Elevating the standards of awards design
Austin-based Trophyology aims to redefine the architecture of recognition
The word trophy has a bit of a stigma behind it. What should evoke honor, glory and excellence instead conjures up visions of little plastic soccer players painted gold and glued onto hunks of marble. Professional awards are not much of an improvement: a lot of stock brass nameplates fixed to particle board flimsily veneered in wood grain. We place great value on reward and recognition in the professional environment, but so often the physical manifestations fall short of the honors that they represent and the accomplishments of their recipients.
As an architect who has worked in award-winning firms, Eva Schone, AIA, is very familiar with the lack of innovation and craft that goes into the average award. “Awards used to be made by jewelers like Tiffany and Company, of high quality design and craftsmanship,” she laments. “Somewhere down the line they become a commodity as demand increased, and the quality has naturally suffered.”
"Awards used to be made by jewelers like Tiffany and Company, of high quality design and craftsmanship. Somewhere down the line they become a commodity as demand increased, and the quality has naturally suffered." Eva Schone, AIA
Not content to see great achievements be honored with substandard tokens of appreciation, Schone decided to take matters into her own hands. Her Austin-based business Trophyology is seeking to steer the awards industry away from kitschy design and cookie cutter predictability.
Filling a Niche
Schone founded Trophyology in 2011 while working as an architect at Tom Hurt Architecture. She recognized a prime niche to fill, a business devoted to the design and fabrication of professional awards geared toward a design savvy clientele. The demand was certainly there. Her business has grown quickly over the past four years, acquiring a solid client base that includes Design Within Reach Austin, the Texas Society of Architects, the School of Visual Arts NYC, Austin’s Center for Creative Action, and various AIA chapters across the country. Trophyology is now her full-time job.
"I’m interested in the psychology behind awards and award-giving, the way honors and appreciations are expressed in a physical form." Eva Schone, AIA
Trophyology awards are defined by bold geometric forms and striking design gestures, like monuments built on a portable scale. But like great architecture, their appeal goes well beyond the visual realm.
“I’m interested in the psychology behind awards and award-giving, the way honors and appreciations are expressed in a physical form,” says Schone. “When designing an award we consider how an award is handed to the honoree during the ceremony, and how the feel and weight of the award lends importance to the occasion.”
That level of thoughtfulness is evident in pieces such as Ovali, a graceful teardrop shaped wood form wrapped with a hand-dyed, engraved leather band. Its appealing curved form and inviting tactile qualities beg it to be picked up, held, and admired up close. These awards are not intended to collect dust; rather, they are heirloom quality objects intended to stand the test of time and be valued for generations.
Schone brings an architect’s approach to the design of each award, which is appropriate given that so many of her clients are architects themselves. Take the custom walnut and brushed stainless steel stationary box she designed for Dallas architecture firm Corgan, designed to recognize employees with 25 years of service. Schone worked closely with Corgan to understand and interpret the firm’s culture into a meaningful, timeless design. She worked with sketches, renderings and physical mockups to present a number of schematic options before settling on the most appropriate design. The final awards were met with overwhelming enthusiasm and gratitude amongst the recipients at Corgan; there is little doubt that she’s established a return client.
Collaboration is Key
Collaboration is a crucial component of Trophyology; the striking designs are only as strong as their attention to detail, craftsmanship and materiality. Having grown up in East Germany, Schone points to her heritage as well as the native Bauhaus movement as major influences to her particular sense of design and the value she places on craft and collaboration. Ever mindful of recognizing the hard work and accomplishments of others, Schone is quick to acknowledge the team of local artisans key in making Trophyology designs a reality.
Philip Hernandez is the owner of Austin-based furniture maker Domi Goods. He handles the woodwork for Trophyology, meticulously translating Schone's designs into sustainability-minded North American hardwoods like walnut and maple. Like everyone involved with Trophyology, he is passionate about good design and committed to the highest standards of craftsmanship.
“These awards really have a lot of appreciation built right into them,” he says. “If a piece is off by 1/32 of an inch or there’s a hairline crack in the wood, we discard it and start over. Awards are meant to reflect greatness, so we try to honor that through the quality of our work.”
Mike Williamson is Quality Manager at EVS Metal’s Austin facility. While he is tasked with maintaining metalwork standards for everything from electronics to medical equipment, he recognized an elevated challenge in the Trophyology work from the start.
“Eva's designs are clean and precise, so there’s not a lot of room for error on our part,” he says. “The standards are very high, but in the end, I’m really proud of the work we are producing.”
His attention to precision and craft are crucial for pieces like the custom-designed honor award for the Texas Society of Architects, a cantilevered block of beautifully grained long leaf pine supported by a meticulously fabricated carbon steel frame.
“I’m inspired by people who do absolutely incredible things,” Schone says. “Things that you can’t even imagine being accomplished.”
Shouldn’t the tokens of appreciation strive to match those accomplishments? Although four years young, Trophyology has amassed a portfolio of work that strives for just that.
Dan Madryga is an associate editor for Competitions Magazine and an intern architect for One World Architecture in Louisville, Ky.
Courtesy of Trophyology