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Designers Choose Toys They'd Stock in Imagination's Playground

Reporter Scarlet Cheng spoke to the designers whose work and favorite toys are pictured on E1. Here's what they had to say:

November 23, 2000|SCARLET CHENG

DONALD CHADWICK

Industrial designer

From when I was a kid, I recall Tinker Toys, and recently I was looking through my daughter's catalog--Back to Basics Toys, through Amazon.com--and noticed that there's something now called Classic Rods and Spools. They've updated the idea, and the spools now come in three different shapes, but it's basically the same idea. It's a construction toy where you can put together the rods by inserting them into the spools.

I like it because it's so intuitive that it doesn't require a great deal of understanding before you can start playing with it. You can do all kinds of interesting constuctions with it. It's very good for hand-eye coordination and developing the imagination. It's easy assembly and disassembly, a minimum of parts and you make an endless variety of different assemblies with it. I guess I didn't get these for my own children--I had two daughters, and, in those days, well, you didn't get these kind of things for girls.

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Classic Rods and Spools are available through the Back to Basics catalog, (800) 356-5360, for $47.99-$59.99, depending on the size of the set. Tinker Toys are available at toy stores everywhere. Price: about $25.

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DEBORAH SUSSMAN

Environmental graphic designer

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Two things come to mind, one on the high end and one on the low end, so to speak. First, [Charles] Eames' House of Cards: They're the size of regular playing cards but slotted so you can build things with them. One of my first jobs [as a young designer] at the Eames office was to do the original instructions for them--I had to do all these mechanical drawings. With them, you can build many many kind of structures, you can build your own architectural world--a castle, a bridge--it stimulates your creativity. And what you do either works or it doesn't; you can't fake it.

My other choice is pickup sticks. It's one of those eternal things, like Lincoln Logs, not dependent on high technology or anything. It develops concentration, focus and skill, and on top of that it's fun. You can carry it with you wherever you go. It's one of those things that's beyond fashion--a classic game--and it gives you the feeling of triumph when you do it well. It's easy to learn at the same time that it's challenging.

House of Cards is available in a variety of sizes at Eames Office Gallery & Store, 2665 Main St., Santa Monica, (310) 396-5991, or http://www.eamesoffice.com. Price: $20-$28.95. Pickup sticks are available at toy stores everywhere. Price: $5-$7.

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BRUCE MAU

Graphic designer

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There's a distinction between toys you own and toys you use, and we like to get the toys you use--things that make the things you love--rather than things you just consume and own.

Kapla, for instance, is a very interesting toy. It's basically building blocks, beautifully proportioned slabs of wood, and you buy a box of them. I make endless constructions with them with my daughters. It's a toy that facilitates play; it isn't simply about owning it.

It's in that category with Lego, [although] Lego is definitely shifting from a toy that you use to a toy that you own. They used to be simply building blocks and now they're becoming products; they're selling all the pieces you need to make a specific toy, whereas the beauty of Lego is like having an unlimited number of toys.

Today, it's such a saturation of things--the hottest things and all that. They exhaust themselves so quickly, 45 minutes, and the thing deflates and it's over. The toys that are simply to be purchased and owned may have a novelty effect, but something like Lego basically never wears out. I still love playing with it. The best effect of having kids is being able to get Lego and building blocks!

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Kapla Building Planks are available through the Back to Basics catalog, (800) 356-5360, or http://www.toysrus.com and http://www.etoys.com, among other sources. Price: $15-$60, depending on the size of the set.

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MICHAEL MALTZAN

Architect

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The Polaroid I-Zone Instant Pocket Camera is remarkably well-designed and easy to use. The photographs are instant--you pull them out--and the film itself is small, about the size of a 35-millimeter negative. You can also get the picture in a sticky-back version so you can stick it on things. The reason I chose this is that my daughter has one, and she's just over 3 and she's completely mastered this camera. I think it has a relatively long age-life--maybe to about 8 or 9. It's a toy, but also it's a tool for kids to begin to record how they see the world. As a designer or architect, that's something I'm interested in. It also acts as a kind of communication between the kid and the parents--after the kid has taken the photograph, you discuss it. The first oeuvre my daughter took were kind of abstract landscapes [laughs], because she just started working with it. Now she's starting to take pictures of people, she's starting to take pictures of her dog; it gives her the strong impression that she's doing a very adult thing.

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