Design Competitions: From a Judge’s Perspective

Have you noticed that there are a growing number of design competitions that relate to kitchen and bath design, and that the awards are also growing, not just in marketing opportunities, but in cash?

Over the years, I’ve entered a variety of these contests, sometimes winning and sometimes not. In all cases, I have wondered what it takes to win.

In recent years, I’ve had the honor and pleasure of being a judge for a variety of these contests in kitchen, bath and related forums. Whether it’s for the National Kitchen & Bath Association, a magazine, an appliance manufacturer or another entity sponsoring the competition, I have discovered that success requires a high level of understanding of the entry process.

Entry Tips

With the experience of judging some of these contests still fresh in my mind, I thought I would share some tips for entering and winning design competitions from a judge’s perspective.

  1. Choose your most distinctive projects. This may seem obvious to many, but when there are a number of entries in a category that are complete and functional, it’s those that stand out that draw the judges’ attention.
  2. If there are multiple categories, examine them carefully to select the category that will truly best fit your project. For example, if a master bath suite must include both the bathroom and the closet/dressing area, and your entry is a wonderful master bathroom but has no dressing area or closet, it may belong in the large bath category, not the master suite category. If, on the other hand, your large bathroom has been designed using the space previously given to a second bedroom, consider entering it in both the “large bath” and the “before and after” categories.

    Because the time and much of the expense required to enter has already been spent, entering multiple categories when possible can improve your chances to win. For that matter, when allowed, the same project may well be entered in more than one competition, again making better use of the expense incurred for creating
    the entry.
  3. Take care to follow all of the entry requirements. Complete the entry form and check and recheck to be sure that you have missed nothing and that your entry follows the necessary requirements.

    Send the size and number of photos requested. Be sure to submit your drawings in the specified scale and on a paper sized to meet the entry requirements.

    Occasionally a drawing that has been marked to a particular scale has been printed to fit the paper, so the scale is no longer accurate or legible, and it makes it difficult for a judge to confirm dimensions and clearances.
  4. Because your drawings are the map by which a judge understands and appreciates your design, they deserve the most attention.

    First, include enough information to put the project in context. Label passage to adjacent spaces: “to bedroom,” “to back entry,” “to pantry.” Because this has impact on the function of the space, I find it’s a great help. Label key items, such as fixtures or appliances, so they can be found easily and quickly, and the judges’ time can be spent appreciating your unique design. Label unusual or exceptional details.

    Beyond this, I may differ from others who judge, but I prefer a clean drawing, with back-up information in a legend or on the perspectives where I can research information as I wish. Call out critical clearances, especially if they are just enough.

    Unless there’s a limit in the entry rule, an additional floor plan might be included to communicate lighting, a ceiling detail or additional information. Use CAD software or expert hand drawing, whichever is your strength. While judges do not seem to prefer one over the other, they do appreciate clean, clear drawings.
  5. Professional photography is not necessary for most competitions, but quality photos do enhance a judge’s ability to see clearly what you’ve done in your design. Many great designers have also honed their photography skills to be sure their images make a good showing of the project. Proper lighting and minimal or subtle staging seem essential.

    The images should be large enough to illustrate details, often specified as 8"x10". Use the photos to emphasize any exceptional features you wish to highlight. Select the photos that are the clearest and sharpest over low resolution or otherwise fuzzy images.
  6. Use your design statement to spell out what is unique about the project. If allowed, use bullet points, as they allow you to say more in fewer words and they are clearer for the judges. Stick to the limit as to the word count, as in this case, more is definitely not better.

    Anticipate questions that a judge might ask when looking at your drawings and photos, and provide answers. For example, with the huge number of drawer appliances, it is difficult to identify a refrigerator or microwave drawer from a simple drawer base unless it is clearly called out, and it may be just the detail that makes an island prep station work.
  7. Make your entry materials stand out. While most competitions ask that you not mount your images, be sure that the written information and the drawings are organized and clearly labeled.

    Apply your design skills to the way your entry materials are presented. While this does not score official points, it does draw attention to your project.
  8. Ask questions. If you have any doubts about what is intended in the entry process, call the sponsor and ask. Is it okay to submit more photos? Is it acceptable to submit drawings on larger paper so as to make the scale easier to read? Whatever your questions, don’t guess – call.

Knowing the Ropes

Judging various design competitions has been a humbling experience for me, and an amazing opportunity to learn from the work of serious design talent.

Although we all know that we are not to take the results of a competition personally, I’m not sure how we can really do that.

I appreciate that the expense in time, money and emotion required to enter a design contest is not insignificant, and today, neither is the compensation for the winners.

Hopefully these insights from the perspective of one judge may help to ensure that your efforts will be appropriately rewarded.