There may be no greater instance of living in the present moment than in childhood when we are free to create and imagine as we please. “We should support children in exploring who they might be, and how they will exist in the world,” explains revered designer Cas Holman. So, how can we go about achieving this? Much of the answer, according to Cas, lies in unstructured play.
Plus: What was the first toy you created? Are there specific designs/ works that you created in the past that are significant to you and your career?
Cas Holman: Really the first toy I created was when I was 3 or 4 years old making things to play with from junk I found or things my Mom gave me to glue together. As a professional, Geemo was the first toy, and continues to be significant in that much of the research and thinking that went into it is has guided the work I’ve done since. My experience and exposure to the vast community of people thinking about the culture of childhood, play, and our collective values around both have grown exponentially. Collaborating and being influenced by colleagues coming from other disciplines has helped my thinking evolve and made my designs much richer. But something about Geemo still resonates.
P: Your toys inspire kids to be innovative and the kids inspire you to stay creative. How do these two factors play upon each other?
CH: Children are instinctive designers. I try to give them tools to design with. It’s important to me that they understand they have agency, and direct their own play and making. That translates to control over their imagination. They invent the game they play, they imagine the story they enact in their pretend play.
P: What message (if applies) do you try to give and put into your work?
CH: Childhood is a time of curiosity, exploration, and discovery- about the world and ourselves. As adults and designers, we should support children in exploring and discovering who they might be and how they will exist in the world, not tell them who they should be based on socialized norms and our own discomfort with the unfamiliar, unknown, and difference.
P: The younger generation is increasingly interacting with mobile devices from a very young age and spending more time indoors. Do you think this will impact the interest in physical objects for kids?
CH: I think it has an impact on their habits with what they play with- for example, if the digital toy is more available than craft supplies or building toys, then they will automatically go to that. I hear from a lot of parents who also admit that digital toys don’t require cleaning up, and the parent can be doing other things while the child plays on the iPad. So it impacts inter-generational play as well. It’s human nature to go with what’s “easy” even when it’s not good for us. Not all digital toys are junk food, but it’s a decent analogy; quick, easy, delicious in a short-term, unfulfilling way, and ultimately pretty bad for us all.
P: Your designs are one of a kind and it has broken the rules of the means (commonality and popularity) of toys in the market. Can you please share stories, obstacles, or processes that became who you are at this current moment?
CH: From a young age I became comfortable not fitting in, not following rules around social norms that made no sense to me. This impacts how I exist as a designer, professor, and entrepreneur in that I instinctively make up my own way to do things- while learning from examples around me and precedents that came before me of course. But I never assume things are as they need to be.
P: Being innovative and staying creative can take an act of huge courage. One might have a great idea, but without execution, it doesn’t get to shine. That being said, what made you heart-driven throughout your journey, and what does ‘being courageous’ mean to you?
CH: It’s taken 15 years for the connection between who I am- and what I do- to be as visible and explicit as it is now. I’ve always been a queer, feminist artist and designer, but recently the interconnectedness of my identity and the value of that perspective in design has been recognized and gained attention in a way that is new. I can’t say that I was ever aware of being courageous in the process, but it takes constant work to be true to yourself when working as an outsider.