2021 Design Challenge

Graphic identity for the 2021 National High School Design Competition showing a beating heart



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 challenges high school students around the country to design a healthier world for all. Be ambitious, innovative, and bold! Create a sketch of your idea and describe how your design addresses the challenge. Review how to enter and use these resources to start thinking like a designer!

Who can enter

The design competition is open to all teens ages 13 through 19 who are high school students in grades 9 through 12, or who are homeschooled students working toward a high school degree anywhere in the United States. You can enter as an individual or as a team of up to three people. Review the competition rules and conditions for complete information on eligibility.

The Selection Process

The National High School Design Competition is organized in two stages. In Stage One, competitors will create and submit their design ideas per the entry requirements. Cooper Hewitt will select finalists to proceed to Stage Two of the Design Competition. All Stage One entries will be judged anonymously.

During Stage Two, the finalists will finalize their designs according to the requirements in the National High School Design Competition: Stage Two Brief document, which will be sent only to the selected finalists. Then, finalists will participate in a series of virtual mentoring activities and present their designs virtually to the judges.

Mentor Weekend: Lead Mentor

Rachel Smith is a Latina designer and founder of Design to Combat COVID-19, a virtual community of over 2,000 creatives. By day, Rachel is a Senior Product Designer at Zillow. The rest of the time, the Los Angeles native works on a range of creative projects, both within her local community and globally, to support communities affected by COVID-19 and underserved communities across six continents.

Watch Rachel and Ellen Lupton, Cooper Hewitt’s Senior Curator of Contemporary Design, as they share their insights on the design process and working within the health and design space during the Q&A Session on Entering the Competition.



The deadline for the 2021 National High School Design Competition has passed. To be notified of the 2021 competition, email us at DesignCompetition@si.edu.

Selection Criteria

Entries will be evaluated for overall design excellence according to the following criteria:

  • Innovation: How creative and original is the design?
  • Impact: Large or small, what is the impact of the design?
  • Relevance: How does the design create a healthier world for your intended user(s)?
  • Communication: How clear is your design idea from your sketch and question responses?

Additional criteria for the judging will be shared with finalists in the Stage Two Brief document and will include clarity of final presentation and materials, along with sportsmanship.

Awards and Prizes

Winner (1):

  • The winner will be invited to participate in a virtual program with the opportunity to meet with designers and/or other experts around the winner’s interests in design.
  • The winner will receive a complimentary Family Membership to Cooper Hewitt.


  • Mentor Call: In April 2021, finalists will receive initial feedback from an assigned mentor during an hour-long virtual Zoom meeting or phone call. (Zoom’s privacy policy is available here: https://zoom.us/privacy.)
  • Mentor Weekend: On May 15–16, 2021, finalists will participate in a virtual Mentor Weekend on Zoom to dive into the design process, learn more about how designers use design to solve everyday challenges, further discuss their design ideas, and prepare for the final presentations to the judges.
  • Judging Weekend: On June 12–13, 2021, finalists will participate in a virtual Judging Weekend on Zoom to learn more about design and present their designs live to a diverse panel of creative experts.
  • Finalists’ designs will be featured in a special online exhibition celebrating the creativity of promising young designers on the Cooper Hewitt website.

Honorable Mentions:

  • The designs of all finalists and honorable mentions will be displayed on the Cooper Hewitt website to celebrate the creativity of promising young designers.

Finalist activities are required. Winner activities are optional. Review the competition rules and conditions for complete information on eligibility.

Special Thanks

The National High School Design Competition is made possible with support from Shelby and Frederick Gans.