Fire + Fragility: Zuzanna Rogatty's YG21 Cube Design

By Brett McKenzie on Nov 15, 2023

Designer and YG18 winner on the creation of this year's Young Guns trophy


Last week in New York City, the 29 winners of the iconic Young Guns 21 competition were feted in grand fashion. Designers, filmmakers, photographers, illustrators, and other incredible creative professionals were honored from the stage by the legendary Debbie Millman. If you were there, you’ll know just how much of a party the night was, and how appreciative and approachable this year’s class was. And if you weren’t there — we’ve got lots of pics.

One of the lasting traditions of Young Guns is that each year's trophy, the iconic Young Guns Cube, is reinterpreted and redesigned every single year by previous Young Guns winners. From Young Guns 8, when the tradition began with YG2’s Michael Whitney and YG5’s Justin Gignac designing a Cube out of reclaimed wood from Coney Island’s famous boardwalk to YG13’s Zipeng Zhu and his balloon-like golden bicep for last year’s class, each year’s Cube is totally unique — which poses a challenge for all the designers that follow.

For YG21, that challenge fell to New York and Honolulu-based designer and Young Guns 18 winner Zuzanna Rogatty, who tapped into her Polish heritage in conceiving and creating a Cube out of a material that had never been used thus far. The brightly co,lored ceramic Cube was a huge hit among this year’s winners, and is sure to stand out in Young Guns history!

We took a moment to chat with Zuzanna about her own Young Guns journey, and to learn how we got to the most delicate Cube in the Young Guns pantheon.


Let's hop into a time machine for a bit. How did Young Guns enter your awareness as a fledgling designer?

As a college student, I went to a ton of design conferences. Looking back, Typo Berlin was the one that had the biggest impact on me.

Coming from Warsaw, seeing so many famous, international designers on the stage felt like opening a window into the world. I was a young, developing designer, trying to figure out what aspects of design intrigued me the most. I was at the start of defining my own specialities and my own skill sets. So as my brain was absorbing inspiration and knowledge like a sponge, my identity as a designer was starting to take shape. Gemma O'Brien's and also Erik Marinovich's presentations blew my mind and stuck with me for a long time.

It was during Gemma's presentation that I first learned about Young Guns. And even though I did not know exactly what it was at the time, I knew it was a big deal. Little did I know that seven years later, I would not only be living in New York City, but also be one of the winners.

So after hearing Gemma's words, did winning Young Guns become one of your professional goals?

Honestly, it didn’t even occur to me that I could even enter Young Guns until I was 29. It just didn’t seem like a possibility. It took me a while to build enough courage and a portfolio that I felt confident about. I also felt the pressure of time passing. And aging :)


"It was during Gemma's presentation that I first learned about Young Guns. And even though I did not know exactly what it was at the time, I knew it was a big deal."

And then you won YG18! Do you remember how it felt when you discovered that you were now in the Young Guns family?

It was a confidence boost. It was just a nice confirmation that all the years of studying and learning and working hard made sense.

Of course, YG18 was a crazy year. The COVID pandemic meant that there was no in-person ceremony, and global manufacturing and shipping delays meant that your YG18 Cube, designed by YG9 winner Jon Contino, took some time to get into your hands. What were your thoughts when you finally got your hands on it?

The Cubes were delivered months after the online ceremony, so the excitement had cooled down a little by the time they arrived. However, receiving the trophy was a reminder of that achievement and extended the celebration.

That year was a strange one for everyone, but it was also a transformative year for me, personally. I remember working on the submission from my apartment in Brooklyn, then learning about winning in my studio in Hawaii, and when I finally received the trophy I was in a new apartment, yet again.

And now, here you are, three years later, designing the branding and the Cube for YG21! What have the in-between years been like, personally and professionally?

Over the past three years, I’ve been growing as a designer. I’m expanding my skills by leading more work and clients at COLLINS. And I am teaching and sharing my experience with younger designers and managing design teams here, too.

Personally, winning Young Guns has also opened up doors for more lettering and personal work, too. Back in 2020, I only had one editorial illustration in my portfolio, but since then I have had so many more opportunities. It has been really exciting.

"Personally, winning Young Guns has also opened up doors for more lettering and personal work, too."

By designing the branding and the YG21 Cube, you were joining a long line of past Young Guns winners. What were some of your thoughts going in, knowing what came before you?

I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity that The One Club has given me. It’s truly an honor!

I based the work on the idea of the intense passion and immense creative energy we carry. The flame lettering, the hot saturated colors and explosive motion speak to that sparkle and hope inside a young creative soul. That’s at least where my head was at, but I hope the design speaks for itself.

And the Cube! We’ve had wood, metal, acrylic, a levitating one — what made you decide on ceramic?

I wanted to introduce a new material to the Cube’s repertoire. Ceramic felt like the most natural choice to me due to the rich history of pottery in Polish culture — and my parents, who both studied ceramics

I immediately thought of collaborating with Malwina Konopacka, whose work I have admired for years. Her ceramic work builds on the Polish tradition, but reinterprets it more playfully. I love her bold and colorful forms. I also had a feeling that we could make a great match. We co-created the Cube and our process was based on mutual trust. It went really smoothly because of Malwina’s deep experience.

Also, the Tor Grotesk typeface that I used in the branding was designed by Marian Misiak, the founder of Threedotstype, a great type foundry from Poland.

I’m particularly proud when I get a chance to bring other Polish talents into the work!

"Ceramic felt like the most natural choice to me due to the rich history of pottery in Poland... I'm particularly proud when I get a chance to bring other Polish talents into the work!"

Only 29 entrants will receive this Cube. What words of wisdom do you have for this brand-new class of winners?

Please don’t drop it.

Next year, and in the years that follow, more Young Guns winners will be tasked with creating a unique Cube for future Young Guns classes to win. What advice would you give them in making a physical Cube that will stand out among the others in this rich Young Guns tradition?

I hope that we will see designers exploring the vast array of materials that our planet has to offer. That said, making the Cube from a less fragile material than ceramic would probably be a wise decision!




Zuzanna working on the Young Guns 21 branding

Zuzanna went through numerous variants before deciding on a look for this year's Cube

A 3D render of the YG21 Cube

The YG21 Cube takes shape in the real world

Zuzanna and ceramic artist Malwina Konopacka get together to check out the manufacturing process

Getting ever closer...

Bright colors for bright creative winners


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