The Voices of Voting: How Do We Judge Design?

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, September 18, 2007

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • People's Design Award

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

One to two fifty-minute class periods


There are a multitude of ways to judge design, from the personal to the global. The People’s Design Award, which is hosted each year by Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum and sponsored by Target, gives the general public an opportunity to nominate and vote for their favorite designs. In this lesson students will investigate the diverse parameters of the voting process, and critically examine how design is judged.

National Standards


Students will:
  • conduct research on varied systems of voting
  • create a graphic organizer
  • participate in small-group and large-group discussion
  • analyze, summarize, critique and evaluate information from varied sources
  • write a comparison paragraph
  • create a presentation


  • “Get out the Vote for Design” handout
  • websites


  • Computer with Internet access


Building Background

Diverse Votes The purpose of this activity is to encourage students to think about how different elements in popular culture are judged. 1. As a class, visit the Web site of the popular television show American Idol, which invites viewers to cast votes for their favorite performers during the course of the program’s five-month season: Ask your students if they are familiar with, or have participated in, the voting process for American Idol. On this program, contestants pass through an audition process, and then, when they are on the actual program, their singing performances are critiqued by a panel of three judges. The viewing public votes each week, and the performer with the lowest number of votes leaves the competition. 2. Ask the students to compare how the performers are judged at the auditions and how the performers are judged during the program television season. 3. Invite students to share their thoughts and opinions on whether or not the voting process on American Idol is an effective way to judge singing.

Steps for Learning

Compare & Contrast The purpose of this activity is for students to analyze a variety of judging systems. 1. Divide the class into small groups. Give each group a copy of the “Get Out the Vote for Design” handout (attached). One component of the handout is the creation of a graphic organizer. A graphic organizer is a visuo-spatial representation of information. 2. Allow time for each group to work on the handout and prepare their presentation.
3. Provide time for each group to share its presentation. Lead a class discussion based on students’ reactions to the presentations.


You may assess the students’ work according to the following categories using a scale of 1-5.
  • Research
  • Graphic Organizer
  • Paragraph
  • Understanding of Varied Voting Systems
  • Collaborative Skills
  • Presentation
A score of 1=Needs Improvement A score of 2=Adequate A score of 3=Good A score of 4=Excellent A score of 5=Outstanding

Enrichment Extension Activities

Design Research
Have students conduct further research on how different design disciplines such as architecture, interior design, lighting design, fashion design, and landscape design are judged. Ask the students to share what they learn with their classmates.

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