A central feature of almost any floral industry event is a design competition, where floral designers compete for recognition and prizes.
Floral design competitions tend to fall into one of two types:
An open competition means that anyone who meets certain qualifications (nationality, age, level of design experience, etc.) can enter. Examples would include the Student Divisions of the GLFA Designer of the Year Competition – if you can prove you're a student, you're in. Please note that the number of entrants in these competitions is often capped, so even though they are "open" one may need to apply.
To compete in an invitational competition a designer must be invited by the event organizers (as is the case with the Gateway to the Americas Cup, where participants must be invited by the hosts) or win a qualifying event (the Interflora World Cup, where participants could qualify by winning something like the Maple Leaf Cup).
This can vary widely but there generally include registration, materials and travel:
Registration cost will depend a lot on whether materials are provided. If competitors are expected to supply their own materials registration will typically be lower. If the competition organizers supply the materials registration fees will be higher. Registration fees also tend to be higher for higher level, more prestigious events. The most expensive are high level events (Interflora World Cup for example) where a lot of materials are supplied for the preparation of a number of extravagent pieces.
As covered above some competitions may include materials, in others competitors supply their own. In almost all cases where competitors are expected to bring their own materials there is a limit to the total cost of materials allowed, competitors will be expected to supply a detailed cost sheet, and they will be disqualified if they exceed the allowance or understate on the cost sheet.
Travel can be a significant part of the overall cost of participating in floral design contests. The most affordable way to get started is with competitions that are close to home.
Designers are rarely if ever given free rein to make whatever they want in competition. Instead they will be assigned specific "themes" or "tasks" that will explain what they are expected to prepare and place specific limits on materials, material costs and dimensions. For an example of what might be expected at a high-end design competition see the tasks from the 2022 Gateway to the Americas Cup.
Judging typically takes place after an allotted amount of design time, although in some cases it may take place during. Usually three judges will evaluate each entry and award points on a number of individual factors. While there are similarities to all design competitions the actual criteria and allocation of points will vary from event to event. Penalties may be issued (in the form of point deductions) when a competitor has made a minor infraction of the rules, with disqualification a possibility for larger violations.
In some cases judging is "blind", meaning organizers go to some lengths to make sure the evaluators do not know whose work they are evaluating, while in others no such attempt is made.
Until recently scoring was done with paper scoresheets which were then added up, checked and double checked manually. While still common FloristWare recently introduced a floral design contest scoring app that greatly improves the entire process.
Materials were covered in the Cost section, but in general some floral design competitions will supply the materials while others will expect each competitor to bring their own..
There are generally specific rules around the tools designers can use in competition. In some cases designers will be expected to bring their own tools, but limited in terms of which of those tools they can actually use. In other competitions, like the SAF Sylvia Cup, participants will be supplied a set of "standard" design tools.
Typically the designers are assigned a limited amount of time to prepare their entries. Although they may be at their stations early (and in fact are generally expected to be) they may not start doing any actual work on the piece until the competition officially begins. Similarly when the allocated time is over they must put all their tools down and step away from the design bench.
In higher end contests the design time may be broken down ever further – starting with a specific amount of prep time, then a certain amount of time for handling fresh product, etc. Likewise assistants may be allowed for some but not all of the time. Once the design time has passed the competitors are typically expected to clean up their stations prior to judging.
In other events, like some divisions of the GLFA Designer of the Year competition, designers prepare their entries offsite and then bring them in for judging.
Rules can cover everything from the materials that can be used to the tools that floral designers can bring along. As an example take a look at the rules for the SAF Sylvia Cup.
Prizes vary widely between competitions. Some might involve a small cash prize. Other might include the opportunity to advance to a higher level of competition – the winner of the Maple Leaf Cup advances to the Interflora World Cup. The SAF Sylvia cup is a good example – there is a cash prize ($3,000), a free registration to the SAF Annual Convention, a trophy and more.
Designing to win competitions is not exactly the same as regular floral design. For example part of it is about not giving the judges a reason (or reasons) to dock points, which can involve specifics like mechanics that would never be noticed by a retail customer. A good way to better understand what judges are looking for is to observe judging (try volunteering at a design contest), and/or talk to judges and experienced competitors.