Awareness Toys


Awareness Toys are a collection of 6 wooden toys designed to allow adult people to benefit from the game in a Wellness-by-play perspective. They have been presented lately at Games For Health Europe conference in Eindhoven and featured on the ADI Design Index 2019. The belief that playing can be good for your health, or your well-being, has become an educational bet that offers the player, in this case the prisoner, a path of personal growth through a physical object. A toy therefore that becomes a mediator through which to explore oneself and the relationship with the other, to weigh, to focus on aspects of one’s emotional life, one’s own balances and one’s own mental processes. Physical mediators that make concrete such concepts like instability, loss and void.

The project was born in 2015 from the will of TOY design and its founder Fabio Guaricci, to try to give a follow-up to the educational processes to which he had the opportunity to assist, that is to say the ones around rehabilitation educational processes on addictions (play, drugs, alcool, etc…). The meeting of design with the educational practice has been the bearer of a lot of energy that gave rise to the first collection of toys for adults on this theme.

Addictions are often seen as phenomenon relegated to certain clusters of population but, in fact, in all its variables it affects almost the totality of people. Let’s think at love addiction, gambling addiction, smoke and alcool addiction. On the other hand play is still seen from the majority of people as something exclusively for kids, so the play for the adult becomes “the exception” and becomes not only something personal but also “intimate”. In this sense we have tried to support the adult’s personal research but also the possibility to show it, represent it, make it tangible and shareable.

The reasons why Fabio has decided to focus on the design of toys for adults are more than one. The first is that his design approach has always been Humanistic, meaning by that an attention and closeness to the human as a living condition. The adult, differently from the child, has few occasions to play and, maybe for this reason, along the years, strive for being less and less open to the discovery, to welcome it, to live life creatively no matter the context. A life in which he/she could “keep on moving”, listening him/herself, searching for balancing. The other reason is that, after a teaching experience of a few years in the secondary school to observe the dynamics of pre-teens, Fabio has found that a lot, if not all, depends on what kids learn from their parents. Here comes the belief that making the adult play can have its importance, its dignity.

The Story

The interdisciplinary approach typical of TOY, the desire to use design as a discipline that connects worlds, as a connective tissue, allowed the toy project to address an unusual user, the adult, focusing on specific themes related to his age, that is on the subject of personal care and health protection. So in mid 2015 we have involved Dario Gianoli, a professional educator trained in generative psychopedagogy. This meeting enriched and perfected the toy concepts with a more precise focus on educational dynamics, improving the educational potential.

We realized that the first concepts that were born immediately became common language first of all between designer and educator, even before that between educator and prisoner. Thanks to this “educational format”, above all material, it has been possible to validate, enrich and structure the mode of use of these objects that is still evolving.

The Collection

Awareness Toys look like simple wooden toys with elementary shapes, plain and reassuring colors, that soon put the player at ease.The playful identity thus constitutes a first level of fruition, while a second level is their metaphorical meaning. Game mechanisms represent mental processes visible only with the “awareness” of an adult. The metaphor has always been used in the art world for its universal evocative power and together for its harmlessness: anyone is able to have access to it but also to stay at a certain distance from it. The simple mechanics of the game thus becomes a metaphor for the complex mechanics of the mind.  Each can identify himself in the avatar of the game, which is always a Smile, and it is from this identification that can occur the educational dynamics, mediated by the professional educator.

The Emotional Necklace is a 2 players game that makes each one learn how to get acquainted with emotions, understanding the relationship among them and between his/her emotions and other’s. The 8 main emotions (happiness, sorrow, anger, fear, acceptance, boredom, astonishment and disgust) are shown as emoticon on wooden spheres. Thanks to a hole each of them can be tuck in a thread following a deliberate sequence. The first player starts with a present or past emotion/memory and the other player is asked to react to that emotion/memory with another one. The sequence and the fact that players have to choose among still-available emotions is the metaphor of the motus of emotions. The player might realize that minor emotions have dignity and can be felt as major ones. They are all interlinked and move continuously.

Smile in Pieces is a game about one of the most difficult yet crucial emotional topics, often reason of suffering as much as a forerunner of self-destructive behaviors. Absence is perceived as a constant status, as something strictly ingrained in human condition; therefore it is perceived as something to learn to live with, in peace. The loving dynamic has been chosen as the main absence object thanks to its universal nature. Love is the only thing able to make us feel complete and to fil that sense of emptiness. As a downside, we develop an addiction to it. Love blocks the Smile from rolling free on the plane but nevertheless feels good. When there is any kind of breakup, in fact, that emptiness shows up again and again, stronger than before. So we might feel in need to fill it, even with an artificial, unauthentic or illusionary thing, that, just like love, make us addicted and harmless. But in case of artificial addictions the consolatory effect is not something that lasts, it ends very quickly and nevertheless it blocks the Smile from rolling.

The Altered Labyrinth is a 2 players game related to the concept of logic thinking. Games can happen thanks to 3 main things:  a goal, a chance and rules. But what if players could take turns and establish other player’s rules of the game? The task is simple: bring the Smile out of the maze. But be careful because there is a hidden difficulty: the square in the middle of the maze has hidden magnets that make the Smile loose control and be kind of stuck. It’s very easy to be tempted to reach the exit through the square but this shortcut is actually a trap. The only way to resume playing is to manually take the ball out or through it, as metaphor for a strong will. Now the game can continue accepting the fact that there are no shortcuts but only acceptance of the continuous trial and error.

Mirror with Frame explores the need of change each of us experiences during life. When we face traumatic or extremely delicate events, the pieces composing the mirror where we see our image might brake. In these cases a frame is what gives us the feeling that these parts are still together, that we can still recognize ourself. The frame acts like a glue, giving us the impression that our image is still the one we remember. What the game shows is that once the frame is removed we meet something we didn’t expect: the empty space. Emptiness is free space where those 5 parts of ourself, our Smile and our top 4 important things in life, can be related, move and take other forms. The frame represents the nullification of change, like knotting ourself to something that feels comfortable until we realize it’s putting our identity, changing by nature, in a trap.

The Oscillating Board has been carved with a wavy path on an unsteady board; this toy has the aim to show the relevance of balancing hyper-active and relax behaviors. Those opposites, represented by the red area for hyper-activity and the blue area for the relax, go through all of the route. Indeed, the plane swings along the short side, in a way that, without a direct control applied by the player, it would stay inclined by one side all the time. Only applying his discipline over the rocking plane, the player can make the Smile keep moving through the path, without being stuck in a position. Furthermore, the ball can easily escape the aisle, so the player also has to exercise slackening the run, to prevent it from falling. As only a dynamic situation can lead to a change, in the same way swing is the only way for the Smile to be able to finish the designated path.

The Dynamic Balancing set allows the player to sensory explore the theme of change. It comes in the shape of a construction kit made of spheres of different colors/sizes and arms of different lengths. The Smile is suspended on a sharp brass pin and can remain balanced only if the player inserts at least three sticks together with three spheres. Doing that, he is choosing some colors, arbitrarily corresponding to love or family, friendship, money, work, and so on… The sphere size stands for the importance of that particular issue in that moment. The length of the stick represents the distance he feels from that particular issue. For example, if one decides to represent love with a red big sphere (meaning that it is crucial in this moment), but linking it with a long stick, it is possible that he feels love as something needed but far at the same time (physically or emotionally). Each issue, that is present in his life in its own way, has to come together in its preferred shape to make the Smile find a balance to remain in equilibrium on the brass pin. This research toy is all about finding which is, for each subject, the right compromise to find a balance, and understanding how even small changes in our life lead to a certain amount of time needed to find a new equilibrium. Each issue can change its size, weight and distance from us; it can even suddenly disappear. The balance is always temporary, it is always mutating; that is why it needs a continue research that never comes to an end.

The Communication Project

The photographic campaign follows the idea of making clear and visible the concepts of awareness and incognizance, respectively the wooled threads and the smoke. Smoke, in particular, is that matter each subject emerges and comes from in unconsciousness. Beyond it, there are the threads that interweave creating ovals, surfaces, horizons, the life matters we manage to catch, realize, organize. The toy becomes a mean, a tool and co-player actively taking action, sometimes complementing, sometimes guiding, sometimes surrounding the player.

The photographic campaign has been realized in Spazio 36, a photographic and cinematographic production based in Milan, has enabled the project to bring the educational vision in an artistic visual field and in the photographic representation. The art direction has been led with Daniel Patelli, founder of Spazio36. TOY and Spazio36 share the same vision about the commitment in producing valuable projects, with a social, cultural and artistic background with the strong belief that bringing beauty in each and any field is an act of love for the entire world. And it is in this world that this project wants to have a meaning, contributing to lay the first stones for the construction of a more conscious society and careful for people’s needs.

TOY Projects





This has been the challenge of the Mini-Vehicles collection by Hape. Bamboo is said to be “the wood of the future” because it grows really fast, just like giant grass. And its fibers, put together, are as strong as wood. The point is: making bamboo part of a mass production is not an easy task because the natural shape is very variable. This is why to design integrating such element needs to set (and select in production) certain diameters so plastic can really be part of it. This is the technical challenge and the result is a collection that stands far from plastic vehicles as usual.

The toy plane came before the Mini Helicopter and the design process took start from the heritage of the Mini Vehicles collection. This is a set of vehicles that is in between a retro and sporty look. I wanted to make the mini plane be of course part of the family but at the same time I wanted to streamline it and make it look dynamic.

The plastic top part is the one of wings and top of the airplane body, the bottom part supports wheels and exhaust pipes. The two perfectly fit together and are connected through holes in the bamboo with plastic pins.The 3D modeling was very fun and at the same was a very technical task because I had to make sure that parts would fit and get out of the mold effortlessly thanks to draft angles.

Client: Hape International

TOY Projects





This has been the challenge of the Mini-Vehicles collection by Hape. Bamboo is said to be “the wood of the future” because it grows really fast, just like giant grass. And its fibers, put together, are as strong as wood. The point is: working it is not an easy business because the cylindrical shape is very variable, so why not to select the diameter of sticks in order to use it for mass production? This is what this collection is about and it was very exciting to ride on the challenge of making bamboo and plastic work together.

There are many little stories about the design of this toy. One of these is that when I was asked to design an helicopter for this collection I realized that I literally falled in love with helicopters, especially the small ones with a big cabin and an essential structure that make them look like flyes. I was particularly inspired by mosquito helicopters so I wanted the toy helicopter to grab this imaginary and at the same time look dynamic and organic with bamboo.

The top plastic part represents the engine, part of the tail, a good part of the cabin and the support for the blades, the bottom part supports the rest of the cabin and the three wheels. As for the Mini Plane the 3D modeling was very fun and at the same was a very technical task because I had to make sure that parts would fit and get out of the mold effortlessly thanks to draft angles.

Client: Hape International

TOY Projects

Shark Fishery



Shark Fishery is one of my favorite bamboo toys I have designed because it takes inspiration from a toy I used to play a lot as a child, Frog Fishing. This last one used magnets for the fishing. The brief was just “create a bamboo toy” so the question for me was “how to exploit the natural pipe shape of bamboo in a cute and cost-efficient way?”. I concentrated on designing a character that would employ the least cuts in order to create it and it was not affected necessarily by the diameter of the bamboo (issue much more important in the Helicopter and the Plane where plastic parts and bamboo had to match precisely).

It happened kind of naturally to imagine an open mouth and at that point sharks came to life, with their eyes and gills. For the fishing I designed wooden fishing canes with hooks attached to a rope. Have fun!

Client: Hape International

TOY Projects

Quadrilla Space City



The Hape marble run line named Quadrilla is a must: great quality wood, great play value, great mix of constructive game and activity at once. All features that make also the toy be not cheap though. And if we consider marble runs made of plastic, those ones are not only cheaper but often more attractive to 6-10 yo kids. So, it was quite a challenge and likely necessary to rethink the line finding a new strategies. Not only in the direction of a new appearance and a new and extended play experience, but also in the direction of opening to more affordable SKUs that in this case have gone in the direction of graphics and storytelling.

I had the pleasure to work with the Hape design office in Milan for this redesign and strategy project that led to new playsets. We would not change the essence of the toy but, in fact, give a new flair or look making at the same time a commercial operation that made sense on the business side. We soon came up with the concept of removable stickers, an idea that led to the possibility to customize actually any Quadrilla playset into something else. From stickers we conceived accessories made out of thin polypropylene foils, as well as new special wooden and plastic parts. From this project came out the playset named Quadrilla Space City and the Quadrilla Medieval Quest.

Quadrilla Space City playset
Quadrilla Medieval Quest playset

Client: Hape International

TOY Projects



virtual made physical

has digital really become the “new standard” for storing?

It is a matter of fact that words like “folder” or “archive”, or even verbs like “drag”, “send”, and so on.. have broadened their original meaning to the digital world. There was a time when mouses did not have right-bottons and did not have the power to create folders, stores did not sell apps but milk and we were dragging sleds instead of icons.

What Zygmunt Bauman calls the “liquid world” seems suddenly make sense while I witness this process of virtualization of the physical world. Things that make sense in our life are more and more growing in number and complexity, and they also has to flow fast. This is why making things virtual is kind of handy. Until the point we realize that we keep spending more and more time in virtual spaces, rather than real, and this can be also frustrating if the escape from reality is not the intention.

New Folder turns the process the other way around, making concrete something typically peculiar of a virtual interface. Virtual and real issues contaminate each other in one object. The folder is back an object that is touchable and visible into the real world, yet light and transparent. In fact its body is made of PMMA and it is portraying a “new folder” icon with a 4 colours silk-screen printing. As a monitor does, the 3 folder formats (A4, A3 and A2) give room to a different number of pixels, making the printed image sharper with growing dimensions.

Client: Lettera G

TOY Projects





When I think at most of the bookshelves and magazine rack I find that many of them try to integrate and thus be versatile to many diverse interiors. This makes most of the times them not-intrusive, sometimes minimal, very often neutral. The idea is “the content is what matters”. Ok, but what about the books and magazines we do not want to put in that whole mass of pages remained abandoned for years? Where to keep those special pages close? And how can we revert the concept that a bookshelf is like one another?

Well, Home Pets were born to take care of people’s most beloved books and magazines. They do not “live in the house” but literally “live the house” because they can be easily moved around to be placed where you need them to be. Beside the couch they give company while watching TV and quietly whisper “read.. read.. read…” As bedside cabinets they seem to play at “wife and husband” while they are at the opposite sides of the bed. Despite real pets they are very docile, they do not foul, do not eat the carpets and even do not scratch the furniture. Instead they take care of those precious pages within the fluorescent folds of their acrylic evanescent coats.

The sentimental dynamics is purposed to make the product grow in personal relation with the customer, thus increasing the lifecycle of the product and resulting in a more sustainable product. Whenever Home Pets will need to be recycled (and I hope users will be more inclined to recover them rather than dismiss) the design for disassembly will help to separate each different material that have been used, plastics from metals, with mechanical joints that can be easily removed.

TOY Projects




what would kids do if we give the chance to build their own city?

Metroquadro is a cross-category toy, between a free composition toy and a city planning game with a strong focus on developing cooperative design and relational skills. We keep listening “there is so much to learn from kids..”. Well, this toy gives kids the chance to build their own ideal city and adults to witness kids doing it. Metroquadro means “Square Meter” in italian, and within this each player can take part actively in the construction, sometimes individually, sometimes participating with other players, meeting not only other’s needs but also their own power to influence the environment, dealing with potential effects of their choices on others, deciding where green will be, integrated with architecture or in green areas.

It can be played by 1 to 4 kids 7 years old and up, with growing levels of construction possibilities and interaction rates. Each game starts from the blank cotton towel, placing felt green areas. Usually kids first build their own house, just the way they like it: short, tall, square, with garden in the middle, on the top, all around.. and so on. Then they begin to connect with the environment, and of course with other players by placing roads and cooperating in the construction of common-purpose buildings (e.g. museum, hospital, railway station, etc..).

The design of the blocks has the objective of representing the look of contemporary buildings and skyscrapers. Each block has precise proportions and modularity rules so they can interact with each other in the composition, sometimes even stack with each other, and keep a constant scale rate. So once the city is built kids can experience an immersive view of the city, feeling like in an helicopter, feeling big, powerful, proud of what they did.

Client: Milaniwood

TOY Projects



A TOY in daily life

how can we make adults love toys and even play with them?

When I think at the stereotype of a “toy” I see colourful, cute, character-like objects. Something I would probably define even “childish” or “kiddy”. Of course adults love them and most find them even attractive, but what happens when guests are coming home? Well, it looks like adults are more likely to hide toys, considering them something like ad “educational device”, not integrated with the furniture, certainly not something that is nice to show.

But why is that so important for a toy to be attractive for adults too? First, think about the last time you gave yourself a chance to play and, surprisingly, thought “Hey, that’s fun!”. Well, this is probably because we are said that “adults have to work, not to play”. So sometimes adults really forget about playing for ages, and, even worse, play itself is even considered something “childish”. Second, if adults are not willing to play, what about the extra learning-value of kids playing with adults?

Shanghai is a hybrid object that changes its function depending on the intention of the user. As a toy it is a traditional chinese game, very easy rules, it requires concentration and very good fine motor skills. When it is not played, its wooden ring allows to compose its sticks to form a furniture accessory similar to a bunch of flowers. It comes in two colour palettes, a warm and a cold one.

Client: Milaniwood