Creating a user-friendly space for volunteers, judges, administrators, and submitters

The American Institute of Architects California (AIA CA) needed an awards management software that was designed well and easy to use for all stakeholders. Submittable was the answer.

With 22 chapters and over 11,000 members, the American Institute of Architects California (AIA CA) runs over a dozen awards programs, competitions, and scholarship programs each year. They needed a platform that looked professional, didn’t break the bank, and that was easy enough for everyone to use, including their administrator, their members, their judges, their submitters, and their army of volunteers. They found their answer in Submittable. 

It's very user-friendly, not only on the administrative side, but also on the jury side and also for the individual uploading or registering or submitting to one of our programs. We've heard very positive feedback from all three levels.

Lauryn Evdokimov

Program Coordinator, American Institute of Architects California (AIA CA)

Finding balance between professional and affordable 

In 2018, AIA CA was caught between a rock and a hard place. In the past, they had used a combination of Dropbox and email to run their baker’s dozen of awards, competitions, and scholarships for architects. But the result had been a mountain of tedious administrative tasks and an overall experience that wasn’t professional for either submitters or reviewers. They then tried Cadmium, because the national AIA had struck a deal with them, but now the contract was over and they didn’t want to continue using the more professional, but also more rigid, software at such a steep expense. 

Program Director Lauryn Evdokimov went on the hunt for a new awards management platform that could also meet AIA CA’s needs for scholarship software. She needed something that wasn’t as costly or inflexible as Cadmium, but still more modern and way more efficient than her Dropbox and email system.

After a lot of due diligence and research, she landed on Submittable. 

The Skigard Hytte project designed by Mork Ulnes Architects won a 2020 Design Award from AIA California.

The Skigard Hytte project designed by Mork Ulnes Architects won a 2020 Design Award from AIA California.

Form building in minutes instead of days 

For an organization that uses Submittable for multiple awards and applications, and cycles through these programs annually, finding software that was highly customizable to fit their different use cases was vital. They needed a platform where it was easy to create lots of forms fast—and one that could handle a lot of different types of forms. 

“It's very customizable, and that's something that we haven't had in the past,” says Evdokimov.  “Anything from creating reports to organizing submissions to being able to duplicate forms—imagine when someone is creating 20 different forms and how much time you can save.”

The Additional Forms feature, which allows organizations to collect more information and more files from applicants already in the submission process, also saves both time and paperwork for AIA CA.

“The additional forms option allows us to link every document in an application together,” she continues. “The fact that you can link everything together without manually doing it, so when someone registers and uploads their pdf or whatever file it is, it all connects automatically.” 

Ease of use from every angle 

The biggest benefit Evdokimov lists is the intuitiveness and accessibility of the platform, for everyone that uses it. This benefit is huge, she explains, because it helps elevate the program in multiple ways: administrators save time, judges are happier, applicants are more likely to engage, and volunteers need less training and encouragement. 

“Not only is it really cost efficient, it also cuts down on that administrative time,” she says. “And it really bolsters our volunteer base. Most of them are older individuals, and the feedback we’ve gotten from them is generally all positive. It’s advanced technology while also being very user-friendly.”  

Top-shelf customer service for all 

The ease of use of the Submittable is complimented by the customer service that supports the platform whenever an issue or question arises. 

“The customer service has been phenomenal,” says Evdokimov. “Anywhere from our account manager to the support and IT staff have been extremely responsive, not only with myself and the chapters administrators, but with the individuals within the different programs that are uploading their PDFs.” 

Evdokimov enjoys the different ways that she and everyone else who uses the platform can access help, too. 

“There’s an extensive help center online, but it's just nice to have that option to email and get a response back really quickly,” she says. “They also really go the extra mile to assist applicants with a small or large issue instead of passing it off to us or saying it’s just user error. I felt like I haven't been alone in the process of navigating the waters. They are available at the drop of a hat.” 

In addition, users can communicate directly with Evdokimov, or the administrator in question, within the platform, saving time and keeping everything in one place. 

Structure for every review process 

Finally, AIA CA says that there’s one feature they couldn’t do without: a highly customizable and tiered review process. Because many of their awards and contests require environmentally-friendly designs, they set up a two-stage review process and scoring rubric that allows them to easily ensure that the winning projects aren’t just the best, but they’re also green. 

In this system, a panel of 15 sustainability experts are the first people to review the applications. They examine the projects solely with an eye toward the ecological impact and score them accordingly, disqualifying projects that don’t meet standards automatically. 

Only then do projects move on to another judging team of five, who analyze the applications for other requirements and features. 

It’s a process that used to take days, and that used to involve printing out and manually scoring hundreds of applications, now reduced to something that happens almost automatically except for the judging itself. The focus is now away from the workflow and completely on the projects and designs themselves. 

“Just one aspect of Submittable literally saves us hours and hours,” Evdokimov says.  “The platform as a whole saves us days and days and days.” 

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