2021 Design Competition

The 2021 Design Challenge


Covid-19 continues to affect every aspect of daily life for people around the world—from going to school and work to spending time with friends and family and in our communities. In a time of crisis from public health emergencies and inequity, creativity and innovation become necessities. This is where designers (and you!) step in. Designers today are responding to the pandemic, especially as it disproportionately affects marginalized communities, and reimagining the life of tomorrow by rethinking our products, environments, services, and systems. So many aspects of our world are being redesigned—including personal space, public transportation, protective gear, home- and community-based health care, ventilation in buildings, assisted breathing devices, public health communication, and more.

The 2021 National High School Design Competition challenged high school students around the country to design a healthier world for all.

The Selection Process

In Stage One, participants identified a health-related obstacle and designed a solution that creates a healthier world. Participants created a sketch of their idea and described how the design addressed the challenge. Cooper Hewitt selected three finalists to proceed to Stage Two of the Design Competition through an anonymous judging based on the criteria of innovation, impact, relevance, and communication.

During Stage Two, the three finalists furthered their designs using the Stage Two Brief document and participated in a mentor phone call during April 2021 for initial feedback. During the virtual Mentor Weekend on May 15–16, 2021 they took a deeper dive into the design process, learned more about addressing challenges through design, explored the design field, and worked on their presentations for Judging Weekend. Then the finalists participated in the virtual Judging Weekend on June 12–13, 2021 and presented to the esteemed judges.

Design Competition Resources

Interested in using the 2021 challenge in your classroom? Explore these resources:

Use these resources to learn about the experiences of people in the field:

Explore these examples of how designers are responding to the pandemic to help ignite creative thinking:

To be notified of future competitions, email us at

The 2021 Judges

A diverse panel of creative experts met with the finalists to review and discuss their designs, and selected the winner on June 13, 2021.

The 2021 Judges were:

  • Curry Hackett, Founding Principal, Wayside Studio
  • Josh Halstead, Educator, Author, Designer, Healer
  • Morgan Hutchinson, MD, Thomas Jefferson University Health Design Lab
  • Somi Kim, Senior Director, Healthcare Solutions, J&J Designs Johnson & Johnson
  • Ruki Neuhold-Ravikumar, Interim Director, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

The 2021 Mentors

The finalists attended a virtual Mentor Weekend on May 15-16, 2021 with mentors:

  • Rachel Smith (Lead Mentor), Founder, Design to Combat COVID-19, Senior Product Designer, Zillow
  • Claire Christianson, 2016 National High School Design Competition Winner, Student, Northwestern University
  • Lucas Dunoyer, 2019 National High School Design Competition Winner, Student, Cooper Union

Guest Speakers

Finalists also had the opportunity to hear from guest speakers:

  • Verda Alexander, Founder, Studio O+A
  • Ellen Lupton, Senior Curator of Contemporary Design, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
  • Patricia Moore, President, MooreDesign Associates
  • Ivan Poupyrev, Director, Projects Soli and Jacquard, Google ATAP, Google

The 2021 Competition Winners

Congratulations to rising seniors Aditi Jha (duPont Manual High School, Louisville, KY), Nidhi Malpani (Westwood High School, Austin, TX), and Yasmina Muradova (The Gatton Academy, Bowling Green, KY), for being named the winning team of the 2021 National High School Design Competition.

Their project, Aegle, centers on people’s empathy and natural inclination to help others by encouraging self-care through a physical-mechanical plant and an app that responds to an individual’s well-being. Watch the presentations and explore the projects of all the finalists and honorable mention recipients.

The 2021 Finalists

Congratulations to the finalists, who were announced online on March 31, 2021:

  • Aditi Jha, age 16, Nidhi Malpani, age 16, and Yasmina Muradova, age 16
    duPont Manual High School, Louisville, KY; Westwood High School, Austin, TX; and The Gatton Academy, Bowling Green, KY
  • Paulina Caceres, age 17, and Alexis Nicoleau, age 17
    Design and Architecture Senior High, Miami, FL
    Teacher: Eric Hankin
  • Allison Casey, age 14
    La Jolla Country Day School, La Jolla, CA

The 2021 Honorable Mentions

Cooper Hewitt announced 16 Honorable Mentions on March 31, 2021. Congratulations!

  • Sam Abuchaibe, age 18, and Samantha Azcuy-Batet, age 18
    Design and Architecture Senior High, Miami, FL
    Teacher: Eric Hankin
  • Nitya Ayyagari, age 17
    Amador Valley High School, Pleasanton, CA
  • Sarah Basil, age 16
    Bergen County Academies, Hackensack, NJ
    Teacher: Scott Lang
  • Katherine Bell, age 16
    Phillips Academy Andover, Andover, MA
  • Paige Dalton, age 17, and Abigail Naidich, age 16
    Academy of Allied Health and Science, Neptune City, NJ
    Teacher: Melissa Pitman
  • Akaash Doshi, age 16
    La Jolla Country Day School, La Jolla, CA
    Teacher: Luna Kim
  • Brett Kim, age 18, Lena Luostarinen, age 17
    Francis Parker School, San Diego, CA
  • Ariane Lee, age 17
    Syosset High School, Syosset, NY
  • Eleanor Lewis, age 16, and Lizmar Torres, age 16
    SprDesign and Architecture Senior High, Miami, FL
    Teacher: Eric Hankin
  • Smridhi Mahajan, age 16
    Academy for Mathematics, Science, and Engineering, Rockaway, NJ
  • Amanda Pajak, age 15
    Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School, Upton, MA
    Teacher: Adele Ellis
  • Delaney Rice, age 17
    High Tech High School, Secaucus, NJ
    Teacher: Vanessa Medina
  • Nicolas Sanchez, age 18
    Samueli Academy, Santa Ana, CA
    Teacher: Patricia Vining
  • Michael Valadez-Barba, age 15
    Granada Hills Charter High School, Granada Hills, CA
    Teacher: Jackie Ying