Craig Durosko: Are you entering design contests?

I recently was a judge that reviewed hundreds of awards entries in a day in a half. It was a great experience, and I took away some learned lessons. I wanted to share with you some of my insights from that experience to help you prepare your entries to win more awards.

October 16, 2012

I recently was a judge that reviewed hundreds of awards entries in a day in a half. It was a great experience, and I took away some learned lessons. I wanted to share with you some of my insights from that experience to help you prepare your entries to win more awards.

As you read this, this might seem elementary to you. Yet after experiencing the judging, it was clear that what looked like it could be an award-winning entry, would be marked down because we couldn’t tell what they were doing. It might have been no plans were submitted, poor picture quality, or there were just basic items missing. Each judge had their own perspective of what they were looking for, and obviously there were lots of discussions on good design and architecture. For this article, I will highlight some of the missed opportunities as you prepare the entry.

The Basics

Make sure your entry aligns with the category.For example: if you enter in the Green category, clearly provide the energy savings, air quality, construction methods and materials used, and the back up certifications and test results.

The Layout

I think an overall theme was less is more. If you do the math, often the judges have less than five minutes to review and judge each entry. Try to paint the picture using your text; before and after pictures; and before and after drawings. Show before and after pictures of the same perspective next to each other or on opposing pages.

Drawings

Provide clear before/after drawings that show what was done. These should be professional and clearly note what was changed. They don’t have to be full architectural drawings. It is difficult if not impossible to see what was done with pictures alone.

Pictures

A professional picture with adequate lighting is imperative. One of the judging criteria was quality. Unless the picture is clear and you could see the details, it was difficult to rate it high. Others had taken quality pictures then printed them on standard copy paper with a laser jet printer. It was difficult to see the details. Have at least a few full-page pictures of the after and some detailed, up close pictures to feature the quality of work.

Written Text

Be sure you clearly state the reason the client decided to do the project, their goals, and what you did to solve the client’s needs. Some entries said one thing and the photos did not align with the goals of the homeowner. For example, improve the street appeal and then show details and pictures of a back porch. Be clear and to the point. Do not mention your company name in the text; the judging is anonymous. State the challenge clearly and ensure your design is solving that challenge.

Details

Does the new design align with the architecture of the adjacent areas? For example, window and door trim and alignment, styles of windows, trim details, etc. How does the renovation align with the existing structure? They typically scored lower in the design or construction quality if there was some mis-alignment unless it was stated why in their entry. As you flip the pages in your entry binder, make sure they all face the same way, having to flip the binder over on every page becomes challenging with the time constraints. Unfortunately there is a sliding scale. You might have a solid entry, but if there are several excellent entries in that category, you might not win an award in that category. I have a friend that is a football coach. When his players ask why they are not in the game he says, “Show me someone on the field that you are better than and I will put you out there.”  That is similar to the judging: Wondering why your awards aren’t winning? Compare your entry packet and look at the other award entries in that category. One judge had a take away of sharing the award-winning projects in the magazines with his designers so they could see what the project looks like.

Another take away the judges are looking for is creativity. How well did you handle the challenge and what did you have to overcome? For example, some kitchens that were just cabinet replacements did not catch the eye of the judge. Usually, there was a challenge in the design, flow, use, or a creative solution presented in a way that a judge could understand what was done.

Trying a new digital format? Prepare the presentation the same as you would a printed version. Present the before and after drawings and pictures next to each other, etc. Just uploading a bunch of pictures and drawings in no order is just like throwing them in a pile, almost impossible to judge. Create a PDF or similar in a way that it is a slide show so the judges are looking through an electronic book. 

Have someone review the entry before it is submitted as if they were a judge, have them look for inadequacies. Make it a priority for your company to win; make it a challenge, a game. Good luck on your next entry. PR

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