Students Tackle Actual Problems in Design Competition

You see design every day. You study it. Critique it. And you learn from it, whether it blows your design-hungry mind or makes you want to blow it up. In either of those cases, you might consider how you would’ve approached the same design brief if given the chance.

In the celebration of this practice and the learning experience it provides, this year’s The Real Show, an annual student design competition run by the newly formed organization DC Creative Guild after the decades-old Art Directors Club of Metropolitan Washington closed, gave junior and senior visual communications students the chance to put their creative problem-solving skills to work on real-world problems that some of the top designers in the DC/Baltimore area have recently tackled.

“Some of the top designers in DC over the past 30 years were winners when they were in school,” says John Foster, principal and superintendent of Bad People Good Things LLC, co-founder of DCCG and author of For Sale: Over 200 Innovative Solutions in Packaging Design.

Design firms Post Typography, Carolyn Sewell Design and Spur Design submitted the problems for the competition, and competing students were given the opportunity to design a single solution for one or all three problems. Students were given the same creative briefs and restrictions with which the professional designers worked, which served to give them a taste of the actual creative problems they’ll face when they enter the professional world.

Our favorite of the three problems was problem three: poster design. The challenge? Create a 14-inch-by-23-inch Beowulf poster using only two colors, including a prominent title and all required text. The esteemed judges—Sam Shelton (KINETIK), Mira Azarm (University of Maryland) and John Vance (Levine and Associates)—chose two winners for this problem:


Brittany Houhoulis of James Madison University won the gold medal for her Beowulf poster.

Beowulf 2

Kelsie Harman of James Madison University won the silver medal for her Beowulf poster.


Overall, the judges chose 12 pieces for the show, including two gold medals, a silver and a bronze. The complete lists of winners and recipients of certificates of merit are as follows:


GOLD: Brittany Houhoulis / James Madison University / Instructor: Rich Hilliard

GOLD: Sarah O’Malley / Salisbury University / Instructor: Paul Flexner

SILVER: Kelsie Harman / James Madison University / Instructor: Trudy Cole-Zielantski

BRONZE: Kaitlin Wynne / Towson University / Instructor: Domenica Genovese

Certificate of Merit:

Morgan Alessi / James Madison University / Instructor: Trudy Cole-Zielantski

Dilpreet Dayal / Towson University / Instructor: Domenica Genovese

Ted Hanna / Towson University / Instructor: Domenica Genovese

April Keomorokot / Towson University / Instructor: Domenica Genovese

Jacob Melton / James Madison University / Instructor: Trudy Cole-Zielantski

Olivia Moore / Towson University / Instructor: Domenica Genovese

Jon Moorman / James Madison University / Instructor: Trudy Cole-Zielantski

Abigail Richards / James Madison University / Instructor: Rich Hilliard

What do you think? Are design competitions of this nature a useful introduction for young designers to the real-world design briefs they’re soon to face?