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08 July 2016

B&S meets...S/S17 Rising Star winner Noook

Regular readers will know all about Bubble's Rising Star Award, which is presented to the best launch brand at the show. This season, noook became the first toy label to win big, seeing-off stiff competition from the likes of The Make Department, Little Lord and Lady and Bebe BomBom. Our judges - CWB Magazine's Laura Turner, WGSN's Allison Goodfellow-Ash, Scandi Mini's Gabrielle SpÄng, and Victoria Hampson of Natural Baby Shower - were impressed, both by the label's innovative archi-toy, and founder Torsten Sherwood's unique vision. But what next for this ambitious young designer? We've been finding out...

Hi Torsten! Congratulations again on winning Bubble's S/S17 Rising Star Award! Could you introduce yourself to our readers? 

My name is Torsten, and I am a product and architectural designer - and also the inventor and founder of noook. noook is a large-scale construction toy; a kind of 'archi-toy' for building things large enough to play inside, like dens, forts and playhouses. noook is about the open-end, creative-making play experience of a traditional construction toy, but on the scale of the den. So children don't just build models of worlds they imagine, but stage sets large enough to inhabit.

How, when and why was noook founded? 

noook grew out of the idea that there is something really special about making things with our hands. It engages our minds and our bodies in a unique way, and we start to think and learn differently. That's what's so clever about construction toys. Although it's easy to take these everyday objects for granted, they are actually really sophisticated games about what is basically design. They get us making things with our hands. noook was invented as a new way of making that is specifically designed for creative play; it's intended to make creative- play better, and allow it to do things it hasn't in the past.

Whilst reading architecture at university, I became particularly interested in craft and making in design. As a designer, I spend a lot of time making sketches, models, mockups and prototypes. I do this because when you work physically you think differently. It really helps you design; I even started designing and creating furniture, because unlike architecture you can really get hands-on involved in the making at this scale.
I was subsequently invited to be the Designer and Resident at the Design Museum, and asked to produce an exhibition about this making-based approach to design. Now, although I am really fascinated by craft and making, I appreciated that it would seem pretty dry (even geeky!) to most people - particularly kids, who happen to be the museum's biggest audience. I had the idea to hide this topic in play, and introduce it as a game in design, via a construction toy. After all, construction toys are about making and building - very literally games in design. 

The inspiration behind noook was the humble cardboard box. This unitended toy was our bench mark for making play, and I think that it can teach us a lot about designing for children. Although it's a bit of a cliche, I am sure we can all relate to how a big cardboard box is often far more fun than the over-designed and very expensive objects that come inside. I think there are two simple reasons for this; firstly, the box is a giant 3D canvas, with which children can shape their own space  - and there is something really special about that play experience. Secondly, and most surprisingly, the cardboard box is not precious - and that's what makes it so valuable for play. Children can play freely with it, without worry. With noook we wanted to capture this play experience and ethos, making it more practical and user-friendly - so you could build a castle one weekend, pack it away in a small box during the week, then build a completely different world the next.   

The exhibition got a lot of very positive feedback from schools and parents, who also saw the benefits of this type of creative, hands-on making play. Since then (as well as completing a masters in architecture) I have been trying to put noook into production so that we can continue our mission - namely, introducing children to making and design through play. 

 Why did you decide to show at Bubble this season?

Being close to release, we wanted to take noook to a place were we could meet our audience, make some good contacts and get some useful feed back.
As it's a toy, you might imagine the best place to take noook would be a fair devoted to just that - toys. But we had an inkling that the difference between Toy Fair and Bubble wasn't really about 'toys versus fashion', but more 'mass-market versus design-led - and in this sense, noook is defiantly 'design-led'. Having now exhibited at Bubble, I think this inkling was right. 

Taking noook to Bubble was a unusual but savvy move. It put us directly in front of a market that values design in the way we do, and allowed noook to stand out in way we wouldn’t have done in a exhibition full of toys. 
Although many buyers might not be looking for toys directly, their costumers will be - and we think that targeting these design-led fashion retail spaces is a smart business, brand and marketing strategy. We hope noook will stand out there, just as it did at Bubble. 

You're the first toy brand to win our Rising Star competion. What did the award mean to you? 

We were really delighted and surprised to win Rising Star. Being shortlisted was enough for us. Being pre-launch without the whole brand produced yet - and not being a fashion, footwear or interiors brand - we really didn't think we would win. Doing so was a real surprise!
The experience has given us huge confidence in noook again. So far it has picked up a lot of acclaim and praise, but mainly from the 'design' industry - not specifically our target market. To be highlighted at a trade show of children products - especially those of the caliber found at Bubble - is a fantastic validation of noook as a design, product and brand. 

 Thanks Torsten! We look forward to seeing you at the next edition of Bubble, on 29 & 30 January 2017... 


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