Movers & Shakers

Design: Toys of the future

Interview with Stefan Diez
Header_Toys design of the future

Spielwarenmesse:

Mr Diez, you have three children, so you must be an expert when it comes to toys. The obvious question is: what makes for a good toy in your opinion?

Stefan Diez
Stefan Diez runs his design studio in Munich.

Stefan Dietz:

For me, a good toy is one that is not the finished article, in as much as possible, but instead inspires and can be transformed and rebuilt. Good toys really trigger anticipation in children, and perhaps adults as well.

What is challenging about toy design? Is it the integration of microelectronics?

Stefan Diez:

One problem with integrating electronics is their short half-life. The minute you incorporate control electronics, a toy has a much shorter lifespan. It’s a similar story with software. In our work in the studio, we try to separate hardware and software or integrate the electronics in such a way that everything can be separated and updated again and again if at all possible.

Stefan Diez

Something I notice time and again with toys is that there is too much forethought.

Stefan Diez

It’s not the electronics themselves that are the problem, therefore, but the design?

Stefan Diez:

I think it’s important that electronics find their way into toys. Toys have always had a role in preparing children for life through play. Precisely because toys have no function per se and are an end in themselves, we are able to revel in them, daydream with them and use our imagination. Taking electronics out of the equation would be almost reactionary in my view. However, I’ve not yet seen many examples where their integration has worked well.

Toys are subject to fashions and trends. Designers think in categories such as timeless and long-lasting. Given this, why are toys relevant to you?

Bird house made of two bent plywood strips.
Bird house made of two bent plywood strips.

Stefan Diez:

At the university, we select topics on the basis of whether they are interesting and relevant, rather than easily digestible by the media. There is a powerful link between toys and people. As I mentioned, toys are objects that help to prepare us for life. They actually have quite an important role in this regard. Today, we’ve got the matter of digitalisation, the Internet of Things. The product world is changing. I believe it will be very exciting to see how the young generation of designers considers the role of play in the future, the “how” and “where” questions in relation to this. And, especially, how toys might look as a result.

Paring everything back, there are a few basic ways in which we play. What are you hoping to elicit from this topic that has not been said before?

Vogelhäusl by Stefan Diez
Vogelhäusl by Stefan Diez for SZ magazine.

Stefan Diez:

You’re right, but I think that these are overriding principles and I am not questioning them at all. The most important point is that the tools have changed as a result of digitalisation. A generation, and I include myself in this, has grown up with computers. But that has involved looking at a screen that is trying to model a virtual reality in two dimensions, a world that you need a keyboard, mouse and joystick to navigate. We are increasingly moving away from this. Interfaces are becoming more diverse because sensors, transmitters and network components are increasingly miniaturised, batteries are lasting longer and computers are getting faster. That is why I believe that things are going to change radically at the input and operating level when it comes to toys. And, of course, we must not forget that our societies have also changed. Just think about the outdated role models that could also be revised from the cradle through the right toys. I expect there will be big surprises in our findings.

Stefan Diez

Toys should actually just light a spark in children from which they can then unleash their imagination so that they are empowered to achieve something on their own.

Stefan Diez

What role does the aspect of preparation for life play in the project?

Stefan Diez:

We are particularly interested in the topic of learning. If we assume that we have an instinct to play and that this has been so important throughout our evolutionary history that it has asserted itself this strongly, it is also worth considering the extent to which there might be a role for play in adult learning. All the more so if lifelong learning is expected of us.

Gamification has been a trend for years!

Stefan Diez:

That’s certainly an interesting point. The coronavirus is sure to have an impact as well. I think the pandemic has opened many people’s eyes to the possibilities that digitalisation holds. But the technology has also been shown to have its shortcomings, particularly when it comes to societal and social aspects. At least that’s where I see starting points and opportunities.

Mr Diez, thank you for speaking with us.

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