Design Competition Judges Share Award Application Strategies

by Diana Cleveland

Design tastes and styles vary from person to person, region to region, yet many popular and winning designs all share some core characteristics. Kitchen & Bath Design Award judges Cathy Sparling, CKD, CBD, Diane Foreman, CKD, Alan Zielinski, CKD, Cassia Wyner, and Richard Anuszkiewicz give advice to designers looking to make their applications stand out.

At the heart of any application is the project. Judges suggest assessing your portfolio for your best work, both aesthetically and functionally.

Yet, Alan Zielinski recommends, “Don’t be afraid to submit regular project too,” noting that detail outweighs any popular design style.

“[We want] details, something unique,” shares Cassia Wyner. “We’ve all seen so many white inset kitchens, or contemporary sleek wood. We can all design those kitchens in our sleep. What judges (and I think the public) want to see is a novel approach to the same old thing, or unique problem solving, or a splash of something fresh and fun.”

The judges agree that a well thought out, detailed project is worth submitting, even though it may not push the limits of design, or fit into the trending style of the day.

The application is also key to winning design. It is critical to show off the aspects of the design that set it apart from the others with photos, plans and a paragraph or two description of the project. In a stack of thousands of applications, crisp, to the point writing is essential to grab the judge’s attention with the key aspects of your design.

Foremen says, “Take the time to prepare clean, communicative drawings for the space you are entering with a concise, well written and descriptive design narrative.”

Most of the judges concur that a wordy or unorganized description can hold the design back. “Don’t write too much. Bullet points and high-level writing are best for the judges to get a quick idea of the point you’re trying to make,” suggests Wyner.

Cathy Sparling agrees, proposing that applicants “shorten up the writing portion of the application and use bullet points.”

Yet the story of the project is still important. Zielinski emphasizes, “If there is a special story that led to the final design, we would like to hear it, how the evolution [happened] and [a description of any] true challenges if there were challenges to the project. As I have said many times, success is in the details, both in submission and execution.”

It seems simple enough to say, but the judges only see what you include in the application. “Please have a complete package upon submission, before and after pictures and narratives,” reminds Zielinski. He explains that after working so closely with the project, it can be hard to write to an audience of judges who are coming in with a completely bare mindset. They do not have the sense of the project that you do, and it is your job to share that.

Finally, don’t forget top-notch images, to capture all the things you cannot say. “Photography matters,” Wyner stresses. “Stage your photos and invest in good quality photography. Imagine your image on the front page of a magazine – how would it look?”

Anuszkiewicz agrees: “It is important for designers to invest in high-quality photography. Photos tell the story of the space. Designers also need to be mindful of limiting accessories and clutter that distract from the quality of the craftsmanship or design. Photography for a design competition should be editorial quality; designers should be mindful of what shots showcase well in publications.”

For more insight into a what makes a winning design, read Janice Costa’s coverage of Kitchen & Bath Design Award’s trends in “Spectacular Spaces.”




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