10 ways to win a design award

1 The right award

It goes without saying that if you work predominantly in print, don’t enter a digital awards scheme. But there’s more to choosing an award submission than just categorising your output. Is there an entrance fee and can you afford it? Are there restrictions on the types of output or whether it’s commercial? Is there an age bracket and, if so, was your work produced in the correct year? Pick wisely.

Know what you're entering

2 Know what you’re entering

The D&AD’s Graphic Design awards section has 16 sub categories, ranging from Annual Reports to Wayfinding & Environmental Graphics. Only enter the awards that your work fits snugly into, to maximise your chances of winning. Awards categories should always have entry criteria available, so check these against the name of the category.

3 How is it judged?

Is there a judging panel or is it a public vote? Such mechanics can make a huge difference, and not just because flaunting emails to your LinkedIn network can help boost your chances in a public vote. The judging panel will, invariably, all have individual tastes and preferences, so it’s worth matching the entry criteria to the judging panel and gauging your chances of being singled out for praise.

4 Who’s judging?

If it’s a judging panel, research who the judges are and their backgrounds. Will they be more aware of your competitors than you? If so, include explicit biographies as well as links to further work. You don’t want to be disadvantaged just because a judge might know the competition better than they know you.

Last year's winners

5 Last year’s winners

This is a great indicator of the type of work that wins. On the face of it, annual awards always look to advance a theme, whether it be recognising those entrants who push boundaries, those who have had more commercial success, or charitable projects. Investigate previous winners and the work that bagged them the prize. Was it commercially successful; smarter than the competition; better to look at?

6 Submission guidelines

Read these. Twice. These are hugely important, especially for industry awards like those by the D&AD and AIGA. The entry criteria and requirements are there for a reason, and with hundreds of entrants to compete against, you want to ensure that the judging process for your entry occurs as smoothly as possible.

Fill out the forms

7 Fill out the forms

Entry forms aren’t there just for the salient project information – they are a means for you to sell your entry hard. Think about the language that you use. It should be clear, communicative, punchy and as exciting as your entry. Think in headlines and highlight why the work is successful – if you can, get a client quote to back up your bragging.

8 Check it arrived

If you’re required to post physical copies of an entry, double-check how many copies are required, send them recorded delivery and check they’re signed for. If you have to upload work, ensure that you send the right file formats and that the upload process completes. You can’t win if your entry doesn’t make it.

Know the dates

9 Know the dates

You should be aware of when the judging will take place, when the shortlist is announced and whether you can make the awards night. And ignore any urban myths about seating positions. Whether you’re near or far from the stage makes very little difference to whether you’re a winner or not. This isn’t the Oscars...

10 Talk to others

Yes, you want to beat them, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore the competition. Awards ceremonies are superb networking opportunities, so take a stack of business cards with you and a ready smile. Remember that you’re surrounded by the cream of your industry, so be friendly, frank and enjoy every moment of the evening – even if you don’t take home any silverware.

All illustrations by Sam Falconer

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