Design Competitions Offer Opportunities for Recognition and Connection

Despite the current state of uncertainty in our world, firms and designers should still look to design competitions for creative and professional validation, portfolio building, and community engagement. 

While it may seem like an unusual time to be entering your latest design projects into competitions—with the ongoing global pandemic profoundly changing the ways we conduct business—design competitions can be especially valuable for both you and your firm. Thought moments of celebration are being hampered across the world, firms and designers can and should still look for ways to honor achievement and gain recognition for their accomplishments.

It’s important to promote your interior design innovations in sustainability, health and safety, and accessibility—and provide your design team with a sense of validation. Your newly realized or in-progress interior design projects will be setting the tone for what we continue to build and design in a post-pandemic world.

The process of applying to a competition can be a powerful team-builder.

No matter what kind of award or competition you are applying for, there is a great deal of work to be done by everyone on your team. From organizing project information to sourcing photos and renderings, a competition application is a commitment. If you look at applying as a team exercise with team-building as an additional goal it may inspire collaboration and creativity amongst designers. Like design itself, the application process can result in the sharing of perspectives, new takes on future projects, and defining your value as a firm.

2019 IIDA Best of Asia Pacific Awards Category Winner | Restaurants, Lounges & Bars | Yanlord Health Cafe by CL3 Architects Limited | Photo by: b+m Studio, courtesy of CL3

Awards and competitions may help you achieve a promotional goal, whether you win or not.

Whether your firm is looking to attract new talent, or your team wants to take on larger-scale projects with big-name clients, placing in competitions is a great and straightforward way to show ‘em what you’ve got. Having your project highlighted as a competition winner can be a window into your design process or a way to demonstrate your firm’s strengths to an international design audience. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every competition will be what Bilboa was for Frank Gehry, but they can certainly help put you on the map in ways that internal promotion may not.

Competitions can be morale boosters and team motivators.

When you submit a design project to be considered for an award, it sends the message to your design team that their work is valued and deserves to be celebrated. At a time when workflow may be paused or future projects uncertain, the competition can reinstill excitement for the hard work and creativity within your firm. No matter what kind of work you do or what your professional end goals may be, receiving an award or accolade simply feels good and can provide a renewed sense of inspiration or affirmation.

2020 ALA/IIDA Library Interior Design Award Category Winner | Public Libraries – 30,000 sq. ft. and under | (Re)imagining The Community Library by RATIO w/ Nicole Snyder Interiors | Photo by: Gabe Border and Gibeon Photography

Winning or placing in a competition enhances your firm’s portfolio, which can potentially attract more clients.

Awards offer credibility that may be attractive to clients—especially clients who are new to the process of selecting a design firm. Placing in a competition communicates with current and future clients that your design team is organized, has excellent follow-through, communicates well, takes pride in their work, and understands their strengths. If a competition publishes winning projects in major design publications, such as when Will Ching Design Competition winner OpenUU was featured in Interior Design, this can also increase the traffic to your firm’s website and result in more interest.

Competitions connect you with the wider design community.

Many competitions and awards have both regional and international audiences and applicants, meaning that when you apply to a design competition, you become a part of a robust network of professionals and designers. Competitions allow you to indirectly become involved in associations, organizations, design publications, and other firms. At a time when social distancing is the norm, anything that meaningfully connects you with your external community is more valuable than ever.

Sign up for Designed for Excellence, the bi-weekly newsletter dedicated to IIDA competitions and awards updates, plus news on events, celebrations, and award-winning design projects. Email Clare Socker at csocker@iida.org to be added to the subscriber list.

Lead image: 47th Annual Interior Design Competition Winner | ICS kindergarten by Fun connection design | Photo by: Yue Wu, courtesy of Fun connection design

From Concept to Reality: How One IIDA Student’s Booth Design Made it to Orgatec

In October 2018, more than 63,000 visitors from 142 countries descended upon Cologne, Germany, for five days to attend Orgatec, the biennial commercial interior design trade show dedicated to the modern office.  The show offers a broad international scope of work that some of us stateside very rarely see and a wider platform to share one’s design vision. It seemed only fitting that we use our presence at the future-facing trade show to showcase the skills and talent of IIDA student members.

We were proud to have IIDA Member Sana Khan, former student of the New York School of Interior Design now design professional at HOK, design the IIDA booth at Orgatec. Her concept was chosen as the winning submission of the IIDA Student Booth Design Competition at Orgatec by a jury of design experts including Todd Heiser, IIDA, creative director and principal at Gensler, Eileen Jones, IIDA, SEGD, AIGA, principal and global practice leader at Perkins+Will, and IIDA International Board President James Kerrigan, IIDA, design principal of interiors at Jacobs.

Using product from Vitra, the competition sponsor, Sana’s booth offered a fresh and modern interpretation of the space with opportunities to provide an engaging experience for Orgatec visitors.  We spoke with her about the project – the inspiration, challenges, and lessons learned.

Sana's Booth Concept

Sana’s concept for The IIDA Cloud. “Seeing something that only existed in my head in real life is a pretty incredible thing, and I was overwhelmed with joy looking at the booth I designed. My father owns a construction firm and since my childhood I wanted to become like him. It was my first design that became a reality and it was no less than a dream come true.”

A Hub for Design Ideas

“The inspiration was really IIDA itself,” said Sana. “The idea of connectedness, standing out and creating a network struck me as a great concept for the booth that would represent IIDA and its ideology to a layman in the best possible way.”

To reflect that network, Sana found inspiration in clouds, even titling her project The IIDA Cloud. “Just like how a real cloud plays an important part in atmospheric circulation, the IIDA Cloud would be the hub of circulating design ideas around the world,” she explained. Sana also unpacked the meaning of the digital cloud. “Today’s fast paced generation exchanges information through a storage cloud. Similarly, the IIDA Cloud would be the hub for exchanging design thoughts and talk about designing for the future.”

booth ceiling

Look up. “The idea of the cube is to reflect the purpose of IIDA, to make designers come together under one cloud – or roof – and extol design.”

Understanding the Client

Designers typically communicate with the client throughout all phases of the design project, but for this competition, students had to be resourceful when gathering information. Sana approached this by trying to understand IIDA as a brand before designing the booth itself. “I felt it was important for me as a designer to understand what the client profile was,” said Sana. “The biggest challenge was creating a design that represents IIDA as an organization and to do justice to its brand.”

orgatec group shot

Sana (far left) with select members of the IIDA International Board of Directors, IIDA staff, and her mentor inside the finished booth.

Balancing Aesthetics and Meaning 

For the competition, students were given a design brief that outlined what products needed to be in the booth and what features should be accommodated to allow for collaboration, engagement, and recharging throughout the show. What students didn’t get was a budget. As a result, value engineering the winning design concept was inevitable. Where some would see this as a setback, Sana saw it as lesson in the booth’s essential purpose: to connect. “During the competition, I learned how to design something that is practically and economically feasible to construct. The design should not only have an aesthetic value, but it should have a concept that people connect with.”


Follow Sana’s journey to Orgatec by checking out the Orgatec 2018 highlights on the IIDA HQ Instagram account.