I have always been interested in the way that various building toy manufacturers (both historical and contemporary) have presented their blocks or “loose parts” in a box. Some sets, accompanied by extensive manuals or drawings, show how to construct specific buildings or models while other sets are more open-ended, letting the blocks speak for themselves.  The blocks may be the same – the approach and rationale is different.

Alex  Gilliam, a National Building Museum Fellow, talks about this in an article in Metropolis Magazine.  (I have also been following his fascinating blog on his research in the National Building Museum’s extensive collection of over two thousand building toys.)

“One of my favorites is Dr. Richter’s Anchor Stones and the instructions that come with them. This is a rare example of a building toy manufacturer using storytelling and supportive drawings to create a compelling, immersive experience that is akin to a video game.” (Full article at bottom of page).

I often wonder about the rationale for putting specific images on the packaging or explanation sheets. I have struggled with this question when I originally designed the packaging for our toys twenty years ago and I am still stymied. How do you communicate to the adult buyer that they and their child can let loose and create anything they want with these pieces of wood. I thought the answer was obvious so our first packaging had an image of the block set in its box. I thought that was enough. The second version had six pictures of the blocks in various configurations – and some people said “oh, is that all you can do with them?”   Our latest solution, mentioned in my previous blog, is the Quick Flicks.  At least this seemed more in tuned with the nature of the building process – not fixed, always changing, always another possibility.

I realize that the interest in constructing from images or diagrams of buildings is also a factor of age. Older children enjoy the challenge of translating a specific and often complex two-dimensional image into a three-dimensional form.  The reverse is also interesting, even for four year olds. How can I make a drawing of my building? How can I remember my building after it falls down?


More on Alex Gillum’s “Construction Toys Make Better Boys”:
Alex Gillium Blog: