The Prix Émile Hermès has supported innovation and
promoted talented young designers whose work will accompany our evolving society
For the fourth edition of the prize, the Fondation d’entreprise Hermès has chosen a
theme reflecting a distinctive, universal activity stimulating our senses and intellect
Playing helps us understand and sharpen our imaginative processes. Through it,
we experience the delights of political and social interaction, literature or romance.
Above all, playing is a source of sophisticated or popular entertainment and simple
fun. The history of play is the history of the wealth of experiences and memories they
supply. But beyond its importance for society, playing is richly rewarding for the
individual, too. Play helps us relate to our surroundings and the era we live in.
Play is vital for the cultural and social construction of the self.
Play as a vital activity for personal growth…
Far from attempting a history of play and its function in society from ancient times to the
present, our focus here is the relatively recent recognition of its role as a means of
self-discovery and individual growth.
From the late 16th century onwards, advances in mathematics and the study of probability
brought a significant change of perspective. Liebniz, for example, saw playing as a means
to perfect the art of invention, intimately connected with the pleasure experienced by the
player. Liebniz’s vision was propounded by the encyclopedists, who exhorted the
effectiveness of mathematical games.
The history of play offers a wealth of descriptions of its political, social, literary, poetic or
amorous delights, and above all its function as a source of simple fun, or more sophisticated
It was not until the 20th century, however, that the fundamentals of playing were analysed in
the context of our socialisation and growth as individuals. The work of Jean Château,
Célestin Freinet, Jean Piaget or Donald Winnicott, the more anthropologically focused
studies of Johan Huizinga and Roger Caillois, the philosophical approach of
Jacques Henriot, and British and American research since the mid-1980s (with the advent
of video games and digital platforms) have all had a significant impact on our view of the
function and practice of play.
Objects, supports, settings…
Playing is a pastime subject to a set of rules. It’s an entertainment with no impact on ‘real’
life, and yet ‘gaming is far from a thing of no gravity or consequence’ – in practice, playing
often illustrates the values of an entire culture, and may even contribute to their definition
Candidates are invited to reflect on the following aspects of play in the context of
contemporary life and society:
Playing allows us to act freely in a context perceived as fictional and unrelated to everyday
life. It takes place in a circumscribed space and time governed by a specific set of rules,
whose outcome cannot be predicted. Playing does not lead to material possessions or real
We may distinguish usefully between the objects used for play, and the structures of the
game itself (the rules and schemes followed by the players). Crucially, the tension between
the latters’ ‘playful’ attitude and the rules and structures of the game should be understood
as one of the formative, foundational aspects of the experience of game-play.
The game’s material or virtual components, supports and locations appeal first and foremost
to our fictive imagination, as vectors for experiences in which the players are the creative
‘movers and shapers’.
We may surpass ourselves in play. Playing is a fertile, rewarding activity for the senses, the
intellect, and our self-esteem.
Reality, engagement, experimentation…
Designers often produce games in their own image, emphasizing play as a creative,
experimental force structured by rules. Active participation in playing develops autonomy,
the powers of the imagination, observation, manual dexterity and eye-to-hand coordination.
Games and toys for adults and children alike are often conceived as alternatives to
‘education and learning’ in the classical, normative sense.
Distrustful of the latter, designer games often endorse the concept of learning by doing /
making / playing (Bruno Munari, Enzo Mari, etc.). The Bauspiel Schiff [Alma Buscher, 1923]
or the House of Cards [Charles and Ray Eames, 1952] demonstrate a determination to
create games designed for open-ended, unpredictable personal growth and discovery.
In this context, pseudo-educational projects will be of little interest. Inherently, designer
games tend to favour ‘open’ scenarios with a wealth of unexpected possibilities.
Technology – which of course includes digital technology – may have its place here. Entries
may seek to question or redefine the very nature of playing, and its supports and settings.
Or they may suggest new materials and devices to help us reformulate the contribution
game-play makes to our societies and ourselves.
Togetherness is a fundamental need in every society, and different cultures have developed
their own means to that vital end. Yet playing is notable for its transcultural aspects, and its
role as a vector for the discovery of other cultures. Playing contributes to the life of all
societies, everywhere in the world. When the physical support or structure of a game
enables players to come together as a group, game-play becomes a vector for socialisation
and sophistication, even a civilising force.
Playing is an activity with clearly defined aims, expectations and rules, whose implicit
qualities and values become explicit over the course of play, even before the outcome of the
game is known.
For the fourth edition of the Prix Émile Hermès, the theme of PLAY invites detailed
observation of the relationships, postures and gestures experienced by individuals through
game-play, and of the social and cultural needs it fulfils. Candidates will focus on the
reinvention, adaptation or creation of games, objects, supports, devices or small-scale
spatial and architectural responses. Projects will highlight the cross-cultural aspects of play,
and its role as a vector for growth and personal enrichment through shared experience.
All entries will demonstrate a strong awareness of the need for sustainable production.
Whether designed for simple, artisan production or state-of-the-art technological
manufacturing, projects will contribute to the reduction of our human footprint on a planet
that will soon support some eight billion people.
The jury of the Prix Émile Hermès asks all candidates to address the issue of sustainability
in the production and distribution processes they envisage for their project.