Undergraduate Student Merit Awards - 2021 Program Details


IDSA recognizes exceptional student design talent through our annual Student Merit Awards program. The competition highlights the very best creativity, problem solving and design brilliance in each of IDSA's five North American Districts. The SMA competition consists of two separate rounds. Round 1 is conducted independently by the schools and determines a single Student Finalist for that school. Round 2 is conducted entirely online by IDSA and determines the five SMA District Winners. One winner is selected from each District for this prestigious distinction.

Student Merit Award winners benefit from massive media exposure through IDSA's extensive reach and high-level industry recognition. These individuals receive an online profile, a print feature in INNOVATION magazine and special distinction at the annual International Design Conference. IDSA is proud to witness the incredible acceleration that winning an SMA provides in the professional success of those who participate. Winners quickly become some of the most notable young designers practicing today.

Round 1:  SMA Finalist selection

January 1 – March 8 

Schools with an active IDSA Student Chapter and Education Representative are encouraged to identify candidates who are graduating seniors and who have demonstrated quality in their undergraduate work. Schools conduct an internal presentation and judging session to determine their top student, their SMA Finalist. The SMA Finalist student designer is someone with tremendous talent and breadth of skill, and who best embodies the industrial design program they represent. 

Round 2: SMA District Winner selection

March 8 – April 5 

SMA Finalists enter into Round 2 by uploading project work to IDSA’s online awards platform for review by our committee of judges. Our judging committee is made up of design educators and professionals who review all submissions and select winners based on the criteria: scope of work, quality of work, quality of thought, and visual presentation. Student finalists are evaluated against peers from other schools in their district. One SMA Winner is selected from each District.



The Undergraduate SMA program is free to enter and open to graduating senior industrial design students from a North American school with an active IDSA Student Chapter*. In order to enter Round 2, participants must be a current IDSA student member.

*A valid Student Chapter has at least five IDSA student members whose faculty advisor to the chapter is a member of the industrial design faculty and an IDSA professional member.

Round 1 – Finalist Selection

  • Round 1 begins January 1, 2021 and concludes on March 8, 2021.
  • The faculty advisor(s) selects student candidates who have maintained at least a "B" grade average in all course work since entering the design curriculum. The candidates must be seniors projected to graduate by the end of the fall semester or last quarter of 2021.
  • The faculty advisor(s) assembles a jury of at least three (3) professional designers from the surrounding community. These individuals should not be full or part-time faculty at the school. These individuals should have demonstrated proficiency in their practice. These individuals should represent diverse gender and cultural backgrounds. These individuals do not need to be IDSA members, but membership is encouraged. 
  • On a set date (as determined by the school but before March 8, 2021), student candidates will present their work for the jury of professionals, their student peers and other attendees from the local IDSA community. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this presentation may be given as a video conference via Zoom, Facetime, etc. 
  • Presentations should meet the following: 
    • Limited to 8 minutes in length start to finish
    • Should include images, graphics, video, etc. that detail project work in a professional and comprehensive way
  • Video recording all student candidate presentations is highly encouraged so this video may be included as part of the SMA Finalist submission.
  • Jurors must use THIS EVALUATION FORM to rate students in the areas of: scope of work, quality of work, quality of thought and visual presentation. 
  • The scores will determine the top candidate in that school. If the scores result in a tie, a discussion among jurors present will be conducted in order to choose that school’s SMA Finalist. If needed, jurors are welcome to hold this discussion via video chat. 
  • One student from each school is chosen as an SMA Finalist.
  • On or before March 8, 2021 the faculty advisor will notify IDSA of their SMA Finalist by sending his or her name and contact information to Rachel Winter at rachelw@idsa.org

Round 2 – District Winner Selection

  • Round 2 entry begins March 8, 2021 and concludes on April 5, 2021.
  • Only SMA Finalists may participate in Round 2. One SMA Finalist per school. 
  • SMA Finalists will use IDSA’s online awards platform to complete their submission for review. Submissions will be comprised of:
  • Project portfolio detailing up to three (3) individual projects. PDF format, not to exceed 15 pages in length. Your portfolio should address and display competency in the following areas: 
    • Your problem statement and design solution
    • Your research and synthesis
    • Design approach and process
    • Clearly define student role in the group
    • How your work is forward-thinking and unique
    • How your work addresses real-world challenges and advances the design profession
  • Three (3) individual images that best represent the projects in your portfolio; one image per project
  • A two (2) minute video statement verbally addressing the following prompts (a sketchnote may also be submitted in place of a video to visually respond):
    • What's an experience you've had in your design education (project, presentation, etc.) that's helped shape who you are as a designer?
    • What's an example of something in the world (product, experience, service, etc.), where you feel like design has made a powerful impact?
  • Video recording of your Round 1 school presentation (optional)
  • All Round 2 submissions need to be completed by April 5, 2021.
  • One student per District is chosen as an SMA District Winner.
  • Winners will be notified on or approximately May 3, 2021.

Prizes & Recognition

Each (school level) SMA Finalist receives the following:

  • A profile in INNOVATION magazine’s Winter issue.
  • Recognition on IDSA.org with other SMA Finalists.
  • A commemorative certificate sent out at the conclusion of the competition.


Each (district level) SMA Winner receives the following:

  • A complimentary 1-year Young Professional membership to IDSA upon graduation.
  • A profile in INNOVATION magazine’s Winter issue.
  • Recognition on IDSA.org with other SMA District Winners.
  • A complimentary registration to attend and deliver the winning presentation on stage at the virtual 2021 International Design Conference.
  • A commemorative trophy.
  • A complimentary 1-year Premium Profile placement for their school on IDSA’s ID Schools directory.
  • A $250 gift voucher, redeemable for a value of up to $250, courtesy of Stratasys Direct Manufacturing

Judging Criteria


Round 1 Jurors must use THESE EVALUATION FORMS to make their scores and tabulate results in the selection of a SMA School Finalist.

Round 2 Jurors will use the tools built into IDSA’s online awards platform to rate students. The resulting scores will determine the top candidate in each District or top overall candidate. If the scores result in a tie, phone/video conference call discussion among District jurors will be conducted in order to choose the SMA Winner(s).


Scope of Work

The submitted portfolio of projects should demonstrate proficiency across multiple mediums, project categories and/or problem areas. The student should display an in-depth understanding of the entire design process and design research from start to finish; this should be reflected within the body of their work.

Quality of Work

The submitted portfolio of projects should demonstrate a high-level of proficiency in industrial design skills such as: user research, ideation (sketching/rendering and prototyping), modeling (3D and physical), materials and/or manufacturing. The final solutions or presentations of process or ideas should be aesthetically fitting and exhibit appropriate balance between form and function.

Quality of Thought

The student should demonstrate in-depth and holistic understanding of a problem/opportunity scoping, design criteria and context. The student is effective in making connections between their work and practice/academia, and demonstrates thinking that contributes to advancing the design profession. This critical analysis should be reflected (and communicated) in their research and process, and/or final solution(s). The work should be forward thinking and unique.

Visual Presentation

The submitted materials should be clearly organized, well composed and visually compelling. The work should be representative of a cohesive collection and communicate an intelligible narrative throughout.

Verbal Presentation

(Only evaluated in Round 1) - The student should articulate their thoughts, work and process in a clear and succinct manner. Verbal statements should be delivered with a compelling narrative and demonstrate holistic understanding of the subject matter.