Design Awards Winning Strategies

What makes a submission a winner?

Here are some tips for improving submissions to awards programs:

Keep it simple and follow the directions.

While it’s tempting to customize a submission in hopes it will stand out from all the others, the best way to draw the jury’s attention is through clear narrative description combined with high-quality photos and graphics. Printing out the narrative description in landscape style instead of portrait, using colored ink, or submitting a collage in order to include more images can actually detract from your presentation or even get the submission disqualified. Keep the focus on communicating the project’s value to the jury.

Focus on the narrative description.

Provide the information requested in a direct, simple style. Highlight what makes the project unique, its environmental components, its long-term value, and how it raises the bar for the profession. Resist the temptation to overwrite. Use an easily readable font—Arial, Garamond, and Times Roman are good—in at least 10 point size. Increasing line spacing from single to 1.2 and double-spacing between paragraphs makes the narrative more readable as well.

Remember—photography is key.

Let’s face it, the best narrative in the world can’t make up for poor photography. For design competitions, hire a professional photographer to shoot your project. Lighting is particularly important, and professional photographers can show your project to its best advantage. Be creative: Shoot the project in different seasons, during the day, and at night, if appropriate. Have the photos shot or scanned in a high-resolution (dimensions should be 3,000 pixels x 2,400 pixels, at a minimum of 300 ppi, pixels per inch) electronic format (jpeg is fairly universal). Do not submit color copies of photos; submit professionally processed photos no smaller than 8 x 10 inches. For good advice on photography, check out:

Other resources:


Don’t wait until the last minute to prepare your awards submission. Maintain an awards file. Most entry requirements for awards programs are set from year to year, and changes in procedure are minimal. Gather materials early and allow plenty of time for review. Two-person proof the narrative and captions for misspellings and typos. Neatness counts.

Let plantings mature.

Where site plantings are a key design component of a project, wait for the plantings to mature before photographing it for your portfolio or for awards submissions. Some firms wait up to three years before photographing projects.

Consider submitting projects in less-traditional categories.

Most competitions have several categories for submission. For example, the ASLA Professional Awards Program features five: General Design, Residential Design, Analysis and Planning, Communications, and Research. The combined design categories are far and away the most competitive, with twice as many submissions as the next largest category, Analysis and Planning. Consider all the work your firm has done for the past several years. There may be projects to submit in alternative categories.

Resubmit projects you believe in.

If your submission isn’t successful one year, don’t give up—resubmit it the following year. Juries change each year, and what appeals to a jury one year may completely differ the next. Keep a copy of your submission so that you don’t have to re-create work you have already produced. Request jury comments if they are available. Simple changes, such as better photography or allowing plantings to mature, can turn the project into a winner.

Be prepared to win.

Find out when the results will be announced and get ready. If you don’t have a regular public relations staff person in place, designate someone to field media calls and to coordinate your firm’s promotion of the award. This is a big deal — celebrate your success!


2021 Honor Award
General Design - Small Firm

The Flatiron Institute
New York, NY

Landscape Architect:
Dirtworks Landscape Architecture

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