Zoe Miller and David Goodman are two designers who live and work in Brighton (UK). After producing a series of children's books for the Tate Gallery in London, in 2008 they founded their brand MillerGoodman. Miller and Goodman are interested in exploring the intersection between modern art and objects for children. They are driven by the art of play and encouraging imagination. Using the creative and often abstract world of the child as a basis for their designs, they developed a very distinctive and original graphic style. Their wooden toys have simple shapes and undefined forms and patterns that encourage and engage children to play again and again. Shapemaker, their first design, is a set of 25 colourful, geometric, hand printed and crafted, environmentally friendly hardwood blocks made of sustainable rubber wood. The blocks can be endlessly arranged to form all sorts of creatures, faces, animals and other surprising shapes. It is very admirable how MillerGoodman managed to change a simple (and familiar) type of puzzle into an exiting, adventurous and endless play which undoubtly not only spark the imagination of children but also that of the parents.
The life of kids is not all pink elephants and fluffy rabbits. That is one of the reasons why Donna Wilson’s Creatures are so great. She started making long legged dolls made out of recycled sweaters while studying Mixed Media Textiles at The Royal College of Art in London. After graduation she started thinking about ways to make more unconventional dolls. She was inspired by the way children draw. Two, three or six eyes, three legs, four arms; it doesn't matter to them if things are ‘correct’, like they are in real life. Donna Wilson used this spontaneity and freedom to design knitted creatures, each with their own peculiar character, like Edd Red Head, Angry Ginger and Peggy Long Legs. They are all made by hand, knitting the panels on a domestic knitting machine out of soft lambswool, which is felted, cut and sewn into shapes and then hand-embroidered and stuffed.
For us, both graduated in Fine Arts at The Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, it is very inspiring to see how an artist built a successful business while still staying true to herself. She created a strange colourful imaginative world, in which imperfectness, fear and anger, are just as present as adventure, sweetness and happiness. How children try to relate to the world is much more complex then we sometimes might think; it includes all sorts of monsters. With her Creatures Donna Wilson gives a beautiful expression to the inner life of children.
In the 1960’s German toy designer Renate Müller attended Sonneberg’s Polytechnic for Toy Design. There, lessons about the Bauhaus and Friedrich Fröbel’s (1782-1852) pioneering ideas on childhood education taught her to always use simple materials and simple forms, for the best understanding of children. Encouraged by her teacher Helene Haeusler she started to design hand-crafted toys that could be used therapeutically by children with physical and mental disabilities. Müller created large stuffed animals –alligators, rhinos, elephants, hippos, seals - made of jute with coloured leather accents. These animals were used to enhance orthopedic exercises and balance coordination, as well as for sensory stimulation and hand-eye coordination. They debuted at the 1967 Leipzig Trade Fair and were tested (and deemed successful) by German psychiatric hospitals and clinics.
Designed to lead a hard life, to be actively played with and climbed on by children, the big animals are essentially pieces of furniture. They have an internal wood structure and they are stuffed with “wood wool” (fresh wood shavings).
The combination of pedagogical value with a recognisable aesthetics of simple solid shapes and colours and appealing contrasting textures make Muller’s animals very attractive.