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How to design a trophy that people will want to steal

By Nick Finney, creative director

NB Studio


Opinion article

June 7, 2018 | 6 min read

Tonight sees the unveiling of a trophy we’ve designed with The Drum. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a trophy is a cup or decorative object awarded as a prize for a victory or success. It’s also used rather negatively with the words ‘wife’ or ‘house’ to imply that a person is unnecessarily concerned with their social standing. And as we also know, a trophy is part of an animal or bird ‘taken’ when hunting, usually the head, but not always.

drum design

This particular trophy is the result of using the head part of the animal. More specifically the thinking and solving part. The animal in question, more of a splendid beast, is the team at NB, our client at The Drum, and the people at Awarded 2U who worked tirelessly to bring the award to life, and it’s our best answer to the question: what makes a great trophy?

We want people to say, “I get it. I want it.” We want them to really want it, to put it in pride of place in a specially designed cabinet to highlight its splendour above all other trophies. Perhaps covet it so much they’d go so far as to steal it.

The Jules Rimet Trophy, better known as The World Cup, was stolen in 1966. Its theft led to one of the biggest investigations ever conducted by Scotland Yard. The cup was later discovered in the bushes by a dog named Pickles. Perhaps someone decided it wasn’t as desirable an object as they first imagined and discarded it. That event took place just months before the historic World Cup win where Alf Ramsey's England triumphed over West Germany and bought home the ultimate footballing prize. “They think it’s all over…”

But it’s not only about aesthetics or highly polished rare metals. The Oscars are highly celebrated and Oscar (The Academy Award of Merit) is the universally recognisable statuette of a knight who most could draw from memory with a decent pencil. But we all know any magic the trophy holds within its diminutive frame is really conjured by the movie business and its most renowned and celebrated, strutting across the world stage in their fineries. Not the fact that it's made of gold. (It’s not).

The Oscars themselves are not without drama either, we regularly witness tears, tumbles and tiffs. Last year, celebration turned to confusion and embarrassment. When presenting an award late into the evening, Warren Beatty opened the famed envelope and after some hesitation, his fellow presenter Faye Dunaway announced that La La Land had won best picture. Moments later, as the La La Land acceptance speeches began, it became clear that in fact, rather awkwardly, Moonlight was the real winner. The words “WHAT IS HAPPENING?” trended on Twitter.

What a trophy means is, by its very definition, more important than what it looks like. In creative circles an award is about industry recognition; proof that hard work, inspiration and great ideas pay off. It’s a chance to punch the air inches from the faces of your sworn enemies. And as we all know there’s only one thing worse than winning an award, and that is not winning one.

In order to get in the zone, or the winners' enclosure if you prefer, we lived temporarily in the world of trophies, gongs, awards, prizes, statuettes and figurines. Of the thousands of examples we looked at, some were triumphant champions, but most were desperate losers.

Many trophies are off-the-shelf designs re-purposed and re-branded for any sector. It makes commercial sense. The manufacturing process has been honed and streamlined over many years so it’s tough to start again, to break the mould, and it can be costly to try. New technology has bought with it new techniques, like holograms magically suspended in mid-air, beautiful glass shards, reassuring rhomboids, proud perspex prisms all blend into an endless geometric sea of shine and self-congratulation. It’s easy to stand out, so long as you’re brave enough to create your own.

So here’s our checklist for a winning trophy design:

Is it beautiful?

Nobody wants to take home something ugly, and while I agree beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the beholder in this case was the mercilessly critical design community. There’s no wiggle room here. Sleek, shiny and sexy is beautiful, ideas are beautiful too.

Is it memorable?

The trophy designs that we treasure at NB are the ones that are easy to remember; easy to recall, easy to describe. A pencil, a lightbulb, a ruler, a paper fortune teller. Can you describe your trophy over the phone accurately enough so that the person on the call could find it in a hurry? Chances are it will be easy to remember because it’s simple.

Is it simple?

When something is new or unfamiliar we can give it a helping hand by building in echoes of the familiar. When my kids were young they had board books with simple black and white silhouettes of objects. All detail was stripped away in favour of simplicity and ease. The challenge was how fast you could name the object, “Apple!”, “Piggy!”. We knew we had to do this with “Drum!”. As Dieter Rams says: “Good design is as little design as possible.”

Is it appropriate?

If it's called The Drum Design Award, a design featuring fish would just be odd.

Does it have legs?

If you’re going to spend that long creating something special you’re going to want it to last a long time, both as an idea and an object. We spent a long time refining, reducing and testing the results in order to create something that will last, that will flex across a suite of around 40 distinct awards, events and ceremonies.

Is it joyful?

If it makes you smile, then there’s no contest.

Nick Finney is creative director at NB. The Drum's new-look trophies will be revealed at The Drum Design Awards


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