Tips for Winning Print’s RDA

Posted inAnnouncing The Print RDA Winners
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Last year, as we were wrapping up the 2014 RDA, we contacted judges Jessica Helfand, Michael Vanderbyl, Joseph Duffy, Debbie Millman, Alexander Isley and Caleb Bennett, and asked them: Based on your experiences judging the competition, what are your best tips for entering and winning next year?

The consensus: Obviously, great design is key. But strong photography is essential to documenting a great design. Let your design speak for itself, but also don’t forget to speak for it in the description.

The judges’ responses are below. The early-bird deadline for the RDA is Feb. 27. Enter today, and save.

Jessica Helfand, East Region JudgeWhat she was seeking while judging: “An original idea! Meticulous execution! Carrying it as far as possible and understanding how something can be more than the sum of its parts …”

Best tips for entering next year: “Submit more than one image but don’t submit 50. Consider the degree to which the images need to tell a story all together. The same logo shot from 12 different angles is nothing short of deadly.”


Best of Region: New Orleans Review 39.1 | Decorative Debris, Rochester, NY;


Michael Vanderbyl, Far West Region JudgeWhat he was seeking while judging: “First, there has to be some spark that ignites interest. Then I look for a compelling piece of design that solves the problem in a creative but appropriate way.”

Best tips for entering next year: “Have great photography of your entries. … [Also,] the description should be succinct, simple and straightforward but include insight on the audience/market the piece was designed for. No amount of rationale can support something that is poorly designed.”


Best of Region: Arcana Academy Apparel — Arcana Academy, Los Angeles;


Debbie Millman, New York City Region JudgeWhat she was seeking while judging: “Generally I judge in three stages. First, I need to feel a fast visceral reaction of “wow”; I need that to be followed up with a strong sense of “smart” and to be impressed by the visual and strategic thinking. Finally, I almost always end up choosing work that makes me feel jealous that the design is far better and more beautiful than I could have ever done.”

Best tips for entering next year: “Show as much eye candy as you can and provide a strong strategic foundation to articulate how and why you made your design decisions.”


Best of Region: Happy Mother’s Day Chris Ware / The New Yorker, New York City;

Joseph Duffy, Midwest Region JudgeWhat he was seeking while judging: “I am always looking for a campaign of work. A logo and a single webpage is fine but in my opinion the best design is a full brand language that comes to life in various ways along any/every touchpoint.”

Best tips for entering next year: “I saw some work that could have been good but it was either shot poorly where I couldn¹t make out all the detail or there was only one image submitted.… It’s the tiny details that separate the award winners.”


Best of Region: Cut Spike Packaging — Archrival, Lincoln, NE;


Alexander Isley, South Region JudgeWhat he was seeking while judging: “First and foremost, I try to determine (as best I can) how demanding were the challenges faced by the designer. I tend to be drawn to simple, effective and memorable work that addresses complex communication issues over formally beautiful solutions for clients where the bar might not be so high. In other words, while I can admire a beautifully printed wedding announcement, I really respect a book, poster or website where the message is complex and nuanced, and the designer presents information in an engaging way that makes me want to learn more.”

Best tips for entering next year: “Explain what the challenge was that you faced! A surprising number of entries did not fill in the forms, leaving the judges to try to figure out the problem being solved. Without that information, design just becomes solely a beauty contest. And that’s not what its about.”


Best of Region: Our School Climate Posters — Southern Poverty Law Center, Montgomery, AL;


Caleb Bennett, Southwest Region JudgeWhat he was seeking while judging: “In a more broad sense, I often see great ideas that aren’t supported well enough by the execution or vice versa, and that bums me out. One of the two should grab my attention immediately, but the other should follow suit. I also try my best to look at entries for how well they stand on their own, not simply how much better or worse it was than the rest of the entries.”

Best tips for entering next year: “Try things you think your clients will never go for. Don’t be afraid to stand out or have an o
pinion. Just be able to back it up. You never know who’ll respond to an idea or help you further it.”


Best of Region: George Strait Farewell Reserve — Hawkeye Communications, Houston;


Print’s Regional Design Annual 2015: Enter TodayThe early bird deadline for the 2015 Regional Design Annual is almost here! Don’t miss your chance to have your work reviewed by the best minds in design today and to be spotlighted in our most popular issue of the year—the industry’s most prestigious and well-respected annual.