Back to basics.

I went to a multi-disciplinary design school, so I got to see a lot of different kinds of design at work. Some things I thought were interesting, some things I’ll just never care about, but there were two kinds of designers that consistently made everyone look like chumps. One group I’ll talk about at some point soon, but since Tori was asking me late last night about the lamp I came up with on Saturday night, it was a good time to mention them.

Toy Designers.

Yeah, I know. “What?”

Toy designers? These folks rock my world. They take everything I love about good design and then compress it like a neutron star. It’s just *tight*. So tight. Function/form/imagination. DONE. A good toy is a thing of beauty. Think about some *really* good toys and games. There’s a simplicity in them that’s so pure and perfect that they transcend time- and some of them really *are* ancient. The frisbee. Etch-a-Sketch. The cup and ball. Jacks. Pick-up sticks. Lite-Brite (even though everyone always stepped on the little pieces.) I was a big fan of Ker-plunk. I also had one of those magnetic yo-yos my father got me as a sickness present once.

A while ago, I got to talking about a toy that I had as a kid. I can’t remember where I got it. My guess is sadistic grandparents, but obviously whomever it was, was someone who didn’t consider the sanity of my father, at any rate. Like any number of other things, it “disappeared” one day and was never seen again not long after it appeared at my mother’s house. I wound up describing it to Mike and he made this image from my description:

Does anyone know the name of this toy? (EDIT:FOUND!)

Apparently, I had forgotten just how many marbles these things had, because it turns out that what they really *are* are (I swear I am not making this up) are Boob Tubes!

But seriously, look at these things for a second. Not as toys, just as forms. They’re architectural. They’re structural. They have form and function. Geometry. Abstraction. They come in fun colors. They’re *perfect*. And it’s why I find toys and the design of toys so inspiring in my own work.

Yeah I’ll get back to that lamp in a bit. We’re working on it.


  1. Toy design is actually one of the things that’s piqued E’s interest of late. He’s kind of tired of the computer gaming world’s built in crunch schedule (when first phase investors got used to geek enthusiasts who would work 20 hrs/day for peanuts the industry kind of gelled that way…) and the guys who came into the office for the affiliated marketing bits pointed him at a local school for it. He was fascinated.

    And I totally agree with your assessment, especially since on top of all the form/function bits there’s also the INCREDIBLE demand for safety as well, especially with younger kids’ toys. You think people lose jobs over a bridge falling down? Try those who design an unexpectedly dangerous toy…

  2. Not only do you have to design for safety, but a closely related problem as well: you have to design so that the toy will stand up to an incredible amount of abuse. Kids don’t play nicely with things.

  3. Having a four year old and watching how she interacts with well designed toys and not so well designed ones, I comprehend this. I’ve watched her play with dolls (why do they come with clothes? They all end up naked!), her learning toys (the designers start with a good framework but every module is overdone. She loses interest on page 6 of 10 as there are too many activities on each page.), building materials (wooden blocks, duplo, legos), and the myriad of other things, and most often it is the simplest, most elegantly designed pieces that capture her attention and imagination.

    I grew up as a Lego kid, and still am the proud owner of a Star Destroyer, Death Star II. Wow, the folks there got it right with “Let’s play” (the rough meaning of lego).

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