Sunday, May 16, 2010

Connect by Ken Garland for Galt

Go down the aisle of a Toys R Us shop today and your senses are assaulted by sequence of brightly coloured and somewhat garish plastic toys competing for your attention. Many have a quirky charm displaying something of a mutoid imagination at work but few would be seen as works of modern design. Yet for a period in the 60s two of Britain leading toy makers Galt and Abbatt produced games, puzzles and jigsaws, which, in ways are perfect examples of high modernism. The best of these modernist toys is Connect designed by Ken Garland for Galt in 1969. Garland and Associates is a firm of graphic designers and they were originally asked to redesign Galt packaging and brochures. This Garland did with aplomb using what by today’s standards would be considered very muted tones and fonts. 

Having designed the packaging Garland and Associates moved on to designing the some of the Galt toys themselves bringing contemporary 1960s graphic design values to the toys and a particular emphasis upon spatialization and sequencing and repetition.
Connect best embodies this; comprised of 140 cards each with red, blue and black lines the game involves linking up the cards in style that owes something to dominos to create extended patterns that look for all the world like some minimalist artwork by Sol Lewitt or even in some ways Mondrian.  
The game was designed to be played on the floor and to weave around household furniture and other objects.  With its stark simplicity a whole generation of children where unbeknownst to them engaging in an early course in graphic design principles.
The rights to Connect were later licensed by the German toymaker Ravensburger and renamed Rivers, Roads & Rails. Unfortunately whilst the game still employs the same underlying principle the simple colored lines have been replaced by representational drawings and so loose its graphic simplicity and abstract edge.  


Steven Ball said...

I vaguely remember this, but it does suggest a time when class divisions extend to children's toys (are there contemporary examples of this?). Which is sort of to say that I think "a whole generation of children where unbeknownst to them engaging in an early course in graphic design principles" might be a bit of an overstatement, I suspect that these toys would have been bought by more middle/'cultured'/creative class parents.

Philip Sanderson said...

Well Galt were (and indeed are) a mass toy manufacturer and Connect was a best seller. So I'm not sure this was as middle class as you might think. Abbatt were more niche with their toy shop designed by Goldfinger but even then their space/climbing frame became the model for most every frame in every playground.

Steven Ball said...

OK, that's interesting, I guess this also coincides with the height of Conran's popularisation of domestic modernism in Habitat.