How to win a design award: 10 expert tips

Want to get your hands on a design award? Follow our guide to creative success, and you'll be on your way...

Think it's impossible to win an award for your design work? Think again. The truth is there are hundreds, if not thousands, of design awards out there to be won. From minor competitions to industry gongs such as a Yellow Pencil, winning one can boost your kudos and win you clients.

But how do you even begin to package up your entries, impress the judges and eventually take home your first gong? Well, we can't PROMISE this advice will win you an award, but with the right work or project behind it, it will give you the best chance possible…

01. Choose the right awards

Win a design award: D&AD Yellow Pencil

A D&AD Yellow Pencil might be aiming too high if you're just starting out

It's important to choose the right award for you. If you're just starting out, it's highly unlikely (unless your first projects are stellar) that you'll be winning a D&AD Yellow Pencil, for instance. So hunt around the web and find smaller awards that are aimed at your skill set, age or talent. There are plenty out there and even the smallest of awards can look great as a badge on your site or line on your CV.

02. What are the awards trying to achieve?

It's also important to recognise what the competition itself is trying to achieve. What's the history behind it?

Is it a big industry event that relies on member support? Or is it a competition to win a bit of kudos and a software/hardware prize? Or is it simply designed to bring more visitors/readers to that particular site?

Whatever the competition, get a good background: it can only help you when either preparing your entry or creating a bespoke piece of work.

03. Look at who the judges are

Win a design award: Judges

Research the judges so you know who you're aiming for

It's also hugely important, if you want to stand a chance of winning, to know exactly who the judges are. Do your research on them and the work they've done. Look at their social media feeds for an idea of the kind of work they like. It won't guarantee you a win, but knowing their taste can help you shape your awards entry accordingly.

04. Understand the categories

Win a design award: Bima categories

When there are a large number of categories to choose from, choose carefully

BIMA, D&AD and most of the bigger awards have many, many different categories. So make sure you pick the right one for your entry. If you're entering a smaller competition this may not be a problem, but with the big ones, read all the entry requirements and the category definitions again and again to make sure you don't waste an entry.

05. Make sure the entry form is spot on

Win a design award: Entry form

Don't fall at the last hurdle by filling out the submission form incorrectly

You MUST fill out the submission form in a complete way - you'd be surprised how many otherwise professional companies and designers fail to do so. Anything missed may result in automatic disqualification, so treat it like your tax return.

Many awards still ask for physical copies of printed work so make sure you package them up nicely: don't just stick them in an envelope. It may or may not sway the decision, but a bit of nice packaging is certainly not going to do any harm.

06. Put aside enough time

If you haven't got enough time to put together a good awards entry that you think has a chance of winning, don't bother. Some of the bigger awards cost quite a bit to enter, and if you just haven't got the time to do the necessary things to get your entry spot on, there's no point in entering. There are plenty of awards to choose from, so pick one where you have the time to enter properly without disrupting your current projects.

07. Make it part of your marketing

Win a design award: Magpie Studio's accolades

Magpie Studio's homage immediately tells you of the accolades its won – in this case where it was ranked in the Design Week agency list. Giving the studio kudos from the outset

A way for small studios to MAKE SURE they enter design awards is to make it part of their marketing budget. Factor in sufficient staff/time to fill out awards entries properly. And then push the fact you've entered/been shortlisted via social media - especially where a public vote is concerned

if you do win, go all out promoting it across your site, promo material and social media.

08. Check out previous winners

Win a design award: D&AD winners

The people who've won in the past will give you clues about how to win yourself

Look into who won the competition in previous years. This will give you a good idea of what the awards/competition is all about and what kind of work wins. Of course, trends and work change dramatically over the course of a year, but you can get a grasp of the kind of ideas or techniques the judges will be looking for.

09. Save the date

Win a design award: Ed Awards calendar

It's easy to get booked up so make sure you don't miss your chance of collecting your award at the ceremony

Okay, so you've been shortlisted - well done. For bigger awards there may be a ceremony. Make sure you take note of when that is long in advance, and make sure you are there. And when you're at the ceremony, make sure you network; it could lead to your next big collaborative project.

10. Enter again next year

Whether you win or not (especially if you win), be sure to enter again the following year with a new project. Your name will be familiar and although the quality of work will be the defining factor, your reputation will go a long way to boosting your chances the second time around.

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Have you had an awards experience - good or bad - you'd like to share? Let us know about it in the comments!