Prix Émile Hermès Fondation d'entreprise Hermès : Le sens de l'objet

2015 - 2016 theme: "PLAY"

Current edition - 2016

Since its creation in 2007, the Prix Émile Hermès has supported innovative work by talented young designers,
responding to society’s changing needs and lifestyles.

The Fondation d’entreprise Hermès invites young professional designers to invent the objects of tomorrow.

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Competition theme "Play"

A distinctive and universal activity

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 entertainment.
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 and development.

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 wealth.

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.

Being together

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.


Design specifications


Candidates are invited to submit designs for an object, machine, utensil, piece of furniture, architectural concept etc., carefully devised and formulated for a specific, practical function while at the same time proposing a formal, aesthetic concept of the highest quality.

Each design will offer a lasting, sustainable alternative to existing everyday objects performing the functions stated in the competition’s theme. Multi-purpose, adaptable designs are also invited, incorporating uses and applications which may be discovered over the life the object.

Ingenious solutions

The submitted designs will offer ingenious solutions for practical, effective and ergonomic objects made using basic techniques and a simple, reliable production process, while at the same time devising unprecedented, wholly modern procedures.

Modernity in simplicity: state-of-the-art techniques may be used, but with an emphasis on simple, user-friendly solutions rather than technological complexity. The submitted designs must express a new relation to time and involve the user physically and/or emotionally.

A sustainable approach and process

Candidates will offer detailed explanation and justification of their choice of production process, taking account of key environmental issues (notably the required energy sources, avoiding the use of non-renewable natural resources).

The production process should aim to limit the object’s environmental footprint as far as possible, notably through the use of locally-available resources. Each entry will include a detailed energy audit, and an analysis of the object’s life cycle.

A practical, reproducible object

Each object, machine, utensil etc. must be designed for easy reproducibility, whether conceived for the mass market and industrial manufacture, or small-scale distribution and production using traditional craft techniques.

One-off, utopian designs or "dream products" are by definition excluded.

Spheres of application

Designs will focus on everyday indoor or outdoor uses, indoor and outdoor spaces, transitory spaces and/or times, and/or emergency and humanitarian applications.

Candidates may focus on one or all of the functions stated in the competition theme.

The Prix Émile Hermès does not cover fashion or clothing. Designs should in no way echo or make reference to the house of Hermès (the parent organisation of the Fondation d’entreprise Hermès), nor to its logo, brand colours or style specifications.

Design specifications


To compose its 2016 jury, the Fondation d’entreprise Hermès has invited some prominent members of the design scene, selected for their expertise and complementarity:

  • matali crasset, Designer, President of the Jury
  • Pierre-Alexis Dumas, Artistic Director, Hermès and member of the board of the Fondation d’entreprise Hermès
  • Chantal Hamaide, Editorial director, Intramuros magazine
  • Pascale Mussard, Vice-president of the Fondation d’entreprise Hermès and Artistic director, « Petit h », Hermès
  • Stéphane Corréard, Journalist, Critic and Curator
  • Thierry Wendling, Anthropologist, Head of research at the CNRS

Participation rules

The Prix Émile Hermès international design award is subject to competition rules (18 articles) under French law.

The competition rules cover registration, terms and conditions for participation and the submission of entries, and selection criteria for the winning designs.

The latest competition rules will be published on 1 June 2017, with the announcement of the new theme.

Participation rules

Register and submit your project online

How to register and submit your project:


September 1st – November 16th, 2015

Submit your entry via the dedicated link on the Prix Émile Hermès website.
(November 16th, 2015 until 12:00 p.m. Paris time (CET), date and time as per entry online).

December 2015

Jury meets to select the shortlist of finalists

January 1st – March 31th, 2016

Production of prototypes

April 2016

Jury deliberations

June 2016

Award ceremony in Paris


The Prix Émile Hermès is open to designers and engineers aged under 40, in the following categories:

  • professional graduates from schools of design, engineering, architecture, and the visual or applied arts.
  • non-graduate professionals with at least three years’ proven experience in professional design.
  • final-year students at schools of design, engineering, architecture, and the visual or applied arts.

Participants may enter individually or in teams (up to five people).

The Prix Émile Hermès is an international award open to entrants from all countries.


Prize amounts for the Prix Émile Hermès

  • 1st prize: 50 000 euros
  • 2nd prize: 25 000 euros
  • 3rd prize: 15 000 euros

Useful information

The competition is now closed for entries. No more projects can be accepted for the current competition.

Please herewith the Prix Émile Hermès calendar.

Being a designer means not only knowing how to conceive and design objects, but also finding ways for each one of us to create the setting for the story of our lives.

Michele De Lucchi, President of the Jury - Prix Émile Hermès 2014

Previous editions