Cover Design Challenge

Close-up detail from the cover of our 2019 Gifted and Talented Admissions Guide. This cover was designed by a New York City public high school student as part of last year's Cover Design Challenge.

About the Challenge

Each year, we create admissions guides that help New York City students and their families apply to school. For more than a decade, the covers of these guides—formerly known as directories—have been designed by high school students through the Cover Design Challenge.

This challenge gives students the chance to reflect on their lives as public school students in New York City and to creatively share their stories through design. It's also an opportunity for students to explore design as a profession. Finalists of the Cover Design Challenge are "hired" by a real-world client (the DOE) to develop a design—practical experience that they can take with them after high school. Through a series of workshops, they learn to listen to a client’s needs and take feedback from a professional designer. After a vote, we'll select several designs for use in DOE materials. The grand-prize design will be featured as the cover of our High School Admissions Guide.

Take a look at some winning designs from previous years' Cover Design Challenges.

Who Can Participate?

All students currently enrolled in a New York City public high school are welcome to submit a design during the submissions period . Students may enter on their own or through their teachers. By participating, students understand and will follow all rules and guidelines on this website. For more on rules and eligibility, please scroll down to read the Additional Terms and Conditions section.

Only one design may be submitted by each student, and the design must be the original work of the student.

Challenge opensNovember 1, 2019
Submissions and DOE consent forms due!December 20, 2019
Finalists notifiedJanuary 8-10, 2020
Finalists only: Cooper Hewitt consent form dueJanuary 13, 2020
Workshops for finalists - REQUIREDJanuary 15 ; January 22 ; January 29 ; February 5, 2020
Public VoteFebruary 7-13, 2020
Awards ceremonyFebruary 26, 2020
Winners announced publiclyFebruary 27, 2020

Design Your Cover

Design Specifications

We recommend that students download our ready-to-use Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign, or Adobe Photoshop templates. Templates include tips and guides for the spine, bleeds, and layers, as well as the official DOE logo, a required feature of the cover design.

  • Details: Cover design must include a front and back cover, and students are encouraged to think about how their design will work with the spine. Include the NYC Department of Education logos provided in the templates.
  • Size: The front cover and back cover should each be 8.5 inches x 11 inches, plus the spine. Save your files as a PDF that is smaller than 2MB.
  • Text: Your design must include the following text: 2021 NYC High School Admissions Guide
  • Font: Please use a Franklin Gothic typeface for all cover text.
  • Format: You may create your design in any print media, but it must be submitted as a PDF. We recommend that students create or import their designs into Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign, or Adobe Photoshop. Vector-based artwork is preferred, but any images are allowable as long as they are saved at 300dpi minimum.

Design Tips

Consider some of the following tips and suggestions as you’re designing:

  • Inspiration: We encourage you to draw inspiration from your time as a New York City student. While brainstorming, think about how your unique experience will help you create a meaningful design. Why are you proud to be a New York City student? What makes your experience special and exciting? How has growing up in this city had an impact on your life? What was your experience like when changing from middle school to high school?
  • Audience: The Admissions Guide is used by students in grades 5-8 and their families, so think about how your cover will be meaningful to them.
  • Design Principles: Create a design that supports your message with image, color, typography, and layout. Also consider how your cover will work when marketed online. Read Craig Mod's "Hack the Cover" to learn more! 
  • Appropriateness: Keep in mind that you are designing for a client (the DOE). The winning design needs to reflect appropriate messaging for a government-issued publication; designs will be judged in part on their appropriateness. Please do not use profanity and slang.
  • Adaptability: In addition to the Admissions Guide cover, the winning design may be used for flyers, postcards, signs, and online, so think about how your design can be used for these different materials.
  • Guidelines for Images: With respect to the images in your design, the more creative and unique they are, the better. Here are some things to keep in mind:
    1. Copyrighted images: We cannot use any previously copyrighted images on our covers. The use of previously copyrighted materials will automatically disqualify an applicant. Scroll down and read the Additional Terms and Conditions section to learn more.
    2. Faces: Designs that use real human faces (as opposed to cartoon or representational figures), should include more than a single person. Any group of faces (even cartoons) should be diverse and age-appropriate for fifth through eighth graders.

We also encourage students to learn some visual design terms that might be used in workshops. 

Judging Criteria

All designs will be judged on the following four criteria:

  1. Originality
  2. Adaptability of the design to different media
  3. Appropriateness of design for a New York City DOE-issued publication
  4. Application of the principles of design

Submit Your Design

Submit your design by email to before December 20, 2019. Entries received after this date will not qualify for this challenge. Before you press send, use this checklist to make sure your submission is meaningful and complete.

Submissions Checklist

  • Look at your schedule. If you were selected as a finalist, would you be able to attend all of the required workshops?
  • Check that your design's dimensions, title, and typeface match the specifications in the Design Specifications section of this page. Be sure that you've included the NYC DOE logo (provided in our design templates) in your cover.
  • Save a copy of your design as a PDF that is 2MB or under, and attach it to your submission email. Your submission must be 2MB or under.
  • Complete this DOE consent form, scan or photograph it, and attach it to your submission email. If you're under 18, remember to get a parent or guardian to sign this form. Learn more about this form by scrolling down to the Required Consent Forms section.
  • Follow subject line requirements. Your email's subject line must include the words “Cover Design Submission” and the first four digits of your birthday. For example, if your birthday is March 12, your subject line should be: Cover Design Submission 0312.
  • Keep a copy of your final design files for future edits, in case you are a finalist (accepted design programs: Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator). But for now, just send the PDF.

After you submit your design, we'll send you a confirmation email within 24 hours. If you don't receive an email, we didn't get your design. If you have difficulty submitting your design, please email

Required Consent Forms

To qualify for this challenge, participants must submit a DOE consent form before the submission deadline, and will be asked to submit a Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum consent form if they are chosen as a finalist.

All Students - DOE Consent Form

All students must complete this DOE consent form to enter this challenge. Students under the age of 18 are required to get their parent’s or guardian’s signature. Students 18 years of age or older are not required to have their parent/guardian sign the form. Include this form, as noted above, with your mail or email design submission.

Finalists Only - Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum Consent Form

The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum Consent form will be emailed to all students chosen as finalists. Finalists must complete the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum form to attend finalist workshops. Students under the age of 18 are required to get their parent’s or guardian’s signature. Students 18 years of age or older are not required to have their parent or guardian sign the form.

Finalists must submit their Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum Consent form by January 13, 2020. Scan or take a photo of your signed form, and email it as an attachment to

How Finalists Are Selected

A panel of DOE and Cooper Hewitt judges will choose finalists from the pool of submissions, based on the criteria listed above. We will choose and notify finalists by January 10, 2020.

Required Design Workshops for Finalists

Finalists will have the chance to work with a professional designer and workshop their designs with peers. All finalists are expected to attend all four design workshops, and finalists who don't attend at least three of the workshops, or are more than 30 minutes late for two or more sessions, will be disqualified.

These workshops will be held at Cooper Hewitt Design Center from 4:30–6:30pm on the following dates: January 15; January 22; January 29, and February 5, 2020.

  • At the first three sessions, finalists will work with a professional graphic designer to refine their designs.
  • At the final session on February 5, 2020, finalists will formally present their designs to the panel of judges.

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum is located at 2 East 91st Street. Before you submit your design, please consider how long it takes to travel from school to Cooper Hewitt and whether you will be able to attend the sessions if you are chosen as a finalist. Remember, tardiness is not acceptable.

Final Design Format

Finalists will be asked to submit their final designs to the DOE as Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign, or Adobe Photoshop files. If finalists do not have access to these programs, they should let workshop leaders know at the first workshop.

How Winning Designs are Selected

Winners are determined by a combination of a public vote and the panel of judges. One grand prize winner and several runners-up are selected.

From February 7 to February 13, the public will have the opportunity to vote for their favorite designs online. One winner will be selected online by the public (subject to the determination by the DOE that the design selected by the public is suitable for its intended use). The winner of the public vote automatically advances to the one of the prize positions in the Cover Design Challenge. After the public voting period ends, the DOE and Cooper Hewitt will select the grand prize winner and runner-ups based on the February 5 presentation, the outcome of the public vote, and the judging criteria listed above.

How Winners Are Notified

The grand prize winner and runner-ups will be announced during the Awards Ceremony, which will be held at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum on Wednesday, February 26, 2020. Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum is located at 2 East 91st Street, New York, NY 10128. Principals, teachers, and family members of finalists will be warmly invited to RSVP and attend.


The Cover Design Challenge grand prize winner’s design will be featured as the cover of the 2021 New York City High School Admissions Guide. This design may also be used for other related materials (publications, signs, etc.) Other finalist designs may be used for other printed and electronic publications at the discretion of the DOE.

Additional Terms and Conditions


Applicants will be disqualified if they:

  • Do not include a signed DOE consent form with their submission by January 13, 2020.
  • Do not follow all of the above entry guidelines.
  • Use any offensive language within their submission or during the process of this challenge.
  • Plagiarize or submit someone else’s material, copyrighted or otherwise.
  • Are chosen as finalists and do not returned a signed Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum consent form.
  • Are chosen as finalists and cannot attend at least three out of the four workshops, including the final presentation.
  • Are chosen as finalists and either miss two or more workshops or are more than 30 minutes late for two or more sessions.


Information collected is subject to the DOE Privacy Policy.


Only full-time NYC public high school students in New York City can participate in the challenge.


During the vote to select finalists, the judges (representatives from Cooper Hewitt and the DOE) will not know the names of the students or their schools. Student names and schools will be kept completely anonymous for the first round of judging for the finalists. However, during the public vote to determine one of the four top place winners, student names and schools will be shared with Cooper Hewitt, DOE, and other members of the judging panel. The schools, names, and submissions of the grand prize winner and runners-up will be formally and publicly announced at the end of the challenge.

Other Conditions

There is no cost to enter this challenge. Students shall retain ownership of their submissions, subject to the DOE’s right to use the submission as granted in the signed consent.

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