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    Designed for play.

    Designed for play.

    “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” William Morris

    During a recent conversation about Cubetto, the famous coding robot, I realised why well designed toys have much more value to them than just clean lines, tasteful paint jobs and beautiful materials. We all play a part creating the objects around us, and if toys don’t make adults feel playful what will children think?

    As another Kickstarter toy, I have been following Cubetto for a couple of years now and their Kickstarter campaign was an important reference for me.  But until I saw one behind glass at the V&A Museum: Future Starts Here exhibition last weekend I had never seen one in the flesh, and I have often wondered how much children play with it or whether it’s appeal was more for parents.

    Seeing my opportunity to learn more about the real Cubetto, I did a little digging.  I wanted to know how much use their children got out of it and whether they played with it together.  It turns out they used it frequently, but that Cubetto-time was mainly initiated by the parents and I think they felt it had been a purchase for them rather than their children.  

    I couldn’t help thinking that their obvious guilt over this buying decision, whilst understandable given the price tag, was completely unjustified. After all, why shouldn’t parents enjoy the toys have in their home as much as their children do?  

    The objects that fill a home make it and that having nice objects around makes us feel good, but I think it also goes deeper than that with parent’s enjoyment of toys being vital for their function, and it all comes back to playfulness.  

    Objects inform how we respond to them, and are brought to life by the energy people project onto them. We’ve all seen the way that some people are able to transform everyday objects into fascinating toys for children by simply animating with their imagination.  This makes observers and their emotions (whether they like it or not) an extension of design.

    But animating random objects is a skill that you may or may not have at a particular moment on a particular day.  Well designed toys not only draw children in directly, but they inspire adults to be playful, elevating them to a whole new level in the child’s eyes and validating their instinct to play.  

    This validation that has a deeper effect on a child’s emotional development, and the beauty of associating this with an object is that they will feel it being reinforced every time their urge to play leads them to it. Over time this teaches them to follow their instincts and believe in themselves.

    Whether it’s speech, walking or playing - children learn so much about their world through the observation and imitation of adults.  Most of us know that play is considered one of the best ways to learn new skills, and everytime you play with children and their toys it’s a lesson in playing that is teaching them the fundamentals of how to learn.

    Summer Update

    MURO bike with wooden toys.

    It’s been a busy June and July, building the business, working on some new partnerships and launching MUROmakers!

    Our Shopify store is now 4 months old and in June we reached double digit sales for the first time!!! Behind the scenes processes are running smoothly, initially I hadn’t realised how important the fulfilment and delivery process was but ultimately when you buy something online, primarily, you want it to arrive on time. No admin included.  

    It’s been hard work getting this process perfected.  After getting off to a bumpy start with an overcrowded new warehouse and Shopify integration issues, this 3rd iteration of the process is now flowing as it should be.

    In June, I spent a week at our Thai factory.  Firstly to develop some more products for production later this year for both MURO and an exciting collaboration with a large education supplier (more coming once the paperwork is done).

    The samples are great, the only thing I worried about is that they are currently very busy, and I’m a small fish to be fighting for my place in line.

    My second reason for being there was to shadow another toy company I’d met at the London Toy Fair in February.  They manufacture at the same factory and had invited me to observe how they monitor production. 

    I learnt a lot with them, and I'm going to help them with some online marketing things.  Collaboration at it's best!

    I rounded off July with an interview on BBC Radio Nottinghamshire, setup by the Creator Awards PR team to plug this years awards (click here to apply). I was delighted that the local show’s host was called Alan and had a head full of things I wanted to say…alas I didn’t manage to get most of it out in the heat of the situation.  But if you’re interested in how the Creator Award process helped crystallise MUROs purpose you can read about it in my previous post, Making Play.

    All things considered I’m very happy with the position I’m in at the moment.  The major challenge for the next few months are going to be driving sales, and managing the next production run.  I can’t wait!!!


    p.s. BBC radio interview available here.  I'm on from 3.06...  :)

    Making Play

    Muro blog post about making play.

    Bringing MURO to life has been an incredible journey so far.  The saying that ‘hardware is hard’ is very true, luckily for MURO, I only heard that one a few weeks ago otherwise I may have stuck to medical sales. But now that the majority of the critical elements of production and distribution are taken care of, I’m looking forward to getting back to the creative aspects of actually making MURO.

    My initial mission for this design project was to create a busy board for young children, then to creating a modular activity platform that stayed engaging for much longer than traditional wooden toys. This finally evolved to creating play.  The arrival at this final mission statement came from the insight that the heart of everything I’m trying to do is to get children to play and engage in their new physical world.

    “Play is the highest form of research” - Albert Einstein

    Putting play front and centre has helped direct design in a much more intelligent and interesting direction. It transpires the old business maxims of clear mission and purpose I used to cringe at are, in fact, completely true.

    This crucial evolution came from the intense introspection precipitated by the invitation to the WeWork Creator Award finals last August and a well timed YouTube discovery of Simon Sinek (“people don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it”). A quick Einstein quote, a well placed full stop and an empathetic pause in my presentation gave the message enough gravitas to convince the wework panel I was on to something. If I’m honest, I fell for it a bit myself too.

    Fast forward to 8 week post-award, production is finally sorted, panic over and I start to think about our new mission; play.  At this point I realise my big epiphany is an empty and fragile shell, well formed but ready to crack at the slightest scrutiny. What is play?  Why is it educational? How do you nurture it? I looked at ‘educational toys’ on the market (if you believe the hype that’s is pretty much every toy!) and found lots of claims, nice graphics advertising education qualities but very little substance.  Coming from a science background, this wasn’t good enough for me.

    At this point you’re probably (hopefully) expecting a insightful and concise explanation of my new found understanding of the educational properties of play and how that relates to MURO.  I’ve spent a lot of time over the last 10 months researching and speaking to experts, but the truth is I’m not quite there yet. I know that the type of play I want MURO to promote should be encouraging is open, incorporates owned-choice and is intrinsically motivating.  

    Watch this space, an explanation is on its way!

    MURO Makers

    Muro maker kit allows parents to add Muro plugs to anything and add it to their play centre.

    The most amazing thing which came out of MURO’s Kickstarter campaign (please excuse the smarminess) were our backers.  I was taken aback by how much people bought into and supported the project, whether that be by accepting the changes to the project or more directly, by reaching out with words of support.  

    Those of you who have been following our story will know that there have been some difficult times and a couple of points where it looked like, certainly from my position, it would never be produced. Being the emotional creature that I am that support had a massive role in getting us (me and MURO) through those stages, so thank you everyone!

    Another great thing about our backers is they are full of ideas.  One of the best promotional ideas, the MURO bike, we’ve done so far came from one of our early supporters.  Unfortunately though, a lot of these ideas have ended up being sent to my inbox to die and never get nurtured to their full potential.

    After going around and around in circles trying to solve this I’ve come back to where it all started, and the principle that MURO was founded on, that our users know best.  Rather than trying to guess what people would most like on their busy boards, we created a platform that allowed you to decide for yourself.  Now I want to embed that principle deeper in MURO by creating a platform for our user to share ideas about any aspect of both the product and business with us and with each other.

    Enter the ‘MURO Makers’ Facebook Group.

    This group will bring together the elite MURO fans and invite them to share their ideas and observations about MURO’s at the hands of children!  Ultimately MURO only exists because of you, and it’s right if it is going to carry on existing then it should do so for you.

    I can't promise that every idea will become a reality, but they will all be considered and discussed and I'm looking forward to seeing what comes out of this.

    The long road from Kickstarter to business.

    Muro duck and the official launch of products.

    MURO has been quiet on social media for a while now, but much like a downy duckling, below the surface has been a clumsy but intense drive to create the business infrastructure we need.  Clumps of downy spreadsheets are now being replaced by systems that will allow us to automate and operate (and fly)!

    Transitioning from a Kickstarter idea, to a business ready to grow is a big step.  MURO’s my baby, and the 9 months between its crowd-funded conception and delivery at the port of Folkestone did nothing to prepare me for looking after a newborn company.  It’s only now I’m able to look back at the last 3 months that I’m able to see that I was suffering from postpartum burnout, that took me as close to breaking point as I’ve ever been.

    But leaving mental health discussions to one side for now, MURO is now ready!

    In short, our remaining stock has been packaged into set in our new boxes, fulfillment has been outsourced to a company I’m satisfied have a good balance of computer driven efficiency and human being flexibility.  We have a new website up and running, with chat function and a customer service ticketing system so that we can deliver the customer experience I always envisioned we would.

    AND (drum roll….) I have an intern! That’s right, MURO has its first employee and I can now legitimately say ‘we’ without implied undertones of schizophrenia! More about Morteza to follow, but having someone else in the business is a massive relief and I’m already looking for another to work on content creation and social media, if you can think of anyone let me know!  Getting my head out of the day-to-day should allow more talk to translate into action!

    To our ‘EVERYTHING’ Kickstarter backers who were short changed by the reduced number of toys, we’re currently planning another production run which will be complete later in the year.  As part of this there will be approximately another 5 toys, which you’ll all receive more details to follow but I'm confident you'll think it's a good deal.

    Finally, I’ve spoken about MUROmembers a couple of times but I wanted to wait until I had a clearer idea of what it was before going into any more detail.  I’m excited to say it’s pretty much there and I plan to share the idea next week (probably Wednesday). All I’ll say for now is it’s had a name change….it’s now going to be called either Making MURO or MURO Makers.

    Until then, have a great weekend!