“My first design prize” – designers remember their first award

Guns, go carts and orangutans – we speak to designers about what they won their first design awards for.

Sebastian Conran, director, Sebastian Conran Associates
Sebastian Conran, director, Sebastian Conran Associates

“At school I was a very enthusiastic maker in many materials, whether metal, wood, clay or stone; in fact I was awarded the Golden Spanner award for metalwork and there was a plaque with my name on it prominently displayed.

One of the big advantages of this status is that it gave me unsupervised access to the metalwork shop over the weekends, and I soon became an honorary member of the motorbike club.

However, when it was discovered that I had been manufacturing guns in my spare time, these were confiscated and I was given a lecture on how dangerous these might be. Mind you if I had been caught smoking, drinking or being over amorous with one of the girls, I would have been suspended immediately. When I asked for my guns back at the end of term they had been mysteriously lost…ah the sixties!”

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Graham Shearsby, chief creative officer, Design Bridge.

“Back In 1972, the country was seized by Tutankhamun mania. The treasures and artefacts discovered in the boy Kings Tomb, were exhibited for the first time at the British museum. Thousands queued overnight for tickets.

Caught up in this frenzy, my ten-year-old self decided to use metallic Humbrol enamel paints, usually reserved for serious Airfix kit building, to create a somewhat psychedelic, Warhol inspired poster version of King Tut’s iconic funeral mask.

Without me knowing, my mother sent it to Tony Harts ‘Vision on’ BBC television series and amazingly it was selected from thousands of budding creatives artwork. For a brief 10 seconds, it was shown in the gallery section of the programme, with a soundtrack of the famous vibraphone theme music, but sadly, they had spelt my name wrong! Not quite an award, but it was my first bit of creative recognition.” 

Jamie Ellul, creative director, Supple Studio
Jamie Ellul, creative director, Supple Studio

“In 2001 I landed my first design job at hat-trick design, which was then a small startup – I was their first employee. The following year I worked on a stationery range (remember those) for a landscape gardener. It picked up a Design Week Award in the ‘Letterheads and Logos’ category and gave me my first taste of awards success (it also picked up a D&AD In Book and a Silver Cube from NY Art Directors). Mind you I peaked early – it took another eight years to win again. Which taught me not to take awards too seriously – but it’s nice when you’re winning them.”

Bruce Duckworth, head of design, Turner Duckworth
Bruce Duckworth, head of design, Turner Duckworth

“The first design award I won was when I was 13. It was a Surrey County Council schools Design and Technology competition. I designed a pedal Go Cart and painted it in the black and gold livery of John Player Special cigarettes. I thought it looked very cool. It was an age of cigarette sponsored sport which led to some fantastic graphic design. Not entirely ethically correct today though.” 

Alex Swatridge, director and designer Hat-trick Design
Alex Swatridge, director and designer Hat-trick Design

“As a young child (at the age of 6 I believe), I won the Christmas card design competition. My Christmas tree illustration was reproduced, distributed and sold throughout the Merton Park Primary School community. In terms of professional recognition, I think the first big win was for the Sumatran Orangutan Society identity at the Design Week Benchmark Awards in 2008. Working on a project like that was a dream come true; they gave us a lot of creative freedom and the opportunity to support and amplify the great work they are doing.”

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  • Lee Hiom February 12, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    My first prize was – Winner – for a letterhead competiton – judged by Brian Grimwood (a hero at the time) the presentation was at the Kensington Roof Garden circa 1986. Because my name was Lee Hiom they put on a Chinese spread and theme assuming I was Chinese? I’m not!

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