How to Create Award-Winning Designs

Matcha Design - Thursday, June 4, 2020

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Designing for the sake of winning awards is not the best way to express creativity, but it’s good to understand the mindset of competitions. By thinking outside of the box and incorporating some new philosophies you can give yourself the best leg up. Earning awards is validating, and proves to your clients they’re in good hands.

As the Principal & Creative Director at Matcha Design, I can speak to some of the common elements that have yielded a consistent history of accolades and recognition.

Award-winning designs all have an obvious feature in common… they are chosen by jury members. Being a jury member myself, I can attest to specific attributes that make any piece of media a contender. 

It’s emotion. Grabbing the viewer’s attention at an emotional level is key. This doesn’t always mean you have to be different for the sake of it though. Busy designs can be unappealing or cumbersome, and too simple of a design can be boring. The pieces that pop are always the result of a designer with perfected skills.

When an artist or designer pays attention and puts an effort into his or her work, you can see it in the details. The message communicates to the audience with the right tone, style, and content.

In other words, the design itself can’t be the only thing that’s judged. The application of the content has to be on-point as well. Imitation or replication alone will never win awards. That’s because veteran jurors will identify any copy-cats. They might also dismiss techniques they’ve seen many times before.

Forcing your content and message into a pre-existing design won’t tell your story effectively. Winning pieces always use design theory to build a story. It describes the brand by leveraging as much empathy and emotion as possible.

Design is a tool that carries a message to your audience. That was our philosophy when working on the Defending Dignity project. Both the website and the logo were recognized in the same awards competition. The brand and story won over the jury's heart and mind… not the design alone.

That means the design was frictionless. It portrayed Defending Dignity with the appropriate tone and style. The audience (or jurors in this case) immediately understood the emotional weight.

What Award-Winning Logos Have in Common

I look for logos that overcome a challenge. It’s difficult to incorporate intricate text within a design. That said, fantastic logos with lengthy phrases exist. One of the hardest things we’ve done is crafted a logo with multiple languages. Our work on Gemini Claims & Management Services, Ltd earned awards for brand identity. 

Text and iconography in a logo design should be witty, fluid, and original. Every action needs to mean something and designed to work with the brand in question. If it isn’t doing double-duty then the aesthetics are all-for-nothing.

Award-winning logos often tell two stories. The history and message behind the brand it represents. And the struggle meeting the needs or requirements of the client.

This can be from language gaps, cultural barriers, or even visual balance. There will always be specific constraints the client has for the finished design.

Exceptional Print Design Requires Balance

For printed materials, your primary goal is to attract and keep the reader's attention. A clean and clutter-free layout will go a long way toward achieving it. Combine that with some great images and fluff-free copywriting and you’ll be on your way to the winner’s circle. 

For the Complete Energy Solutions brochure, we presented a lot of technical information. To reduce friction we paid particular attention to guide the reader’s journey. Imagine the user experience as they thumb through the brochure. Ask what would make them flip to the next panel. Question what content would work best there. What information would be most helpful? How can the brochure mirror the buyer’s journey should they become a customer?

There’s a physical connection with the reader. So tying in traditional marketing theory is useful as you design for print. Take your time, and plan methodically. Don’t forget about the importance of branding. Ensure that your design makes strong emotional connections.

What Makes an Award-Winning Website?

Clear messaging and responsiveness are at the forefront of great website design. Regardless of any accouterments, the speed and UX need to be flawless. High-resolution photos and imagery should set the right mood, and the copy should match in tone.

Any special enhancements; like unique features, animation, videos, or color can enhance branding. Mobile friendly and flexible designs are integral to a functional website.

When building an experience from the ground up, think of the user. Work to create a phenomenal product that is best for them. Award-winning designs aren’t made with competitions in mind. But are instead focused on the audience and the value.

Do What’s Best For Your Clients

I wouldn’t ever recommend you make a design for the sake of winning an award. Many agencies do so, in hopes of generating buzz. It might work too. However, flukes or one-hit wonders don’t fit the mold of award-winning designers— those valuable aspects can’t be learned or recreated.

The best evidence of an award-winning designer are results. Consistently earning awards and accolades year after year. Design styles are unique. We have different experiences, and alternate ideas on what might be best. By having the mindset of what’s best for our clients and their projects, we can all be consistent.

Always design with passion, an ethical mind, and never stop putting your best foot forward.

Remember, you can’t win awards if you don’t submit your work to competitions! Don’t sell yourself short, or limit your submissions to small or local showcases (which can often be based on networking rather than merit).

Search for large competitions and set yourself against the giants of your industry. Keep a positive attitude and continue to hone your skills. I don’t have a doubt you’ll soon be validated as an award-winning designer.

Chris Lo is the founder and creative director of Matcha Design.

About Matcha Design
Matcha Design is a full-service creative agency specializing in web designprintidentitybrandinginterface designvideo productionstill photography and motion design. Using our passion for excellence, multi-cultural background, and award winning practices, we consistently provide high-quality, custom, innovative solutions to meet the diverse marketing needs of our clients. For more information, visit www.MatchaDesign.com.