Wang I Chao creates much more than toys. The Taiwan-born, New York-based designer chooses to focus more on the creative potential of the user than the features of his toys. That's not to say his creations are boring by any means—on the contrary, his abstract inspirations bring a greater element of imagination to the experience. We chatted with him about three of his designs that caught our eye: "Shadow Monsters," "The Red Nose Circus" and "Belly Button Chair." Learn what he has to say about the playtime, making toys for kids and adults and how The Little Prince inspired his designs.
Core77: What's the most important aspect, in your opinion, to making the well-designed toy?
I Chao: I think a well-designed toy should be fun and inspirational. For me, the most important aspect of a toy is its ability to spark creativity. We can't learn this type of thing through a textbook, so it's best we play and find our creative sides naturally.
How do you see your own designs fitting into the modern world of toys and playtime?
It's my goal to design toys that enable our artistic talents. I regard my design as a framework to guide and contain users' inspirations. The framework uses storytelling to invite users into the games and at the same time, it sparks their creativity and imagination by encouraging them to make their own tale.
Aesthetics is an important and subtle influence in artistic inspirations too. When considering this, I pay great attention to the quality of my sculptural forms, and also engage them with character. The toys are not just designed for children, but also for grown-ups who enjoy novelty as well as aesthetically beautiful objects. From playability, story, to sculpture quality, I wish to design artsy toys that can be appreciated by users of all ages.
What sparked your interest in toy design?
There will always be a child in me—things with naivety and playfulness constantly grab my attention. I feel toys have similar qualities, so naturally creating toys became part of my design. Through toys, I would like to arouse people's sense of play and bring back the curiosity from childhood, because I believe that like me, everyone has an inner child.
What's your favorite toy (that wasn't created by you) and why?
Toy mobiles are perhaps my favorite, but I prefer the original art mobiles invented by Alexander Calder. I especially enjoy the delicate balances and beautiful sculptural qualities in his works.
Mobile brings me tranquil moments and whimsical feelings through its gentle motion. It provides me with calm and relaxing feelings as I watch it move. I think mobile is a magical invention and it shows that simple movements in toys can affect us emotionally and bring joy to our daily lives.
You mention that a snake drawing in "The Little Prince" was an inspiration to you. Which of your designs embodies the essence of the book best, in your opinion?
I think my "Shadow Monsters" embodies the story of "The Little Prince" the best.
In the story, the drawing of a boa constrictor swallowing an elephant ends up looking like a man's hat, and it was that raised my questions. I particularly wonder why grown-ups can't see what children see? We were all once children, so I wonder what we lost while growing up? These questions lead me to design toys that can encourage our imagination and creativity, and the mysterious shadow is a perfect story to take users into the realm of possibilities.
The Red Nose Circus is a very imaginative/abstract toy design. Can you step me through the design process and any obstacles you had while creating the series? I can imagine that there's a fine line between "abstract and fun" and "abstract and confusing."
In the beginning, my intention was to create a set of collectable circus figures for display, so the first version of the toys was just three still circus characters with different personalities.
The main challenge I faced was to turn the toy figures into playable motion toys, because people expect to interact with circus toys and watch their performances, like in the real circus.
To solve this I integrated movements into the toys. While finding movements for the toys, I had images of balloons swinging in the air and twin clowns dancing with each other. The challenge at this stage was to guide found movements into circus performances. I first turned the figures into wobbling bases to create basic motions. On top of that, I incorporated wires and magnets to design to induce random and unexpected movements. With this, the motion of each figure had its own personality.
Overall, I left the toy in an abstract state because I wanted to engage users and the toys through reinterpretations. Through playing, people might find their own stories and inspirations, which creates sense of ownership as well as personal relationship between the toys and the user. I feel my toys achieve their goal when this is accomplished.
Tell me a bit more about your Shadow Monsters. What was the inspiration behind that design?
Like I mentioned in earlier, inspiration for the Shadow Monsters toy is from the story of "The Little Prince," which inspired me to apply shadows as a subject.
With the idea of silhouettes in mind, I was inspired to create a toy, which let the users explore the endless possibilities of the mystical shadow world. Shadow Monsters embodies a shadow realm that lets users use beautiful patterns and decorations to make their monsters come to life. The myriad of opportunities for imagination will allow the user to feel a sense of creative fulfillment.
Where does the belly button in "Chair with a Belly Button" come into play when it comes to functionality?
As a seat, the belly button doesn't serve any functionality. It is a symbolic element in the chair. It simply creates a visual illusion to turn the chair into a soft and skin-like surface and give the chairs playful personalities.