a word?)

Apr 24, 07 7:50 pm

The "Infinity" is infinitely banal design to begin with,
but this "design challenge" reveals the 'new' Dwell's infinitely shameful disrespect for the actual practice of design, alongside their infinitely greedy profiteering from design.

The American architecture/design magazine situation has been so pathetic to begin with of late (particularly compared to Europe and Japan), that it forced architects and designers to aknowledge Dwell's presence over the years.

Whatever good will the design community had for Dwell -- with their Dwell House competitions at least bringing greater visibility to architecture/design -- will surely be eroded away from this stupid act on their part.

On the other hand, the largely layperson readership of Dwell will likely be none the wiser, while being further mislead regarding the value of design and the practice of design.

Apr 26, 07 1:57 pm
liberty bell

Good post, bothands.

Chili Davis, your comment at Bustler made me laugh out loud.

Has everyone else emailed Dwell directly? I did and sent them links to this discussion and the Bustler one.

Apr 26, 07 3:06 pm
vado retro

actually a comp like this would better serve a firm like mine. we could throw two or three people on it. make some pretty and win and get loads of free publicity and write it off to marketing. maybe i'll suggest it.

Apr 26, 07 3:26 pm
liberty bell

vado, always the agitator. You are so agitating!

Yes, free work can often be written off as marketing. Hell, I'm going to a party tonight for a "Decorator Show House" for which my partner and I did decor for the Master Bedroom, for free. We do it every year, spend lots of (un)billable time and even some cash on getting furnishings put together, and it has been very successful as a marketing technique due to both getting our image out there and networking.

The difference is: the Show House is a charitable event! It raises money for the local children's hospital.

It seems the Dwell thing raise money for the developer of the condo and Dwell. F'em.

Apr 26, 07 3:32 pm

chili, that was just wicked dude.....

or dudette...

Apr 26, 07 4:44 pm

yes, I emailed them.

So Chili, would that make the people who enter this contest.... sluts?

Apr 26, 07 4:56 pm
vado retro

yeah well i hear ya lb. you know one thing they don't consider here either is the fact that when we buy furniture for a client we get it at a discount and mark it up and make some caish. i think they want to solicit a reader's response. you will have a bunch of wanna be designer'saka housewives and i.d. students(which would make sense)

Apr 26, 07 5:20 pm

"Winners may be asked to assist in coordinating implementation with The Infinity’s designers, but Sponsor or Sponsor’s designees will have the ultimate, final decision-making authority." we do free work to help Infinity sell condos, and then we may be asked to do MORE free work to help the Infinity Design Team (who are presumably getting paid...) and then after all that they may still, i imagine, butcher the winning free design through value engineering but still attach our names to it??

oh, okay. cool.

i'm in. this is awesome. woo-hoo!

mightylittle's going to be in dwell!!

(at least when you qualified people toss out the submission form, i'll have a better shot...i'm going with shabby chic.)

Apr 26, 07 6:29 pm

This makes me so sick. I can't believe I only just finally started subscribing to this magazine after Architecture folded and I was left with little choice... ugh.

Apr 26, 07 6:39 pm

word's getting around guys - nice job! Curbed SF has just picked up the story too...

Apr 26, 07 6:40 pm

damn...archinect is getting quite powerful.

saving libraries, changing everyone's eco-footprint and now this...contest bashing.

i love it.

Apr 26, 07 7:00 pm

Has anyone received a response from Dwell after contacting them?

Apr 26, 07 7:52 pm

ive seen some pretty shady competitions
but this is absurd.
by the way nice letter bp3
it pains me when competition organizers take us
architects/ designers to be a bunch of suckers.

Apr 26, 07 9:04 pm

I'm actually a little shocked that they have not responded to my email (above). Oh well. Every issue is the same crap anyway. I'd rather spend my $4.99 on some fashion mag that isn't afraid to admit how shallow it is rather than one that pretends to have some relevance. And I agree with above comments: the only reason anyone reads Dwell is because there aren't many options. Architects and designers are definitely the last ones to benefit from anything being published in any of the American shelter magazines.

Apr 26, 07 10:00 pm

not to fan the fires of debate and what-not, but CurbedSF picked up the story of the bad contest as mentioned by the omniscient Archinect and they've only posted one comment...not by me.

<i>Wow, I never knew designers were so self-righteous. The prize is obviously the publicity. If that's not cool, don't enter it.</>

Clearly this individual sees the amount of work that goes into FF&E for a luxury residence as small, but they have a point.

Why should we be mad, when we can just turn a blind eye to yet another instance of our collective services (as architects and others) being undervalued.

Is it our mess that we've made, or what?

Doctor's don't perform surgery for the publicity, except maybe for charitable causes...

So is the crux here really that this is not just Dwell et al. looking for free design, but not even cloaking it in the guise of a not-for-profit endeavour?

What if it were the same contest but the end-users were the residents of the low-income housing that the folks behind the Infinity towers are no doubt forced to put up in some not-yet-but-soon-to-be-gentrified area of SF?

Don't get me wrong...I still think it's a lousy effort that should bring shame and dismay to the halls of Dwell....Just thinking out loud here.

Apr 26, 07 11:14 pm

And bp3, i'm not at all shocked that they didn't respond to you. Why should they? They know exactly what you and others have already mentioned...that as far as </>modern</i> design mags go...they know they have a captive audience.

Why acknowledge mistakes when they can just keep selling adspace for cardboard chairs?

Apr 26, 07 11:16 pm

wow - i sure screwed up those tags. oops.

Apr 26, 07 11:17 pm
liberty bell

As my partner pointed out tonight, at the Show House we spent close to $40,000 decorating ONE BEDROOM (it's all borrowed). With only $75K for an entire condo, I think not without's proposal of urine-soaked toasters might just barely be affordable!

Apr 26, 07 11:33 pm

how much would it cost to send my dwell magazines back to them after i shred them?

Apr 27, 07 7:19 am

right 'return to sender' on the magazine and it charges them the returned shipping cost.

i just emailed them.

Apr 27, 07 12:33 pm

Dwell just responded over at Bustler:

Hi all,

I'm the online editor for, and I want to repsond to the discussion here and on, as your concerns are really important to me. Our goal is to serve the design community, and we hoped that The Infinity competition would be of benefit to emerging architects and designers, giving them an opportunity for higher visibility among their peers and potential clients.

We appreciate your feedback and enjoy having such a passionate community. We look forward to continuing this conversation—you can reach us at


Christina Amini

Apr 27, 07 12:43 pm

this was just added to the bustler comments:

Hi all,

I'm the online editor for, and I want to repsond to the discussion here and on, as your concerns are really important to me. Our goal is to serve the design community, and we hoped that The Infinity competition would be of benefit to emerging architects and designers, giving them an opportunity for higher visibility among their peers and potential clients.

We appreciate your feedback and enjoy having such a passionate community. We look forward to continuing this conversation—you can reach us at


Christina Amini

Apr 27, 07 12:43 pm

Lars, you have to pick up the pace buddy. I posted that at least 5 seconds ago.

Apr 27, 07 12:44 pm

they should either cancel their involvment or raise the antee to 10k for each winning design + the promised 'visibility'.
otherwise she is just doing demage control and sticking a pacifier up there.

Apr 27, 07 12:52 pm

i meant winning 'decoration'.

Apr 27, 07 12:54 pm

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