In universities there is a quality assurance focus on describing and implementing academic performance standards. Design educators are required to demonstrate the integrity of student-centred learning experiences in design studio in relation to the qualitative learning outcomes expected from such an educational experience. In meeting this expectation the design community is challenged to reflect upon their emphasis on subjective experience and aesthetics, articulate internalised knowledge, practices, habitual assumptions and values as well as review jury assessment practices, in terms of learning outcomes and students’ acculturation into the discipline and its professions. This paper reveals student perceptions of the qualities of excellence, prioritized in to 11 characteristics of an excellent design project. This paper aims to inform design education assessment practices. With the overall aim of enhancing design learning, teaching and assessment practices through student and staff shared understanding of academic excellence it introduces an evidence-based, action-research project undertaken in undergraduate Built Environment design degree programs at the University of New South Wales and discusses key results of the study.