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How to write a great application form

How to write a great application form

10 December 2014

Whether you’re applying for an accelerator programme like Design Council Spark, or entering your work into a design competition, mastering the art of writing a great application form is an essential skill to have.

You might have come up with a great idea – but how do you sell it and make it come to life on paper?

We recently sat down with some of our Ones to Watch judges - Mat Hunter, Annie Warburton, Andy Altmann, Assa Ashuach and Rohan Gunatillake - to get their top five tips on applying for competitions and making sure your application stands out from the crowd.

1. Enter your best project 

Ask for external advice about what your strongest project is – this could be from your application sponsor (if you have one), a mentor or friend who you can trust to tell you the truth.  This is your chance to get noticed, make sure you’re submitting a piece of work or idea that you feel 100% confident in and are able to sell to us if you get to the next stage. If you don’t believe in yourself and your work, it’s hard for a reader to believe in it.

Assa Ashuach says: “This is your dream, your decision, you designed it, now publish it and give it a life”.

2. Be clear – and avoid jargon 

Get your idea across simply and quickly. Judges only have a short amount of time to understand projects. Practice explaining your project to someone else, in two minutes, and use that as a way to inform how you present your idea on paper.  

Keep your application simple and precise, only including details that are absolutely relevant, which will strengthen your application. Again, it’s helpful if you can show your idea to a friend who knows nothing about the competition or work and see if they understand it before you send it in.  

Rohan Gunatillake suggests writing the application in a way that your mother would understand, an application that’s “clear, direct and engaging with a good definition of the problem you’re solving – really stands out”.

3. Use evidence

We need you to convince us that your ideas are based in reality, even if your idea imagines something radically new. We also need to know that people will want what you are offering  Have you done research about people’s needs? Have you tried it out? Why should we believe in your idea?

“Evidence and facts are much stronger than claims – think about your audience, be credible and clear about the difference your idea or product can make to people’s lives” says Mat Hunter.

4. What's the story? 

Engage the reader in with the story of your idea and use narrative to show that what you have to offer is worth our attention.  All good stories have a beginning, middle and an end - so tell us about what inspired your idea, how you developed it; and then present us with the idea itself.

Andy Altman suggests that if you’re using images in your application, “make sure they tell the whole story and put across the project in its most powerful light.”

Mat Hunter says “We like great ideas, but we love ideas that are put into practice. How can you start to make your idea real and get people to experience it?”

Give us a strong idea of your journey - where have you come from and where do you want to go next.

5. Don’t undersell or oversell yourself.

Annie Warburton says: “If you’ve designed a brilliant new mechanism for grinding peppercorns, that’s great, but don’t claim that your work is anything more – or other – than a brilliant kitchen device.  That’s enough!  You don’t have to solve world poverty at the same time.  i.e. don’t make exaggerated claims for your work.”

“At the same time, if you have revolutionised pepper grinders – tell us – don’t hide your discovery – but explain why it’s ground-breaking and innovative… and, importantly, the difference it’ll make to people’s lives i.e. tell us why we should care, why we should give it our attention.”

Make sure you keep the competition guidelines in mind and meet them in your application – treat it like you are working to a brief.

Competitions are a great way to get noticed, so bear the tips above in mind, and go for it!

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