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 Unfortunately whilst the game still employs the same underlying principle the simple colored lines have been replaced by representational drawings and so loose its graphic simplicity and abstract edge.