On Friday I went to Microsoft’s Express Yourself event in San Francisco. Five design firms competed to solve a “real-world design problem” using Microsoft’s new Silverlight technology and Expression Suite of design tools.

Silverlight is the alleged “flash killer” that I had never heard of. I blame graduate school for my ignorance. But perhaps it’s because no one uses it.

The five design firms were:

The firms were judged by a designer each from Adaptive Path, Yahoo, and eBay. Andrew Crow was the judge from AP. (Read what he had to say going in.)

The firms received the problem three days in advance. The real-world problem was to create an online community that would be cool enough for kids to want to participate in but where adults could have control over what their kids could access.

I thought the challenge was dumb and unrealistic. But whatever, because it’s not like the firms were going to do any research to confirm this.

But what’s worse is that the solutions themselves barely addressed the problem, if at all. They were visually unappealing and otherwise unimpressive. And none looked like anything new or like anything that demonstrated the power of Silverlight at all. Seriously, I have no idea what Silverlight offers based on the competition.

The standout moment for me was when Razorfish took the stage and completely failed to deliver. After bumbling about for a good 30 seconds, the presenter finally said something like, “I have to be honest, that’s all we’ve got.” It was ridiculous and embarrassing.

The judges had a difficult time deciding between awful, bad, laughable, embarrassing, and mediocre. They went with the latter, which was so memorable that I forget who won.

At least there was free booze. Thank you Microsoft.