When industrial designer Andrew Watson would walk into meetings, his eyes would often turn to the walls. No, the art wasn’t catching his eye—it was the trophies. While the purpose of the awards was to impress, Watson was anything but. “They all looked the same,” he says in an Australian accent. “They were rubbish.”
Few industries value trophies as much as sports—think of the Chicago Blackhawks hoisting the Stanley Cup and Golden State Warriors claiming the NBA title this week. And perhaps that’s why rights holders should listen carefully when Watson speaks.
Amateur athletes don’t fill their office walls with trophies, but they love stocking their home bedrooms and mantles with honors. One way to set an event apart from the herd is to start with the hardware—the most tangible takeaway athletes bring home from a multi-day competition.
If you’re still ordering the dark wood base with a brassy little [insert cheerleader, ballplayer, horse, swimmer, goalie] figure on top for your competitors, it may be time to leave the ’70s design behind. That’s how long that tired trophy has been played out (pardon the pun).
Andrew Watson Designs is one of the few making modern versions in the industry. The company looks at the process through fresh eyes, predominantly because before jumping into the trophies and awards arena, he and his team focused on corporate branding and environmental and material design.
“Due to my background, I usually take award design from a branding point of view,” he says. “I believe reflecting the brand is the most important aspect to designing something original for the winner. We ask the client, ‘What are you trying to communicate with this award and what is it about?’”
For instance, he designed an Australian marathon race trophy that incorporates sleek laser-cut aluminum to create the illusion it’s in motion. The unusual award features a clear resin panel, is embedded with white cotton and finished with a pearl powder coating.
Watson believes using the materials an award is made of can be just as important as the design in terms of sparking positive attention. When he was commissioned to create Wilson’s Sporting Goods’ 2014 Defensive Player of the Year awards in Chicago, Watson cleverly mounted miniature gloves Wilson had made in China. To make the awards memorable, Watson crafted the aluminum stands and separate rectangles in 12 different colors with silk-screened graphics and anodized finishes for a tactile feel when being held. Cincinnati Reds’ pitcher Johnny Cueto thought his was so unusual, he posted a photo of his trophy on Instagram.
Another way to make your trophy distinctive is to incorporate modern imagery and fonts. To avoid a ho-hum wooden plaque, a Strongman competition trophy employed Watson to create awards saying “Winner” in all caps with a fist punching through cartoon-like graphics. He made it from plasma-cut mild steel, heat formed vivak and vinyl, and finished it with natural rust.
Why aren’t there more options for rights holders when it comes to inventive plaques and trophies?
“Everyone is doing the same old thing,” says Watson. “If someone wants something traditional I tell them to go somewhere else. Brands are like fashion, they evolve. Trophies should too.”