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An open letter to lovers of instruction booklets

An open letter to lovers of instruction booklets

By Assaf

February 2021

Dear Friends,

I read an alarming article the other day.

In it, Gail Cornwall, a writer who specializes in writing about education and parenting, traces the rising attack on children’s autonomy through increasingly controlling parenting models. She writes, “In recent decades, constantly monitoring and directing kids, or scheduling them to be monitored and directed, not only became the norm for parents who can afford it, but the model of parenting. Indeed, research indicates parents across the class spectrum now consider it the ideal way to parent.”

But what are the costs of this trend? The list is long.

First off, research shows that it increases a sense of helplessness and decreases the growth of agency and resilience. Helicopter parenting has also been linked to depression, anxiety, and lower levels of self-advocacy. 

Now, I’m not a trained expert in parenting, but I have spent over two decades teaching design, working in the toy industry, and developing a philosophy around play.

I can say with complete and unequivocal confidence: attempting to control children’s play is not only counter-productive, but actually damaging to creativity. 

Why? Simply put, children are better positioned to be the masters and guiders of play than we are. When we, as adults, try to control what they do, we are superimposing our much more rigid, limited way of thinking on them. We are doing them a disservice.

You may be asking at this point, what does this have to do with instruction booklets?

Basically, we don’t believe in traditional instruction booklets. Too often, instruction booklets are simply a way for adults to push their way of thinking onto children. However, we received some feedback over the holidays, in which some parents wished Clixo came with more intensive instructions, and so I decided to write an open letter to all you skeptics out there.

The question I would like us to begin with is: “Why do you wish there was an instruction booklet?”

I won’t pretend to know your exact reasoning, but I bet it falls under the following kind of logic. You might think that it’s cheap or lazy to not give children guidance on a toy you just bought. In the absence of extensive instructions, the weight will fall on your shoulders to tell them what to do with it, and isn’t the whole point of a toy that it makes your job as a parent easier, not more difficult?

Let me assure you, the minimalist booklet that comes with Clixo is very intentional, and serves a specific purpose.

As you can see above, it’s not that Clixo arrives with nothing, but that we have very intentionally provided just enough guidance to kickstart creativity, but not so much as to control it. 

One of the core design elements of Clixo is that it is an intuitive toy. We went through over a thousand prototypes to find a base shape that signals in a very obvious way how to connect Clixo pieces to themselves and other pieces. This does enormous work to lower the barrier of entry for children. Instead of unwrapping a complex set of pieces that require forethought, reading, and ‘understanding’ in order to begin, children can jump right into creating. 

This allows them to follow their creative intuition, rather than be corralled from the start by an adult’s opinion on how they should start. 

I can’t tell you how many genius creations I’ve observed come out of children when they were first handed Clixo–many of the creations that have now come to be classics in the Clixo vocabulary were sparked by children thinking outside the box.

Not only does this allow kids to start more quickly and naturally, but it also creates a safe, non-judgemental space for creation, right from the start. The natural by-product of rigid instructions is that they force a binary distinction between a ‘right’ way of doing things, and a ‘wrong’ way of doing things. In line with the research around helicopter parenting, making these strict judgements seriously hinders creativity, but even more concerningly, it has a negative impact on childrens’ development of autonomy and confidence in self-expression. 

Now, there is of course a time and a place for instructions. If you are putting together a piece of Ikea furniture, for example, it’s pretty critical that you assemble the pieces in the right way, in order for the furniture to be functional.

But what’s the point in determining what a child ought to create from the start? At best, they will execute it accurately, and that will be the end of it. When children are forced to create in a certain way, they are unlikely to be inspired or excited to make future creations. It increases their self consciously and anxiety to compare themselves with others, or to keep their creations inside the ‘typical’ box. After all, toys don’t serve a functional purpose–if you’re trying to build a couch, get furniture. If you’re trying to decorate with static models, buy a model set.

If we are being totally honest, kids aren’t the ones who want instruction manuals. It’s parents who want them. 

I don’t say this as an accusation, but as a gentle reminder that the discomfort is a natural part of the process. It’s okay to worry that your child will be bored or won’t know how to have fun within the semi-constraints of an open-ended play system. But ultimately, working through that discomfort is your responsibility as a parent, because in doing so you will be protecting and encouraging your child to thrive creatively. 

At Clixo, we strive to always hit the sweet spot of constraint. In fact, this is one of our five pillars of play philosophy. This means creating an ever-expanding catalogue of challenges for our Clixo community, so that there are sparks of inspiration available, but never rigid guidelines. It’s the difference between leading with instructions versus allowing the community to come seek inspiration, should they want it. 

In other words, it’s the difference between deciding how play should be, and giving you all the tools to create the best form of play for yourself.

Happy playing,

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Revisiting Packaging: Sometimes change is uncomfortable.

Revisiting Packaging: Sometimes change is uncomfortable

By Clixo Team

January 2021

Why it’s time to let go of boxes upon boxes.

Back in August when Clixo had first launched, we posted a piece about our (somewhat unusual) thinking around packaging. Yes, we are doing sustainable packaging, but that’s hardly the big news. What’s different about Clixo’s packaging is that it’s, well, almost like anti-packaging.

Say what?

As you can see, the recyclable box Clixo comes in is very low profile and unobtrusive. Unlike standard packaging in the toy industry, where the boxes toys come in are then used for storage, Clixo’s packaging is meant to be recycled or repurposed.

Over the holidays, we got a lot of feedback from Clixo customers who loved the product, but were requesting the kind of packaging that they are used to.

In other words, they wanted to stay in their comfort zone, with packaging that doubles as storage.

We thought about this request long and hard. On the one hand, we pride ourselves on developing and innovating Clixo in very close dialogue with our community, and we take the feedback we get very seriously. But on the other hand, we felt very strongly that the thinking behind our packaging choice was a direct representation of core values we hold as a company. On top of that, we’d reached our original stance based on the extensive consumer testing we did even before launch, and we’d heard time and again that toys which are stored in boxes end up in another box — be in a chest or a closet — and often stay there.

As we were mulling over this dilemma, I happened to run into a parent who lives in the Clinton Hill neighborhood and regularly frequents our play lab. I was deep in an internal debate over the packaging, and the conversation I had with this parent came at the exact right moment. In simple terms, she just got it. She really understood our philosophy around Clixo, and how our packaging may be difficult to adjust to at first, but is a genuine representation of our core ethos around play. This made me realize two things:

1. We needed to stick to our intuition, but
2. We needed to do a better job at educating our community about the thinking behind our packaging

So, without further ado, let me explain.

Play as Unboxing Versus Play as Play

One of the most troubling aspects of the toy industry today is the way that mass manufacturing and the rise of licensing has led to a never-ending race to attract eyeballs through flashy packaging. The toys that sell best these days are often not the most thoughtfully created toys, but the toys that come in the most attention-grabbing packaging. The toy industry has learned how to play into children’s weak spots, luring them in through collectibles and characters they see in the media. The result is that buying toys has become more about the dopamine rush of unboxing than the long term, creative and often educational engagement that occurs with thoughtfully designed toys.

It makes total sense that a toy which hasn’t been designed for long-term entertainment will need a storage container. After all, if most of the excitement comes from unwrapping and then a child quickly grows bored of a toy, it’s completely reasonable that parents would want a nice (ideally modular) storage container to put that unused toy away in. Original packaging serves this purpose. All you need is a closet with some shelves, and there you go! You can pack box upon box.

But let’s think about this a little more deeply. Isn’t the whole notion of storing toys away in boxes, piled on top of each other, in some hidden place, a huge barrier to play? It makes getting the toy out a whole production. The fact that parents prefer this isn’t a good sign: it’s an indicator that either:

1. The toy is so boring that children don’t ask to get it out very often, so the hassle is minimal
2. The toy is so aesthetically offensive that parents really don’t want it laying around, or
3. Both of the above.

Is that really the best we could hope for from a toy?

At Clixo, we don’t think so. We think that thoughtful toys are meant to be universally accessible, endlessly entertaining, and aesthetically complimentary to more adult environments.

Similar to the principles behind the famous child “Cockpit” designed by Bruno Munari (a jack of all trades and an idol of mine), Clixo has been designed to intentionally dissolve the boundary between object of play and the storage of said object: Clixo is always available for play, partially because it is self-storing.

Say goodbye to boxes. Say hello to creativity.

Clixo Toy Store

What I realized in my conversation with our friendly neighborhood parent is that parents, just as much as kids, need to be encouraged to be creative in their thinking. “Of course it was uncomfortable at first,” she said. “I wasn’t used to a toy that naturally integrates with the apartment rather than is put away after play, but I quickly got the hang of it and now I see how cool it is for a toy to be always ready to go.”

She was especially inspired after she visited our play lab and saw all the creative ways that Clixo was integrated with the environment:

She realized that Clixo didn’t need to just lay on the ground or sit on a counter until its next usage — it could make a shape on the kitchen appliances, the desks, the bed frame — anywhere her child felt inspired to create.

“Also,” she added, “if I really needed to ever store it somewhere, I could always use storage I already have, like a Tupperware or a zip lock bag. Honestly though, I don’t see myself doing that. Now that it’s always around, I even find myself picking it up and playing with it.”

Change is Tricky. Especially for Adults.

One of the things we love so much about children’s minds is how open they are, and how quick to adapt. Among our avid community of Clixo-enthusiasts, no kid has complained about a lack of storage options. You might say, “well yeah duh,” but it’s worth pausing to think through why that is. It’s not like children aren’t used to packaging being a certain way. Like their parents, they also have navigated the standard-issue toy box plenty of times. But instead of being so resistant to change, children are much better at taking it in stride. Give them a stack of Clixo, get rid of the box, and they’ll never think to ask about it, they will just naturally come up with creative ways to play with it and place it.

For the parents out there, here’s my suggestion. Embrace the discomfort. Innovation naturally brings some growing pains: just think about Tesla’s model of car charging points, for one example among many.

We’re very confident that if you think it through and accept that the real purpose of a toy is to encourage play (and the best way to do that is to have a toy naturally designed to be accessible and adaptable) then letting go of packaging is a step in the right direction.

Sure, you might have some knee-jerk reactions to it at first, but hey, when is it ever better to play it safe in the realm of creativity?

Happy playing,

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Don’t Store It, Use it!

Don’t Store It, Use it!

By Assaf

August 2020

Clixo’s packaging is made to be recycled, not re-used. 

It’s becoming best practice these days to put extra effort into product packaging. Whether that’s making it eco-friendly, adding personalized touches, or using really high quality materials, companies are using packaging as a way to make a lasting first impression. Given how much competition is out there, this makes sense. Every way to differentiate your brand helps.

At Clixo, we’ve also thought long and hard about packaging, going so far as to do extensive user testing on a variety of models. First we tried out a thin, cardboard case that allowed the Clixo pieces to lay flat. Next, we got excited by the possibility of a metal box. But then when we went out into the field to talk to parents and observe how kids interacted (or didn’t) interact with toy packaging, the resounding response we heard was that toys disappear back into boxes, boxes disappear into stacks in the closet or on shelves, and the system that was meant to help organize actually ends up cluttering.

We take the feedback we receive from parents and children very seriously, and so we ended up coming to a slightly different conclusion than most other brands. Instead of using packaging as yet another material to try and assert our presence in, we built our packaging with the opposite goal in mind.

We want you to get rid of our packaging. Not because it’s cheap, shoddy, or an aesthetic nightmare. No, because the whole ethos of our toy is for it to jump straight out into the world and never go back. The bamboo, recyclable shell it comes in is minimalist and can be used to store other things (if you’d like), but the quick peel-off lid is purposely made to not go back on the shell. That’s because we want opening Clixo to be a singular experience, before the toy takes on its true nature as a constantly evolving creative tool in whatever environment you’re in. While some toys are made to be perfectly fit together (only to end up collecting dust on a shelf), and others are made to be messily used and then carelessly thrown back into boxes, Clixo is built to be in a constant state of iteration. It’s self-storing, integrating with the world around it.

Maybe at the end of today’s play session your child’s Clixo pack has turned into a crown they wear at dinner. Or maybe it’s turned into a basket they attach to the refrigerator. Maybe they want to bring it on a playdate the next morning, and so they quickly snap it up into a stack and put it in their backpack.

Regardless, the mark of a good Clixo session isn’t a feeling of having ‘completed’ something and then storing it away. It’s about experiencing the joy of exploration, invention, and discovery.”

Our packaging is simple. That’s how we think it should be. Environmentally responsible, satisfying to tear open and dive into, and made to be recycled. After all, anything that gets between you and your creativity is something to be minimized, not maximized. So let it go, and get clicking!

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The Birth of Clixo

The Birth of Clixo

By Clixo Team

June 2020

While the idea behind Clixo has been developing in me over the course of my career, it officially began to take form in 2017, as I watched design students get incredibly creative using only paper. The concept struck me: how could I use paper–an incredibly dynamic material–in a way where it would attach to itself?

I began to iterate as quickly as possible, using paper, hot glue, and magnets to test out different ways I could build shapes. My years of experience teaching, playing, and studying the philosophy and psychology of play was all coalescing into this project. I wanted to know how I could build something that could be more than one thing, and would encourage the greatest amount of free form, free range creativity. 

At first, the iterations kept leading me towards a tube shape. This was interesting, but ultimately limiting. Sure, I could build a dragon neck or buildings or trees, but I felt that the system wasn’t flexible enough. I moved on to sets of geometric shapes: squares, triangles, and circles, but again, after hundreds of iterations, I ran up against a limitation. Geometric shapes wouldn’t transform in an intuitive, natural way from 2d to 3d. I wasn’t entirely sure why, but I knew that whatever I created needed to make this transformation gracefully, and geometric shapes wouldn’t offer that possibility. 

It was at this point that I sat down with Oren Zuckerman, an expert in interactive technologies at miLab in Israel. After a long conversation, he said something I needed to hear. “Who cares about another dragon?” he said. “Go back to the fundamentals. What is your Lego brick?”

I knew there was something in the seed of my idea, but that I needed to begin again, stripping everything back to basics. I began playing with strips, and then strips that had circular ends. One day, I connected two strips with magnets at their center and saw just how dynamic this shape was, able to fold and click intuitively into endless different shapes. 

If I had to point to a singular moment in which the base form for Clixo was created, this would be it. But the creative process is never about a singular moment or a strict before or after. All of my years of experience and playful exploration through iteration informed this moment, and the design just kept evolving from there. I discovered that the rounded nature of the shapes gave creations an organic feel, and that the base form very intuitively moved from 2d to 3d. The more I played with it, the more I surprised myself, constantly finding new ways to attach the shapes and transfigure them. 

As a creator, I never want to discover the full potential of anything I create. My ultimate goal is to aid and nourish the infinite possibilities that children are able to come up with through approaching a toy in unique and varying ways. My job is to facilitate, not control.

In fact, Clixo isn’t so much a static toy as a family of shapes that work together as a tool for creativity. We are constantly evolving and expanding the vocabulary of shapes, sizes, and accessories, not just based on our own ideas and discoveries, but based on yours. We always love to hear from kids (and kids at heart) about how we can expand the creative universe even further. What would you love to be added to the Clixo shape vocabulary? 

We look forward to hearing from you at [email protected].

With love from the Clixo family, 


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