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Design For Real Children

Times have changed.  Children are not only raised in split homes, but born into them.  One designer thinks this needs to be better considered when designing for children.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 15-09-2011

A traditional nuclear family can no longer be called the norm.  Divorce, gay couples, and platonic friends who arrange to have a chiid are all thriving around us.

Designer and ArtEZ graduate, Marloe Bakx researched this social change and how it might impact on the objects parents surround their kids with.

“My parents are not separated, fortunately,” Bakx says, “but I see a lot of separated families around me. On weekends they have to be at home because ‘that’s when they have the kids’. I'm fascinated by such changing relations because most of the time people are not aware that their behaviour is changing. I think it's the role of a designer to be conscious of this so they can react.  Designing is not just about making aesthetic products.”

To make it clearer, Bakx self-published a forecast magazine about the life of children and their parents.

“The themes I explore in it are not short-term trends like the color purple for winter 2010,” Bakx says.  “I think it is more about little changes that creep up over time. Things like papa-day and how grandparents playing a larger role meaning children are absorbing values form different generations.  Also it is interesting to observe how children react differently to their separated parents - they support their parents when they have problems and they have a bigger influence over their parents’ purchasing decisions.”

The magazine forms the base of her two collections; one of toys and the other a series of children’s backpacks titled "Home is the place you left".

From talking to parents Bakx concluded that children have become an accessory or an extension of an adults’ life.  Busy, single parents have not got the time or space to compartmentalize private from public.  Children “play” with their parents, eat and possibly even sleep with them.  Children hang out with their parents’ friends almost making it difficult to distinguish between their lifestyles.

“In the past, toys were often ugly, plastic and irritating objects that 'break' the interior,” Bakx says.  “I asked myself how playing could evolve in the future given these sorts of changing social patterns.”

Her answer was to design a set of toys, which look fun and usable, but also blend in well with a designed interior.  “In this way, parents can keep the interior clean and styled without trying to hide their children’s toys away in boxes,” Bakx says.

The toys can be used as showpieces in a home and bring joy to children. “I see it is a great compromise,” Bakx says.

Her range of backpacks are designed with a similar mentality.  Bakx’s research shows that more children are not just living in separated situations but are born into them.  Children travel a lot between their guardians.  

“I used the life of a nomad as a sort of metaphor,” Bakx says.

One backpack has a hood on it, and an iPad holder, so the child can create his own world. Like a nomads’ bag, the backpacks all carry a stuffed animal.  The design is classic and even a little bit nostalgic.

“Again I’d say the aesthetic is a compromise between what I think the parents would like and what children like.”

Bakx’s work will be exhibited during the upcoming Inside Design Amsterdam.

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