How to Win a Design Competition

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Successful creative firms make design awards a part of their overall marketing mix. Whether your work gets published in a Communication Arts, Print or HOW design annual, or in a book about graphic design, these opportunities let you showcase your best design projects, build your firm’s reputation and give you a reason to toot your own horn to your clients and prospects. After many years of judging design competitions, Print’s editors offer tips for choosing, preparing and submitting your work to boost your chances of winning in a design competition.


Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

  1. Make competition entries part of your marketing process (that’s what all this is, really: marketing) and be thoughtful about what you enter. Every time your firm finishes a job, consider whether it’s something you’d want to submit, and set aside a file of prospective competition entries. Gather entry information—including prices and deadlines—for all the competitions you’re targeting, and build those into your marketing budget and calendar. Most important, plan for follow-up marketing efforts to let clients know when your firm does win an award.

  2. You can’t win if you don’t enter. When a deadline comes around, pull out that file and, as a team, select the projects you’re proudest of — it’s a great opportunity to reflect on the great work you’ve done.

  3. Quality is more important than quantity. Some design competitions are expensive. If cost is a concern, then choose only your very best work. Submit two great projects instead of 10 good ones.

  4. Present your work in the best possible way. This does NOT mean mounting everything to black foam-core (in fact, that often creates headaches when the winning pieces have to be photographed to a consistent standard, like on a white background). Is your entry a letterhead system? Assemble all the components in a clear plastic sleeve and tape the entry form to the sleeve. A brochure? Protect it in a large envelope. Photographs of an environmental design? Make sure they’re all high-resolution, printed on photo-quality paper and clipped together or placed in a plastic sleeve or folder.

  5. Logos are absolutely the trickiest designs to judge. Make the jurors’ lives easier by providing some kind of context for the mark. Print the logo in high resolution at a large size on quality, 8.5×11 paper, and include a sentence or two at the bottom of the page indicating the client’s business function. Ideally, provide two separate printouts — one in black only and one in color.

  6. Make the entry form legible. No kidding: 99.9% of the corrections we’ve ever published for incorrect credit information on a competition entry were due to illegible writing on the forms. If the competition has an online entry function, use it. If not, scan a copy of the entry form and type in your information, or use a good, old-fashioned typewriter.

  7. If you win, let your network know about it. Do a blog post, send a press release to appropriate media, alert your clients (especially the client whose project won), send an e-mail announcement to your list. And don’t forget to celebrate as a design team.

Upcoming design competition deadlines:Print Regional Design Annual (April 1, 2013)HOW Promotion and Marketing Design Awards (March 25, 2013)