From the app-based Nickster to the electronic building blocks of Littlebits, toys are making leaps and bounds in cool factor. Launched this morning on Kickstarter, Toymail is the latest and greatest new digitally-enhanced plaything. In short, they're walkie talkie-like characters with the ability to relay messages from parents/grandparents/friends to the child who owns the toy. How it works: Anyone who downloads Toymail's free app can leave a message on one of the toys. Users dial in a toy/child to send a message to, talk into the phone (just like leaving a voicemail) and push send. The receiver is alerted by an animal noise—if their Toymail is a pig, it oinks when a message is received—and can respond directly to the message by pressing a button. The video below shows the toy in action:
Cofounders Gauri Nanda and mother-of-three Audry Hill were looking to create a toy that brought kids and loved ones together. "I started asking myself, 'Could toys be made to evolve every day and what would that look like?'" says Nanda. "I felt that it was time for toys to feel more like they do in Toy Story and Pee Wee's Playhouse, so that they never become boring or obsolete. So that they would grow as the child does."
Sketches from character development and prototyping the toys.
You couldn't make it up: According to a 2001 Times article, aerospace engineer was Lonnie G. Johnson had been working on technology for a $1.6 billion-dollar spacecraft when he accidentally discovered a children's toy that is now his claim to fame. Tasked with "preparing an interplanetary spacecraft for its atomic battery" at his day job, he was working on a side project at home one night when he turned on a faucet hooked up to one end of a "prototype cooling device" with a metal nozzle.
"I turned and shot into the bathtub," he recalled. The blast was so powerful that the whoosh of accompanying air set the bathroom curtains flying. "I said to myself, 'Jeez, this would make a great water gun.'"
Indeed: Johnson had just created the precursor to the Super Soaker, which has since generated a over $1 billion in sales for Larami, now owned by Hasbro. He made headlines yesterday in winning 7.3% of that sum in his claim against the RI-based toy company... not that the immensely successful engineer and inventor needed it, but it's a good excuse to paraphrase his tale.
Hailing from Mobile, Ala., Johnson (b. 1949) took to math and science at an early age, eventually taking first place in a science fair as a high school senior and earning several scholarships. Upon completing his master's degree in nuclear engineering at Atlanta's Tuskegee University, the born-and-raised Southerner spent his late 20's moving westward, young family in tow, including a stint in Albuquerque before he ended up in Pasadena, working for the Air Force and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory respectively. By day, Johnson was responsible for integrating the nuclear power plant in the Galileo; by night, his DIY experiments nearly cost him his marriage... until, of course, that fateful evening in 1982.
I don't know about you, but I still find it shocking to see toddlers walking around with smartphones. Instead of scoffing, Steve Cozzolino saw opportunity. At a fateful dinner party, Cozzolino noticed that eight out of nine children were playing around on some kind of digital device (including a set of 1-year-old twins on an iPhone). At the time, he was in the process of creating Nickster, a physical toy set (inspired by his son Nick) on a Kickstarter mission, which now consists of a physical toy set and a themed app to teach kids basic principles of building, matching shapes and counting. But it was in these digital mavericks—who could barely walk but could tap and swipe—that Cozzolino realized that saw the future of play: In order to be engaging and relevant to today's youth, he needed to create something with a digital component. "What's most unique and innovative about the Nickster Playland app is that it connects children back to physical toys," Cozzolino says. "It encourages them to not just play in the digital world, but also have fun with their toys."
The toys and app don't just stop teaching after a few lessons. "What's nice about the app is that it allows us to build upon the toys by creating an endless number of color and shape combinations and added levels of difficulty, all opportunities to learn more," Cozzolino says. "For example, the Sequence Train toy is 1-4 while the Sequence Train app is 1-5, 1-10 and the complete alphabet."
At a quiet studio in Kansas City, three creatives sculpt and mold prototypes for toys. Filmmaker Anthony Ladesich's mini-doc, "The Secret Story of Toys," looks at artists Jason Frailey, Adam Smith and Adrienne Smith as they carve everything from Terminators to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
In the molding area you'll see similar equipment to what was seen in "A Look Inside a Moldmaking Shop," but Ladesich's narrative focuses much more on the actual creators as they explain the joys—and agonies—of scratching out toys from scratch:
This may be the best videogame ever invented. In 1995, the illusionists Penn & Teller created "Desert Bus" for the then-popular Sega Genesis console. The first-person driving game requires you to drive an empty bus from Tucson, Arizona to Las Vegas along a desert highway. The drive takes eight hours and it must be completed in real time; there is no pause button.
Even better, the steering alignment on the bus is off, so it constantly pulls to the right. In other words you can't take your hands off the wheel. The bus maxes out at 45 m.p.h. and all you'll see is the dull desert scenery, the odometer slowly turning over, and the clock ticking by in real time. There are no other cars on the road, nobody else on the bus with you, absolutely nothing to provide narrative interest. And if you go off the road, you get towed all the way back to the beginning—purportedly for repairs, though the steering alignment problem remains—and you have to start all over again.
Should you successfully complete the entire drive, you get one point. One.
So, why on Earth did they create this game, and why have you never heard of it? Obviously the game is a satire, and some of you may recall that in the mid-'90s, there was an anti-videogame-violence movement. "Desert Bus" was Penn & Teller's joking response to this. "It's a boring job that just goes on and on repetitiously, and your task is simply to remain conscious," Teller told The New Yorker. "That was one of the big keys--we would make no cheats about time, so [videogame opponents] could get a good idea of how valuable and worthwhile a game that just reflects reality would be."
As for why you've never heard of it: Sadly, the completion of the game's development process coincided with the demise of Sega's Genesis platform. Imagineering, the videogame company working with Penn & Teller, went bust shortly thereafter. Only a handful of review copies exist.
Amazingly, a group of die-hard gaming geeks got their hands on one of these copies, and a working Sega Genesis console. In 2007 they set up an annual charity, Desert Bus for Hope, that took donations for miles driven in the game. Proceeds would go to Child's Play, which donates videogames and consoles to children's hospitals around the world. The take has been impressive: While the first-year run only took in $22,000, the haul for last year's event netted $443,630, pushing the total to over one million dollars.
This year's Desert Bus for Hope is slated for November 16th. If you want to get involved and need to practice, but don't have a Genesis, you're in luck: "Desert Bus" can now be downloaded for iOS and Android.
Building blocks taught children to stack things. Legos teach kids to build objects systematically. Now a company called littleBits wants to push building blocks to the next level by integrating electronics, teaching children that they can achieve more sophisticated results by combining a series of predetermined components with specific technological functions. And they're easy to snap together, via magnets that prevent incorrect connections.
Electronics are everywhere. People now produce, consume and throw out more electronic gadgets and technology-enhanced products than ever before. Yet, engineering is mysticized, electronic objects are black-boxed, and the creativity of today's designer is limited by the tools and materials available to them. With the democratization of technology and the DIY revolution gaining more momentum, creativity with electronics will explode when they can be used as (and combined with) other materials.
The Power Wheels Barbie Jammin' Jeep is a battery-powered toy car that two children can ride in. Though the exterior is plastic, the $250 thing actually has a steel frame. Perhaps that's why a group of guys in Alabama Arkansas, collectively called Barbie Jeep Racing, have selected the Power Wheels line of vehicles—which include kiddie-sized knock-offs of Wranglers, Toyota FJ Cruisers and even an Escalade—for some seriously twisted downhill racing.
They start off by breaking the drive train so that the wheels can spin freely, letting gravity propel the vehicles to speeds—and down terrain—they were never meant to handle. Then it's Jackass meets Fisher-Price, as you'll see in this video:
Of all the different types of industrial designers we cover, it's exhibit designers and toy designers that get the shortest shrift; there simply aren't many of you lot giving out interviews. But now Lenny Panzica, a Hasbro product designer has stepped up for a Gizmodo interview explaining the design process behind the latest Transformers toy. (Panzica, by the way, is a natural fit to design the dragon-inspired "Predaking" robot; the dinosaur enthusiast has degrees in both archaeology and toy design.)
You'd think something as sophisticated as a transforming robot would be worked out almost exclusivly in CAD, so I was surprised to see how much of it is done on good ol' pen and paper:
The Museum of Modern Art and open hardware startup littleBits are pleased to unveil a new collaboration, on display in the windows of MoMA Design Store locations in Midtown and Soho as of today, April 9, 2013. Developed in conjunction with brooklyn design studio Labour, the "4’-tall kinetic sculptures [are] made of wood, cardboard and acrylic, [brought to life] with 'Bits' measuring less than 1 inch square."
Although littleBits have been billed as "LEGO for the iPad generation," founder Ayah Bdeir notes in her TED Talk (embedded below) that the transistor has been around since 1947—predating the the iPad by over six decades. Rather, the modular bits comprise a full ecosystem of input/output functionality, such that littleBits cannot be classified strictly as a construction toy or an electronic one. Bdeir elaborates:
The idea behind littleBits is that electronics should be like any other material, paper, cardboard, screws and wood. You should be able to pick up 'light,' 'sound,' 'sensing,' etc., and embed it into your creative process just like you do foam and glue. We sit at the border between electronics, design, craft, art and mechanical engineering, and we are constantly negotiating those boundaries. I believe the most interesting things happen at the intersection of disciplines and the borders need to become more porous for us to see the most incredible uses of electronics in the world. littleBits is a library. We now have three kits and over 35 Bits and are working on the next 30, so this is literally just the beginning.
We had the chance to catch up with Bdeir, an interactive artist and engineer by training, about the past, present and future of littleBits.
Core77: I understand it's been roughly a year and a half since you originally launched littleBits. Have you been surprised by the response? What achievement or milestone are you most proud of thus far?
Ayah Bdeir: The response has been incredible. When I first started the company in September 2011, I knew that we already had fans who were waiting for the product, but I had no idea the response would be what it was. We sold the first products on our site on December 20th of that year and we sold out within 3 weeks of starting. [In 2012, we grew over] a series of events: we won best of toyfair, I gave a talk on TED that got a great response, we had a documentary on CNN and at every juncture, demand shot up. It was really incredible to see people from all over the world, parents, teachers, kids, designers, artists, hackers getting excited about littleBits for different reasons.
I think my most proud milestone is that despite all I heard about the toy industry being competitive, jaded and without mercy, we won 14 toy awards in less than eight months (including Dr Toy 10 Best Educational Products, Academic's Choice Brain Toy, etc)—in some cases, we bested some of the most popular toy companies in the world.
Well, it's hard not to be flattered by this one: at the end of a post about Samuel Bernier's recent 3D-printed IKEA hack, I idly mused that he should join forces with fellow DIYer Andreas Bhend of Frosta remix fame. It so happens that Andreas did read it, and the two actually acted on my suggestion to get together and "collaborate on a series of IKEA hacks with bespoke 3D printed parts and instructions..."
Andreas, a student from Switzerland, was only a short train ride from Paris, where Samuel works at le FabShop, a 3D printing startup. Even though they didn't know each other (nor do I know either of them, for disclosure's sake), they accepted the challenge and came up with a couple projects during a two and a half day charrette: a child's sled and a balance bicycle. Samuel shared the whole story:
This project has a lot of improvisation into it. When they decided to work together, Samuel and Andreas still didn't know what they would do. Andreas had made his marks with the IKEA's Frosta, a 10€ stool that was inspired by Alvar Aalto's classic. Samuel, on his side, was famous for his use of affordable 3D printing. The idea for a Draisienne came from thin air. Or maybe the wheelless bicycles that young children ride on Paris's sidewalks inspired Samuel. Few details were decided when Bhend brought the stools to Paris. The assembly, the wheels axis and the final proportions were all left for the imagination.
All these choices were made while manipulating the industrialized parts. The only tools they had were a drill, pliers, a metal saw (not appropriate) and... a Makerbot Replicator 2 (from le FabShop). There was a debate about what colour to choose for the printed parts. Since yellow didn't have enough contrast and blue was a little bit boring, they chose orange, a reference to Bernier's Project RE_.
Although it seems that we've been soliciting your opinions with a simple "Yea or Nay" quite a bit lately—regarding this and this, for starters—we just as often herald instances of "hell in a handbasket" to connote examples of design or specific products that confound us. And while I'd surmise that a new product called the Automee S is an example of chindōgu, the fact that it will reportedly available for 1575 Yen (about $17) next month seems to be at odds with the spirit of 'unuseless design.'
Unfortunately, the product page is in Japanese, so we're relying on New Launches' translation regarding details and specs. They write that "the little one has three tires for maneuvering and two made of paper which do the cleaning. The onboard sensors prevent the Automee S from falling off the edges and also lets it clean the entire surface evenly."
New Launches also notes that it takes four minutes to clean a phone and eight to clean a tablet, which makes it good for 45 and 22 complete cleans on a single AA battery.
Andre Cassagnes, the man who invented the Etch A Sketch, has passed away.
In the 1950s Cassagnes, a French electrical technician, was installing a light switch at the factory where he worked. The switch plate had a protective decal on it, which Cassagnes removed. That decal attracted bits of metallic powder by-product present in the factory, and Cassagnes noticed that when he made pencil marks on one side of the decal, the powder gave way to the pencil tip and the marks showed up on the other side.
After observing this electrostatically-powered accident, Cassagnes spent several years harnessing this phenomenon into a handheld device. At the 1959 Nuremberg Toy Fair in Germany, he pulled the sheets off of his L'Écran Magique ("Magic Screen.") A transparent plastic sheet was lined with aluminum powder on the inside, and a joystick controlled an internal stylus that could be dragged across the screen, inside the device, to create lines. The "drawing" could be erased by shaking the device up, which redistributed the powder; small plastic particles mixed in with the powder prevented it from clumping up unevenly.
An American company called Ohio Art paid Cassagnes $25,000 for the rights—a princely sum back then—and called him in to work on a revised design. Interestingly enough, the form factor was altered to resembled the hottest home appliance of the day: The TV set. Cassagnes' joystick was replaced by two knobs below the screen, and the entire device was rebranded the "Etch A Sketch Magic Screen."
But while we ourselves wander around a three dimensional wonderland, our avatars remain stuck in the second dimension. Even if, like Miis, they seem to be free, they can never quite leap from the screen and into our hands, at least not without considerable effort.
For all those avatars itching for entree into the real world, we now have MixeeMe, a new startup that allows you to create a cute, custom avatar of yourself, your friends, your nemeses or anyone else you know and get a real live 3D printed version in the mail a few days later. It's the brainchild of designers Nancy Liang and Aaron Barnet, two Yale grads who wanted to make a dream into reality.
"When I was little had this idea that if you could become an action figure you're successful, you made it in the world," explained Liang in a Skype interview with Core77. "I sat down at Google Sketchup, figured out how to make circles and cubes and put them together. After 5 hours, I uploaded my character model to Shapeways, and found that it would be too expensive to print. The modeling process was a shit show, basically."
Frustrated with the options for designing simple 3D objects, Liang took to the web and worked with Barnet to research and develop simple 3D tools. "I decided that only do I want to make action figures, I want to make it easy for others to make action figures of themselves or their friends," she noted. After exploring the different options, they decided on a simple interface that let customers focus on creating, rather than the technical specifics.
Henry Hargreaves is a photographer who made his way to Brooklyn via his home country of New Zealand, but he's dabbles in Duchampian diversions in art and design as well, such as "Deep Fried Gadgets," a series of photos of the very same. He's back with a similarly conceptual project called "Game Over!":
Taking games from my childhood I wanted to strip away the color making the games themselves useless but draw the views attention to how beautiful and sculptural the forms themselves actually are.
Of course, Hargreaves hasn't quite stripped away the color, as each composition is a study of monochromatic boards and pieces set on backgrounds of the same pastel color. Besides the fact that each of the games is instantly recognizable, I was also interested to see how a lack of color cues hinders or altogether obviates gameplay. Connect Four becomes an abstracted distribution curve; the jigsaw puzzle is demands superhuman sensitivity to infinitesimal variations in size and shape.
Mr. Potatohead, on the other hand, becomes a sculptural version of the unmistakable toy, a work of Pop Art to the Minimalist mini-sculpture of the Rubik's Cube, which is unsolvable precisely because it is unscramble-able.
Just when you think you've seen it all with Lego, along comes this guy. A Japanese Lego builder going by the YouTube handle "talapz" has rendered both Todai-ji and Kinkaku-ji, two World Heritage sites and famous Japanese temples in Nara and Kyoto, respectively, in Lego. But the crazy part is he designed the structures to be collapsible, like a pop-up book.
Tim Jahnigen is a multicreative, Dean-Kamen-like inventor who has created "systems and technologies with patents pending in a diverse range of industries, from construction and banking to science and medicine." In recent years he turned his attention towards what initially appeared to be a smaller problem: Redesigning the soccer ball.
During the last World Cup we looked at the soccer ball's design history, and complained about the pure evil that is the Jabulani. But Jahnigen was interested specifically in soccer balls as they're used in developing nations. Your average Adidas will last just fine in the back of a minivan or on the well-manicured pitch at Springfield Middle School, but dirt tracks in Darfur and rocky fields in Afghanistan chew the balls up in no time.
So it was that Jahnigen observed a documentary about kids in Darfur kicking around, rather than a ball, a rough sphere of garbage tied up with twine. It was their only option, as balls donated to children in situations like these simply cannot withstand the rough terrain. "The millions of balls that are donated go flat within 24 hours," Jahnigen toldThe New York Times.
After doing research he discovered a materials company called PopFoam, whose tagline is "Soft Toughness" and whose titular product is made from EVA (ethyl vinyl acetate). As the company describes it, "PopFoam will improve durability, tear strength, tensile strength, flexibility, color availability, chemical resistance, cold weather resistance, sound protection and abrasion resistance while offering the cushioning comforts and the complement of design ascetics [sic] to your products."
However, Jahnigen calculated that tooling costs to produce PopFoam in a spherical, soccer-ball-sized shape would cost a small fortune--about $300,000, money that he didn't have. Here's where it gets a little crazy: The multi-talented Jahnigen is also a music producer, and counts Sting among his list of buddies. When Sting, no stranger to charitable giving, heard about the project, he insisted on funding it.
This week saw the emergence of the first International UN Day of the Girl Child, which is intended to promote the empowerment of young girls around the world. One obvious way to do this is to encourage their access to education. Because of this, we thought it was only fitting to celebrate the development of a toy that is meant to promote the education of girls and more specifically, their learning in science and math.
Debbie Sterling was discouraged by the stereotypes that suggested that boys should play with Bob the Builder while girls were left to dress up Barbie. With 89% of male engineers in her program at Stanford, it was obvious that there was a gender gap in the field. But more notably, Sterling was aware that there was a significant gap in the formative space of play. Because of this, she was motivated to spend a year of research with over 100 children in order to develop GoldieBlox: a construction toy for girls.
Speaking of 3D printing, this is pretty amazing: a team of designers and engineers at Disney Research have recently published a remarkable paper entitled "Printed Optics: 3D Printing of Embedded Optical Elements for Interactive Devices." (Just as their amusement parks are located in the family-friendly tourist destinations of Florida and Southern California, the entertainment company's research division is strategically located in close proximity to Carnegie Mellon University and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zürich.) Karl D.D. Willis, Eric Brockmeyer, Scott Hudson and Ivan Poupyrev are based in the Pittsburgh lab, and the highly technical 10-page paper [PDF] is as dense as one might expect. From the Printed Optics project page:
Printed Optics is a new approach to creating custom optical elements for interactive devices using 3D printing. Printed Optics enable sensing, display, and illumination elements to be directly embedded in the body of an interactive device. Using these elements, unique display surfaces, novel illumination techniques, custom optical sensors, and robust embedded components can be digitally fabricated for rapid, high fidelity, customized interactive devices.
Printed Optics is part of our long term vision for the production of interactive devices that are 3D printed in their entirety. Future devices will be fabricated on demand with user-specific form and functionality. Printed Optics explores the possibilities for this vision afforded by today's 3D printing technology.
"A 3D printed mobile projector accessory with embedded light pipes. Projected imagery is mapped onto the character's eyes. The character responds to user interaction such as sound or physical movement."
For those of us who don't know DSM Somos' Watershed XC11122 from 3D Systems' Accura ClearVue, they've produced a brilliant, semi-viral video for our edification:
Besides the interactive applications of 3D printed optics, the Disney Researchers have also developed a handful of lightbulbs, an easy metaphor for their insight.
I'm sure that, like me, the vast majority of our readers grew up playing with LEGOs without a second thought about the origin of the beloved building toy. It so happens that 2012 marks the 80th anniversary of the Danish company, and they've produced an animated history of the company, which hit the web over the weekend.
The LEGO Group can look back onto an impressive success story: in 1932 Ole Kirk Christiansen founded a production company for wooden toys in the Danish city of Billund. His central idea was, "Only the best is good enough." The motto stayed, but other than that, a lot changed. The company has moved from the originally small workshop back in 1932, to become the third largest producer of play materials in the world. It is currently represented in more than 130 countries with approx. 10,000 employees. The name "LEGO" comes from the two Danish words "leg" and "godt," which translates to "play well"...
The triumph of the LEGO Group started almost fifteen years after the foundation of the company, when Ole Kirk Christiansen discovered that plastic was the ideal material for toy production. At the end of the 1940s, the first bricks hit the market, which resemble the modern classic of today. In 1958 Christiansen perfected the LEGO brick with the familiar knobs-and-tubes-connecting-system, which is what the now 3120 different LEGO elements are still based on. LEGO bricks can be combined in an endless variety of combinations in continuously new ways. For six bricks of the same color with 2×4 studs alone, there are 915 million combination possibilities. The imagination has therefore no boundaries.
The 17-minute short, narrated by founder Ole Kirk Kristiansen's grandson Kjeld, is dense with LEGO's backstory, yet easy to watch as the animated Christiansen family perseveres through trials and tribulations over the years to build a successful company (IDers might also be interested to see the accurately depicted mid-century machinery).
My pursuit of animation peaked at some point in middle school, when I would pass time by surreptitiously make Post-It note flipbooks... during class. While Microsoft's Steve Clayton notes that the KinÊtre "isn't targeted at professional animators but for those with zero experience in the field of animation," the new project from the Microsoft Research in the UK is light years beyond my artsy preteen aspirations.
Imagine you are asked to produce a 3D animation of a demonic armchair terrorizing an innocent desk lamp. You may think about model rigging, skeleton deformation, and keyframing. Depending on your experience, you might imagine hours to days at the controls of Maya or Blender. But even if you have absolutely no computer graphics experience, it can be so much easier: grab a nearby chair and desk lamp, scan them using a consumer depth camera, and use the same camera to track your body, aligning your virtual limbs to the chair's geometry. At one spoken command, your limbs are attached to the chair model, which follows your movements in an intuitive and natural manner. KinÊtre is such a system. Rather than targeting professional animators, it brings animation to a new audience of users with little or no CG experience. It allows realistic deformations of arbitrary static meshes, runs in real time on consumer hardware, and uses the human body for input in conjunction with simple voice commands. KinÊtre lets anyone create playful 3D animations.
Clayton is referring, of course, to the fact that KinÊtre was presented earlier this week at SIGGRAPH 2012, the International Conference and Exhibition on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques, which wraps up today. The Los Angeles audience certainly has access to far more advanced imaging and mapping technologies than your average Kinect user, but I, for one, was captivated by the video:
I don't know about you, but I was also impressed with the quick bit at the outset, where they effectively 3D scan the chair as though they're shopping at IKEA, thanks to KinectFusion, an imaging technique that debuted at last year's SIGGRAPH. Amazing stuff.
A lot has been done in an effort to make hospitals less of a scary and bewildering place for young children. Remember Jeff Koons' Balloon Dog makeover of a radiology exam room in the Advocate Hope Children's Hospital in Oak Lawn, IL (below)? That was part of a program sponsored by Kiehls and the nonprofit organization RxArt to make children's hospitals a little bit friendlier. Personally, I have a hunch that all this hospital room dress-up signifies a more serious flaw in the initial phases of hospital design, and we'd be better served by addressing children's needs from the very start instead of adding colorful, cartoony band aids long after construction has already been completed.
There are other solutions too, of course. One of the best and simplest approaches comes from Hikaru Imamura, a recent Eindhoven grad who was featured on Fast Co. Design as a notable entry in their Innovation Awards program. Since sick children still have to spend hours, days, weeks etc. being ferried in and out of hospital rooms and from one contraption to the next, Imamura thought it was better to quell their fear by helping them understand what all the big scary machines do, especially since Koons can't put his balloons dogs in every hospital in the world. Imamura's solution is a charming and rather refined set of wooden toys that replicate CT scan rooms, X-ray machines and echocardiographs, all staffed by friendly bears.
"I thought it's more important to make things that attract children's interest as stuff to play with. As a result, I made toys that had simple devices such as light or sound, instead of representing the details of machines or having high-tech devices."
There's an old adage for anyone who has kids (and/or cats). You spend all the money on a new toy or technology, but what does the gift recipient end up playing with most? The box.
But never fear. Tube Toys, designed by London designer Oscar Diaz for NPW, makes the packaging a part of the toy. From a car to a tractor to a fire truck, the toys are simple vehicles with all the parts inside for assembly, including the wheels, axles and stickers for labels. The tube part comes in when you start putting the toy together by using the tube for the vehicle's body.
The only wasted parts? The label wrapping, which doubles as instructions, and the sticker paper, after the stickers are removed. That's part of the value statement of Tube Toys, which emphasizes the green part of its toys, noting that the packages reduces "considerably the amount of material discarded after purchase, and the added cost that traditional packaging involves." What's more, Diaz notes that the materials themselves are made of "recycled and/or recyclable" materials.
As a designed object, Tube Toys represent a creative way to incorporate the packaging. I got a chance to play with the train and it was easy enough to assemble the pieces and then disassemble them at the end of the toys. The tubes could easily be stacked end to end in a special box, making storage at the end of the day a cinch as well. It will be interesting to see if Diaz can expand his concept further, with other toys that incorporate the packaging.
Vancouver-based Wendy Tsao started Child's Own Studio, a home-based toy design studio with a twist: Tsao doesn't design the toys. Children do. Tsao's brilliant insight was to create one-off toys for a child modeled exactly on a drawing done by that child.
[Children's drawings are] a wonderful expression of childhood [and] the starting point of the collaborative project. Details and color choices are reproduced as closely as possible so that the stuffed toy that arrives in the mail is immediately recognizable to the child who designed it. It's a fun, rewarding process, and kids love seeing their drawings come alive.
While you can see how it's do-able enough to create a toy from a drawing by an artistically-gifted child, like these...
...you've gotta be impressed when Tsao pulls off the more abstract drawings, like these:
Seeing those latter three makes me reflect, with shame, on times in the past when I received a less-than-clear sketch from the head designer on the job and privately complained about being asked to realize it in CAD. It looks as if Tsao could probably pull off plush Picassos. And with a few hundred creations under her belt and counting, she won't be running out of business anytime soon.
Kids playing with their Clump-O-Lumps creations. All images courtesy Knock Knock.
Mix and match, design and customize. We can do it cars, with phones, with outfits. Why not with stuffed toys? Clump-O-Lumps, a new line toys out of gift and stationery company Knock Knock, features mix-and-match plush dolls designed for kids and kids at heart.
Start with, say, Tig-o the Tiger, a smiling tiger with an overbite, and then put Tig-o together with bucktoothed Bee-o the Bee. Zip off the head of Bee-o, and place it on Tig-o's head. Suddenly, Tig-o has the head of a bee, literally.
"While the animals each have their own unique identities," states Knock Knock in their release, "their insides are the same—red with a white circle running through the center that one could call Bone-o the Bone. Each child will have the ability to use his or her imagination to create new creatures by mixing and matching Clump-o-Lumps and making up original stories about them."
Design Max Knecht with his creations at the New York International Gift Fair.
The adorable designs are the brainchild of Max Knecht, an industrial designer and graduate of Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Knock Knock's head, Jen Bilik, fell in love with Knecht's prototypes immediately upon seeing them, and they mixed and matched heart, brain and business sense to bring the products into the real world.
"To zip and match," suggests the release, "the intended age range is five to ten years old, though children younger than five love to hug their Clump-o-Lumps and take them apart." But the dolls are so irresistible that I suspect kids older than ten will be zipping and mixing and matching in no time (hint hint, anyone shopping early for a Christmas gift for me).