Selection Process

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National Design Award Categories

Design Visionary
Given in recognition of an individual, company, or organization who has made a profound contribution to advancing the field.

Climate Action
Given in recognition of a design project for its significant contributions to addressing the global climate crisis.

Emerging Designer Award
Given in recognition of a designer who has demonstrated profound talent in the early stages of their career.

Given to an individual or firm for the design of public, commercial, and residential interior and exterior spaces.

Communication Design
Given to an individual or firm for the design of information and messages.

Digital Design
Given to an individual or firm for the design of interactive digital products, environments, systems, experiences, and services.

Fashion Design
Given to an individual or firm for the design of apparel, accessory, jewelry, footwear, and textiles.

Landscape Architecture
Given to an individual or firm for the design of outdoor environments and urban planning.

Product Design
Given to an individual or firm for the design of goods, furniture, lighting, and materials.

2020 Special Thanks



Design throughout history has always responded to the challenges of its time, and today the expectation of conscious consumption by consumers needs to be preceded by a more conscious creation by designers. The National Design Awards wants to recognize the role of design in shaping a more sustainable future, and support this new era of design. In 2020, Cooper Hewitt is launching the Climate Action Award and urges all designers to take on a professional responsibility to advance a more sustainable future for all.


The defining criteria for the Awards are innovation and impact.

Nominations & Submissions

The process begins with an open call for nominations, which are solicited from leading designers, educators, journalists, cultural figures, corporate leaders, and design enthusiasts from every state in the nation. Eligible nominees are invited to submit materials for the jury’s review according to specifications provided by the National Design Awards office. Submissions generally consist of resumes, design statements, portfolios of work, and professional-quality visual samples.


Eligibility is restricted to citizens or current long-term residents of the United States. Firms, corporations, or institutions must have their corporate headquarters in the United States. Individual nominees must have been practicing professionally for a minimum of 10 years; firms, corporations, or institutions must have been established for a minimum of 10 years. Design Visionary nominees must have been practicing professionally for a minimum of 25 years for individuals and a minimum of 10 years for companies or organizations. Emerging Designer nominees (individuals or firms) must be in the early stages of his or her career with up to 8 years of professional experience. There is no requirement for years of professional experience for the Climate Action Award, however, the project must be in progress or realized. Winners of a National Design Award in a Design Category will be eligible for the Design Visionary category 10 years after receiving their award. All previous National Design Award winners are eligible for the Climate Action Award. Cooper Hewitt employees and trustees and their families and household members are not eligible. Awards are given for a body of realized work, not for any specific project, that represents the core criteria of the Awards: innovation and impact.

Jury Process

National Design Award jurors are chosen for their prominence and expertise in the design world and their ability to serve in a knowledgeable and statesmanlike manner.

The jury meets over a two-day period to thoroughly review every submission and consider each nominee, with the challenging task of determining the work that best embodies the Awards’ mission. The jurors assess portfolios in terms of the works’ relationship to and impact on contemporary daily life. Extraordinary originality in identifying, shaping, and solving problems is highly valued, and nominees whose work significantly broadens the conventions of their discipline, introduces formal innovation, and exhibits consistently high levels of imagination and insight are given special consideration. Finally, in keeping with Cooper Hewitt’s definition of design as a force of change, the extent to which the general public has benefited from the explorations and achievements of the nominee is weighed.

The jury is briefed by the museum staff on the mission of and criteria for the Awards, but museum staff does not participate in the jury process. Jurors are asked to base their decisions primarily on the core criteria: excellence, innovation, and enhancement of the quality of life. They are also asked to consider the broad spectrum of the design community—geographically, culturally, and artistically. All jury deliberations are kept confidential.

Browse a list of previous winners and jurors.

Meet the 2020 Jury!

The 2020 jury was composed of a diverse group of designers and educators from around the nation:

  • Sigi Ahl, Creative Director, Eileen Fisher Waste No More
  • Angela Brooks, Principal Brooks + Scarpa Architects, Inc.
  • Shane Coen, Founder, Coen + Partners
  • Arem Duplessis, Group Creative Director, Apple Inc.
  • Ben Ebel, Experience Design Michelin North America
  • Toni L. Griffin, Principal, Founder, Urban American City
  • Jae Park, Vice President, G Suite UX Design, Google

Behind the Scenes

Take a look behind the scenes at the National Design Award recipient selection process.