I wanted to write a post today sharing my thoughts on Spoonflower’s weekly design challenges including why I like entering the challenges, what I think works well with these fun little contests, some thoughts on design challenge etiquette and some ideas for what could be done to improve the challenges and ensure that things are fair.
I try to enter as many of Spoonflower’s weekly design challenges as I can. I find the different themes can be a good creativity prompty. It’s a great way to excercise those creative muscles and maybe even push you out of your comfort zone. If you are interested in working for different brands or in licensing your artwork, the different challenge specifications can also be good practice for following a brief.
Design challenges can also be a good way of soliciting feedback on a design. I find that seeing the number of favorites one of my entries receives can be a good way to gauge whether or not it’s worth ordering a sample to make your pattern available for sale or if it might make more sense to retool the design or shelve it entirely.
Though the stakes are fairly low in terms of prizes, it is free and fun to enter these weekly challenges. As a result some challenges receive a LOT of entries. It can take time on Thursday morning (or whenever you do your voting) to scroll through the week’s entries and cast your votes. Each user can vote once per challenge, but there’s no limit on how many entries you can vote for. Spoonflower simply tallies the total number of votes each entry has received and those 50 with the highest number of votes are automatically made available for purchase. When I had my top 10 finish I did receive a congratulations email from Spoonflower, but for my top 50 finishes I only found out by checking the website.
One way to cut back on vote currying and ensure that Spoonflower’s challenges remain a merit-based contest and not a popularity contest is to weight the votes according to how many votes a user casts. That is, if someone votes for a single design in a weekly challenge that vote would have less value than someone who votes for 5, and those 5 votes might have a little less value than someone who votes for 10. Obviously a mathematical formula would need to be devised to determine the weighted value of votes and it would probably need to take into account the total number of entries for that week’s challenge. This sounds complicated, and I can understand that Spoonflower might be reluctant to mess with a system that’s been working for years. They would also run the risk of confusing entrants who have no problem understanding the present total votes system, but might be a little suspicious of a weighted votes plan.
I spent some time thinking about design challenges and their future viability after participating in a Spoonflower webinar where the idea was put out there that they might try to find ways to make it easier for entrants to promote their entries to their social media following. This was not something that was definitely planned, just something that was being considered. So, while on the surface making it easier to promote entries might sound like a win-win situation, I think such a strategy would have some real drawbacks.
If you’re considering starting your own Spoonflower store or submitting your surface pattern designs to a Spoonflower challenge, I encourage you to take the time and check out and vote for entries in the current or an upcoming challenge to get a feel for how the process works. It might take a little while to scroll through ALL of the entries, but I assure you it’s fun, and a great way to see all the talent out there and get to know the Spoonflower community.
That said, I would caution anyone against taking the results of a design challenge as any sort of hard evidence of a design’s viability. The way each challenge works is that voting by Spoonflower’s members determines the winners of each challenge. For the top 10 finishers there is a monetary prize of Spoonflower credit (occasionally challenges will have an extra prize incentive as well) and all of the top 50 finishers have their design made immediately available for purchase without the creator having to order a sample of the design for proofing. A few times I’ve had my entries finish in the top 50. I did have one top 10 finish with my 8th place finish for my Something’s Fishy design. That’s awesome, and I’m really proud of this design, but I have to say it’s not even remotely close to being one of my bestsellers, while designs that missed out on making the top 50 have gone on to earn me a lot of money with lots of sales.
I’ve always been a little hesitant to enter popular vote type of contests, because I feel like a lot of times those become popularity contests as opposed to contests of actual merit. One way that Spoonflower tries to curb this sort of behavior is by presenting each week’s entries in a random order to each user and not allowing entrants to send a link to their friends/followers that goes directly to their entry. This is great, but I do think Spoonflower could do more to ensure their challenges remain fair.
Entrants can still request that their friends/followers go to the week’s challenge and vote for their entry, and while it is bad form to only vote for a single entry in the challenge, I think there may be some Spoonflower users who do this, perhaps at a creator’s request. (On a side note I would also argue that as an entrant it would be bad form to not take the time to go through the week’s entries and vote for your favorites including your own entry.)
An alternate solution to creators trying to curry votes, might be to simply have the system flag any entries that are receiving an inordinate number of single votes and simply discounting those votes. Of course, this would mean updating the official rules of the design challenges, which at the moment don’t actively disallow entrants to curry votes, but simply discourages this practice. It’s definitely something that Spoonflower might want to consider to ensure the fairness of their challenges going forward.
I think it is a good idea to make it as easy as possible for creators to promote the items they have available for sale and to make use of their social media following for this purpose, but I don’t think allowing the challenges to become a popularity contest really helps the site in any way. As I’ve noted the truth is my best finishing design challenge entry also happens to be one of my shop’s weakest sellers. So, there isn’t a clear correlation between challenge rankings and sales volume.