To build an InShow Cube

InShow is AIGA South Carolina’s annual design competition. While most design competitions have plaques, statuettes, acrylic blocks and other mass-produced awards, InShow has the “cube.”

Every year, the cube is manufactured from a different material. It’s been aluminum, concrete, cardboard, acrylic, ceramic and wood and is always roughly 5 inches.

 The final prototype for the 2008 InShow Cube.

This year’s cube

The cube for the 14th Annual InShow was manufactured out of electrical boxes and carriage bolts.

I actually built the prototype for this year’s show as a backup for last year. The wood cubes had been shipped, but there was a slight possibility they would not arrive in time for the Gala. So I went to Home Depot and assembled a quick prototype from off the shelf parts. Something we could assemble quickly if the wood awards did not arrive.

However, the wood cubes did arrive in time, so the electrical box prototype was saved for the 2008 show.

Original prototype with duct tape hiding gap in the center and black labeling.

The challenge of the custom award

I was at least partially involved with the last five cubes: cardboard, acrylic, ceramic, wood and now electrical box cubes. And I’ve learned a lot from the process. There are several specific challenges to building a custom award.

Find a material. For the InShow cube, we use a new material every year. And every year, we go through a bunch of concepts and ideas. The cube needs to have a certain aesthetic value - after all it is an award - so the material needs to look nice when completed. And budget is an issue, too. An expensive material or process can completely throw the budget off.

The parts for the electrical box cubes came off the shelf from local hardware stores. We debated a few finishing options - like using duct tape to hide the gap between the boxes or some different combinations of parts. But in the end, we went with the cleanest execution of the concept.

The last five InShow cube prototypes.

Now make 60. It’s one thing to make a prototype. It’s another thing entirely to make 60 awards. Whatever concept you settle on has to scale. Building 60 cubes can be a massive undertaking, especially if you don’t think it through completely. Part of the design process is figuring out the most efficient way to build a larger quantity.

However, 60 is also too small of a number to be efficiently produced using a large-scale manufacturing process. So much of the work is done by hand.

The only scale related issue with the electrical box cube was finding enough electrical boxes. This is not a commonly used box size and is not stocked in large quantities. And with 2 boxes per cube, we were looking for 120 boxes. I had to buy all the stock at three different hardware stores to find enough boxes.

Whose award is it? The hardest and most time consuming part of building a custom award is personalization. The award has the name of the winning firm and title of entry. We also have a handful of judge’s awards that need to look a little different than the regular award.

I used a Dymo 3-D label maker to put the names on the awards. On the prototype, I used black labels and spray painted a black InShow logo. I wanted the label to look more intentional and so I experimented with different combinations. I finally settled on silver labels - which meant I had to spray paint the completed labels. I was a little more time consuming, but I felt the more subtle effect from silver labels on the silver box was worth the extra effort.

I changed the color of the InShow logo from black to dark gray (although most people still thinks it looks black). The special judges awards sported magenta logos - an accent color we picked up from the Call for Entries mailer.

Four prototype faceplates for the awards.

So what’s next?

I have no idea.* Lots of concepts have been thrown around, and every year, it becomes that much harder to find another concept. But inevitably, someone will come up with a material and an execution that will work.

* Okay, I have a few ideas. And even a few more prototypes…