Designing an Award Submission to Win

Copy of 1_CA Athletic Center_Photography

Securing the third party validation of  design awards can be an important move for architects, no matter their firm size, sector focus, or goals. These awards help in a number of ways such as:

  • Gaining attention and audience for your firm through their publication in the news
  • Gaining new client confidence in the project selection phase
  • Garnering appeal and attractiveness for your firm with potential new talent
  • Garnering client appreciation for the celebrating and sharing of their project

Undeniably, in this industry, design awards are an important component of any great marketing program, and depending on the organization or entity distributing the award, they can get your company’s name in front of the eyes of many.

But what is it about those submissions that succeed? How do some firms seem to land so many more awards than others? Undoubtedly the architectural designs themselves are a huge part of their success, but perhaps there are a few additional ways you can set these submissions up for success.

AWARDS SUBMISSIONS START WHEN THE PROJECT DOES

The first step to submitting a successful design award submission is the preparation, even before starting the project itself. Consider the beginning of the project’s design process the beginning of the award submission preparation, too. Through smart documentation of your design process, such as scanning in your hand drawings, photographing your work sessions or community meetings, and saving the design’s iterative versions, your award package will have a more likely chance of success. Go into each project you undertake assuming it might be an award-winner some day, and prepare yourself for explaining the project’s design foundations to help engage your future award jurors.

Preparing from the start of the project’s design can also save you a lot of time in the long run. Though well-filed documentation and diagrams, you won’t have to back track to recreate your thinking. Additionally, concurrently planning ahead for the submission while working through the project’s design will make it easier as your ideation is still top of mind .

THE ARCHITECTURAL MARKETING EXPENSE ALWAYS WORTH THE INVESTMENT - PHOTOGRAPHY

It always shows when a project has had the sufficient amount of time and creative thinking invested, and your early documentation of the process and the project’s “whys” will certainly pay off. But how could you lose when your creative thought is so clearly expressed?

Bad photography.

High-quality photography is a must when supporting an award submission, as even the best projects can be turned away as a result of unappealing, or poorly-staged photos. Hiring a well-trained architectural photographer to capture the design will pay off, as will investing your time to manage and facilitate the shoot. This means preparing a thoughtful shot list, staging the photos (if feasible) with furnishings and clearing clutter, and considering the design features and story narrative when choosing your angles. Further, one of the most critical components to consider is the use of humans in your visuals. More and more, in the design industry, it is becoming clear that photos that show a space in use convey far more insight into design than those that don’t. Buildings are designed for use, not just observance, and your photography should convey the intended uses accordingly.

Given the limited selection of architectural photo specialists, be sure to schedule your photo shoots with both your seasons and your award deadlines in mind, and book these talented photographers well in advance. You should also be very careful to narrow your final photo set down, with your story in mind, only showcasing the components of the project important to the narrative and creative thinking. Not every space or every angle of every room needs to appear (a.k.a. you should never include 20 photos in one award submission).

Staged photography, like this example showing a gymnasium space in action, may require a bit more time and effort but will work much better in an award submission than photos of this space empty would. (Architect: Shears Adkins Rockmore)

PUTTING WORDS TO YOUR DESIGN

When it comes to your project descriptions, narrative components, and project summaries, this is where considering your audience is of utmost importance. Some things to remember:

  1. Usually your jurors do not live in the city where your project is located. So give them context - what is happening in the surrounding district, who are the project’s users, and what is the architectural history of the site, the neighborhood, or the city itself.
  2. Typically, your jurors are other designers. This doesn’t mean you should fill your paragraphs with industry jargon, but it does mean that you don’t need to talk down to your reader. They likely understand your perspective.
  3. Consider your competition. For local awards, in any given community, you are likely to know many of the projects that yours might be up against. Make sure that your language and messaging distinguishes your project from these likely competitors.

While remembering these audience considerations, make sure you also are careful to consider who is involved in crafting the writing. You will most certainly want to involve the designer/s that were responsible for envisioning the project. But in addition, you should also make a point to include a read or an edit from a couple of other designers who were not involved in the project. The follow up questions they have might clue you in to some important project insights that could have been left out of your narrative. In addition, consider sharing the narrative with your Client as well, in case the writing ultimately becomes published and could be deemed sensitive to your client and their audiences.

In terms of form, be sure to break up longer narrative passages into short, digestible bites to appeal to your reader. Often times, long, single-paragraph blocks can stop the reader from reading before they even start. Turning some of your narrative points into captions can be one way to break up these longer text blocks and intersperse the critical information throughout the submission, tying it to side-by-side placement with a photo or diagram that enforces the point.

The best award-winning submissions capture the jurors’ attention by telling a compelling story. Through backing up to the “why” or “how” established early on in the process, your project narrative is much more likely to be memorable. “Why” was this project undertaken in the first place? “Why” did the design take the path it did? “How” does the resulting design creatively serve its user audiences?  “How” is this resulting design better than its other competing projects in the market?

This diagrammatic section drawing, paired with narrative captions, conveys strong design insight without overwhelming a juror with a massive narrative paragraph. (Architect: Shears Adkins Rockmore)

CAPITALIZING ON YOUR SUCCESS

While these tips will help gain the recognition a great project’s design deserves, the impact behind this tool is most certainly not complete yet. Certainly, shouting about the honor from the rooftops should not be your next step, but here are a few recommended uses to consider if you haven’t already.

  • Make sure you use the honor to thank your Client and ensure they celebrate it alongside you.
  • Add the honor to your website’s news section.
  • Add it to your website’s project profile.
  • Add it to the project’s project sheet for use in proposals.
  • Announce the honor on your social media platforms.
  • Include it in your next eMarketing blast.
  • Use the honor as a validator when pitching the project for coverage in the local press or design press.
  • Celebrate the honor with the partners and team involved in the project’s realization.
  • Share the news of the honor with similar clients whom you haven’t connected with in a while.
  • Collect this honor in a set with your other honors for inclusion in your next credentials package or interview presentation.

Image credits

Copy of 1_CA Athletic Center_Photography

Copy of 1_CA Athletic Center_Photography

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