Trophyology Founder Eva Schone is transforming the face of the awards industry, one trophy at a time.
By Emma Whalen, Photo by Jay B. Sauceda
Minimalism is rarely associated with rule breaking, but in the trophy-making industry, Eva Schone’s self-described style of “casual elegance” is what sets her trophies apart. Schone started her trophy company, Trophyology, as a passion project in 2011, and now has a full cadre of awards, as well as options for custom designs. Her clients include Fidelity Investments, the Texas Society of Architects and the School of Visual Arts in New York City, to name a few.
Originally an architect, Schone made her first foray into the design world at the School of Architecture and Community Design at the University of South Florida. While a student, she entered a trophy-design contest and, although she didn’t win the competition, was reminded of it later in her career any time she won an award.
“I’d always wondered, ‘I’m really proud of this recognition, but the object I’m receiving is really nothing I want to show. Why is that?’ It was just this paradox,” Schone says.
Eventually, she began to experiment with designing and making trophies herself, all the while considering the possibility of starting a side business.
“I started the company out of spare bedroom, very modestly,” Schone says of the now 6-year-old Trophyology. “I did a lot of research and development because we’re breaking all the rules of this industry. It took a long time to figure out with whom we could work and different techniques. I heard a lot of times, ‘Oh you can’t do that,’ and I would have to go and [ask], ‘Well, can we try?’ ”
During her first year as a budding trophy-design entrepreneur, she worked with just two clients, both in Austin: the American Institute of Architects and Design Within Reach. While she was drawn to the industry by her instinct (She knew there were ways award aesthetics could be improved.), she also researched the psychological and professional benefits of award presenting.
“It’s a basic human need. It’s actually very important for all of us to know that our contributions are valued and that we’re doing well,” Schone says of the emotional benefits involved in receiving recognition. “It’s super important for us to know this so that we can build the confidence to keep thinking, keep doing, keep working and keep inventing and so on.”
If identifying why awards and recognition are important was Schone’s first step, determining how to design trophies that reflected that sense of pride and acknowledgement was her second. Today, Trophyology is a tangible product of Schone’s creative design skills come to life.
“We primarily work with wood, which we pair with secondary materials like glass and metal,” Schone says. “The wood has this instant emotional quality. It’s a material with which people can immediately identify and have a warmness to. It expresses the sentiment of the people giving the awards and also for the people receiving the award.”
Schone says receiving a heavy trophy made from dark wood helps signify that it is valuable as well.
“It’s sometimes funny to see when people receive one of our awards. They don’t expect it to have that weight and then you see the eyebrow raise when they realize it,” Schone says.
Schone adds she aims to apply her minimalist-design sensibility to all her trophies. It’s all part of her effort to craft a piece that will be something people want to put on display, she says.
“I try to edit the pieces as much as we can to really just think about, ‘What are the most essential pieces that have to be here? What can we take away and what can we not take away?’ ” Schone says.
By following this internal thought process, her designs take on a shape that challenge the status quo of trophies past.
“We’re not the flashy Corvette and we’re not the Ferrari. We’re the understated, elegant, really nice S-Class Mercedes [that’s] really well made [and has]good detailing but not the flashy kind of design,” Schone says.
It’s the perfect analogy to describe the amount of effort she puts into her work product.
“By working with these materials that need specialty tooling, when something goes wrong on the engraving, you have to start from scratch. It’s not just a cheap metal plate that we can quickly replace. That was very challenging in the beginning for me,” Schone says.
Today, Trophyology has three full-time employees and a sizable network of contractors to help create the trophies. In retrospect, Shone says her best advice for turning a side project into a full-time business venture is to have an even-keeled approach.
“Observe what comes your way. You will have a streamlined vision, but the path isn’t exactly like that. It zigzags around a little bit. You have to adjust the sails to go with it,” Schone says.
Despite the challenges of breaking all of the rules in the trophy industry, Schone says her motivation always goes back to the importance of giving people the recognition they deserve and need.
“When you really think about it, it’s a transaction from heart to heart,” Schone says of the award-presentation exchange. “It says, ‘You’ve done a really good job. Thank you,’ and the other person says, ‘I love doing it. Thank you so much for recognizing it.’ ”