Design Award Disappointment

So I’m three years into coaching my vex iq teams. We are the small school among three well established schools at every tournament and we’ve never earned a design award, judges award or excellence award. Mostly we’ve had the best of the best for robots although last year we took landed in the top three every tournament including state (South Dakota - entire division is about 45-50 teams). I chalked our lack of awards up to our teams hardly doing any work filling out their notebooks which made sense. I was one coach leading six teams and didn’t do much work on the nitty gritty side.

This year I finally got one of our teams who cared deeply to work on their notebook and they worked hard on their robot, and made an incredible design. They went from bottom five in the first tournament to second front the top at state after all qualification rounds were over. They were paired with the top group from all qualification rounds (and sadly they did their job but the team they were with (who had been nearly flawless all day) didn’t do theirs and we came out 4th.

They were sure they would at least get the design award. Their bot was the only one all day to never fail at stacking three. Theirs had clearly the most innovative look to their bot and could pick up three at a time to stack in a column. They didn’t get it and we’re beat out by a group that placed middle of th road in th qualifications and lower than them by far in finals.

This has become too long but I’ve been so disappointed for our group that I needed to see what others thought. If they had a solid interview which I believe they did from listening in, they were consistent the entire tournament at stacking, and they had at least a moderately effective notebook, wouldn’t that be enough to land them the design award or better?

It was especially hard because after they lost due to the top group failing to get their stack completed, the top group still earned the excellence award. It seems like it would be objectively easy to demonstrate this team as the ones to most consistently do their job during every qualification round.

If you have thoughts I welcome them! I don’t want to get overly hung up on awards but it was these kids last chance for recognition.

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this was your problem. The design award is essentially the notebook award. Your performance in competition plays nearly no role in the rubric that the design award is based off of.


design award is less about having the consistently best robot, but mostly about having the best notebook that illustrates the team’s design process. Even team with a mediocre robot can win design award if they have a phenomenal notebook and present their design process in the best way.

you’re not going to win the design award just with


These guys are right the design award really is basically just a notebook/interview award. The thing is judges follow a rubric that is publically available; the obvious connection here is teams can go directly for points in their notebook and interview execution.


As everyone has previously stated the design award is more focused on the notebook more than anything else. Not for the notebooks sake though, their not looking at the notebook to judge the notebook in its self, but to see the design process of the team, where the award gets its namesake. It basically turns into a notebook award because it’s easier to see the design process of the team when the notebook is exceptionally detailed.
As Cspencer said, go by the judges guide, know it as best as you can and get the kids to do so as well, the best way to earn your targeted award is to know exactly how they are judged.


Since the tournaments for VRC (and evidently IQ) follow rubrics that are available online, it isn’t hard to find where your weakness is and what did or did not earn you an award. As others have said, Design hinges completely on the notebook.
For example, at the first tournament my team went to in Tower Takeover, a team with a terribly performing robot (rank 26) got the design award as opposed to my team (rank 4), which had a decently performing robot and a decent notebook. We were pretty certain we’d have a shot, but they had complete CAD of their robot, which was not something we had at all. This CAD was enough to set them apart. We got Judges instead. If you follow the rubric extremely diligently your teams should do well often…


I would highly recommend volunteering to judge at a tournament. This will really help you understand the process the judges go through and what it takes to win an award. My teams made huge strides after I started judging. The best is to judge at a tournament that your team is not competing in so you don’t have to try to coach and judge at the same time.


This is a little bit concerning, as the interview should be private, but anyway:

This whole post is basically “My team had a good robot and turned in a notebook; why didn’t they win the design award?” If you want to win judged awards, you have to read the rubrics.


Of course other people have mentioned this already but I’d like to phrase it differently. Having a great robot design and from your quotes, excellent performance, is a huge help when it comes to the notebook. I do believe that in VRC when comparing notebooks, physical robot design is taken into account as a very in-depth tie breaker, but your teams are only in IQ. But that’s not why good design and performance is important. It helps whoever writes the notebooks flow through the design process more easily, and also shows thoughts and reasoning behind design, and effort put into performance.


a good physical design and consistent performance are not everything when it comes to a judged award like the design award. Interviews and notebooks win that. They could have the best and most well-designed robot at the entire competition, but if none of that is integrated into the notebook, it doesn’t matter. If I were you, I would be really looking through the design award rubric and other judged award rubrics if that is your end goal. Learning what judges are looking for when making a decision is a great way to learn something new.

Like I said before, the performance is not everything. The excellence award is given to the best all-around team. There are specific requirements for match and skills rankings, as well as contending for the design award, and being well-conducted individuals. From the sounds of it, this top team probably had a very good notebook, and even though they ended up losing because a stack fell down, they still contend for excellence because they also contend for design award, and sound competitive. You also stated that they were the top team for the day, so it would only make sense for them to get it. I’m fairly certain that in close decisions, team conduct and perseverance throughout the day are also taken into account.

Keep pushing though, the only way to learn anything and get better is to fail first. Stay encouraged!


Thanks for the advice!

@RamRoboticsGSL If you take the Rubric which many have pointed out in the Judges Guide on pages 43 and 44 (2020-21), you can work with your students to score their own notebook. Each scoring column has a complete description as to what the judges will be looking for.

From a judges perspective, the first step at an event is to score books. Then we meet the teams and score each interview. Finally we review the scores and deliberate - this is where we have some wiggle room to advocate for teams. The rubrics play a significant part to separate the teams into those that can qualify for a Design or Excellence award.

Notebook Tips
Many teams use the engineering notebook as a log book and that is not the goal. The book should not be a history of what the team has done.

It is supposed to be a plan for how the team will move forward. It should have mistakes and ideas that failed, show how the team had five ideas and narrowed it down to one, and a plan of what needs to be done before the next event and how they will get there. Show a timeline, goals, ideas, testing, strategy, and improvements.


Along with the main Design Award goal, steps should also be put in place. Aim for getting a Judges Award first, its basically third place for the notebook awards. Once you know your going in the right direction is when the the Design Award will be closer to grab.

Also, judges are always watching (at least in VRC). Good behavior, cleanliness, and productivity should be shown in the Pit area too.


This is awesome. I’m seeing for others it’s easy to put me down for not being well enough prepared for not reading to rubrics but this is much more helpful. Getting advice from experienced people is why I posted. Thank you

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Thank you! Hopefully by next year I can be better prepared.


Awesome. So much good advice. I certainly need to be better prepared. If only this weren’t the bottom of my list for priorities at my school. I wish it weren’t but it’s just not required like the rest of my responsibilities are. With your advice I’ll certainly be able to work on this with my group next year. Thank you!


The judges asked me if the group that was next to me was available for judging and after I said yes, they proceeded with the interview. If I had known I’d have left but I was unaware. Apologies for being ill-informed and ill-prepared for my coaching position.

Great advice and worth a try. Thank you.

Ah, that’s understandable. In my mind the interview is behind closed doors, which is why it’d be really weird if you were listening.

This is definitely coming across loud and clear. I need to do a better job doing the more technical learning of this stuff. Its just been a basic trial by fire for me with the amount of time I can squeeze into working on this program. Thanks for advice!

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I recommend you join the VEX World Coaches Association on Facebook. This is a group of Adult Mentors/Coaches/Teachers who primarily focus is to discuss robotics programs.