The National Design Awards were conceived by the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum to honor lasting achievement in American design. The Awards are bestowed in recognition of excellence, innovation, and enhancement of the quality of life. First launched at the White House in 2000 as an official project of the White House Millennium Council, the annual Awards program celebrates design as a vital humanistic tool in shaping the world, and seeks to increase national awareness of the impact of design through education initiatives.
The National Design Awards is one of the few programs of its kind structured to continue to benefit the nation long after the Awards ceremony and gala. A suite of educational programs is offered in conjunction with the Awards during National Design Week, an initiative launched in 2006 that aims to draw national attention to the ways in which design enriches everyday life. During National Design Week, the Museum offers free admission, hosts a series of public programs based on the vision and work of the honorees, and helps promote design events held across the country.
The National Design Awards trophy was originally designed in a twisted asterisk form by William Drenttel and Jessica Helfand in 2000. The trophy is the physical embodiment of the National Design Awards celebration of innovation and excellence in American design. For the first decade, the trophies were produced by Saint-Gobain Advanced Ceramics, a world leader in the habitat and construction markets. In 2010, Smart Design, that year’s winner in Product Design, recreated the original trophy in a new stainless-steel composite material. In 2011, The Corning Museum of Glass worked with a team from Cooper-Hewitt to design a new trophy in glass and continues to produce the trophies today.
Created as part of the Corning Museum’s GlassLab initiative, which serves to explore new design concepts and push the boundaries of innovation and creativity, the National Design Awards trophy features significant optical interest and distortion in the glass. Rather than pristine, pure glass without bubbles, the trophy’s glass striations offer a hand-hewn, raw quality that appealed to the Cooper-Hewitt team. The top of the trophy is cut at a 50° angle, which allows viewers to peer into the glass and see their reflection and also permits the trophy to be set on the cross-section of the asterisk. Each trophy is hand-polished and takes six to eight hours to complete.