Approach to Design

Designing open-ended toys for children is a complex and challenging endeavor. It involves a number of factors, including a knowledge of the history of toys, an understanding of child development and the interest of young children, close observation of children in a variety of settings, information on new materials that are appropriate to specific design concepts, and material safety standards.

Every design idea builds on or is derived from a previous one. Although there have been innovations in materials and technology over the centuries, the early developmental sequence and strategies in which children build and construct have remained relatively constant. The introduction of digital technology for young children presents new questions and challenges for me as a designer of physical, three-dimensional play objects.

My background as an artist, early childhood educator, and toy historian has informed my designs and rational for these toys, in addition to provoking many questions about the relationship between children, art, play, and creativity. The importance of open-ended play as a generative experience and rich source for fantasy and form-making is ever present in my work. I continue to be inspired by observing and listening to the “players”: What materials are intriguing and why? What combinations of materials stimulate the imagination or the “what if” question? Even now I struggle with the question of whether toys are even necessary and, if so, how they compare with playing with stones and shells and dirt and sand and water and cardboard boxes. I observe my seven-month-old granddaughter’s passion for cloth tags, buckles, and the sound and feel of squishing paper and I rethink again.


Toys may not be necessary for a contented and stimulating childhood, but my passion to design play objects is necessary for me. It became a stand-in, a substitute for my “art-making.” I pass on part of the responsibility and the opportunity, the pleasure and the anxiety of “art making” to the receiver — to the player. I give them a start and the players take it from there.

I see my play objects closely related to “interactive art,” an art movement with a rich history in the 20th and 21st century. My early work, the motorized construction with moving discs (1962-68), is part of this tradition. I am curious to understand where my work fits in the continuum of interactive art, multiples, and play objects and how this interface may continue to provoke new ideas.