SMARTFRAMES preschool toys

 

PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT OF SMARTFRAMES


When I started working for Smart in 1997, the development of SmartFrames was the first real design work I did after I graduated. Designing a real product was not only new for me, but also for the company I worked for (Smart Belgium). Until 1997 Smart was just a toy distributor in the Benelux and France. With SmartFrames they started to become a toy producer/ manufacturer.


Because they did no longer want to depend too much on suppliers, they wanted to start their own brand. For that reason they licensed the copyrights of an existing collection of toys with metal wires and beads. The idea was to start with the existing models and to add new products to it every year. And so we did. We started with 5 models and ended 7 years later with a collection of more than 35 different ones.


So I definitely did not “invent” any of these SmartFrames. And it was not exactly my favorite choice. But I was young and had no experience whatsoever, so I was happy to work on real products. It gave me the opportunity to learn everything about bringing a product to the market. After doing all kind of projects at school for 5 years, I really wanted to create something that would actually be made and sold.



from left to right: SmartFrame models named Julia, Othello and Romeo


For more than 5 years I spent most of my time to create and produce all kinds of models for the SmartFrames brand. At a certain moment, these toys were so popular that Smart decided to buy a German wire bending machine (WAFIOS). I was sent to Germany to learn how to program and maintain this machine. During this period all SmartFrames parts were produced and assembled in Belgium. Smart was not the only toy company making this kind of toys, but they claimed with success to make “the original” ones.


The first years these toys were high quality and quite expensive. After a while they became cheaper and cheaper, but also the quality went down, partly because most companies started producing them in China. It was also not very helpful that Ikea made something similar for a fraction of the price. But for me it was clear from the start that this kind of product was a dead end in terms of product development.



from left to right: SmartFrame models named Hannibal and Samba


The first versions looked great and offered some real educational benefits. But because of the high price, people often bought cheaper and smaller versions that lacked any real play value. The original idea was so simple and good, that there was no way to improve it. But in toy land, “new” is the magic word. And what do companies do, when there is no way to really improve something? They make all kinds of variations that only look new, but are much worse than the original version. That’s what happened with this type of toy: it started as a real educational toy and ended as something that was only decorative.


I tried not to design anything like that, but it was hard to resist the pressure of “everybody is making this kind of things, so we should make them too”. A lot of the models I created still look nice, but I personally don’t consider them as “good” toys.


from left to right: SmartFrame models named Big Apple, Captain and Castello


I did like doing this kind of work. It is really basic designing in the sense that you try to create a nice shape using nothing more than a few metal wires. But I am more an inventor than a designer. For me the idea comes first (old school “form follows function”). And there is not much to add to this toy from a conceptual point of view, although I did make a few attempts.


BeadBabies


The first toys that were more than classic SmartFrames were BeadBabies. This was a collection of 4 rattles, also made of metal wire. After all these years I still like the BeadBoy, although I have serious doubts now, if making rattles for babies from a metal wire was such a good idea. The BeadBabies first introduced the very simple “smiley head” that I later on also used for the Speedies and for most of the wooden toys of SmartWood.



from left to right: SmartFrame models named Bead Boy, Bead Girl, Bead Baby and Bead Butterfly


Speedies

A much better attempt was the creation of 4 vehicles. Every time beech wood was cut into parts to make the bottom of the classic SmartFrames, a small piece at the end was left over. I designed a few vehicles that could make use of this wood. They all had a little metal wire, although the function of this wire was more to give the vehicles a handle. Each vehicle also had something special. The train had a whistle and the plane a propellor. The best one was the helicopter where you could rotate the rotors by spinning the head of the figure. Simple things, but things that young children like to do.


The also have a special place in my heart, because they are what I consider “my first real product designs”. Smart sold a lot of them for more than 10 years. If you can find any today, they are probably Chinese copies, because Smart stopped producing them a few years ago.



from left to right: SmartFrame models named Speedy Car, Speedy Train, Speedy Plane and Speedy Copter


Animal Runners

After the success of the Speedies, Smart asked me to do something similar with animals. Although they looked OK, I preferred the Speedies, because animals with wheels seemed a bit strange. These animal figures are also more decorative and less functional.




from left to right: SmartFrame models named Elephant Runner, Croco Runner, Duck Runner and Zebra Runner


My personal favorite SmartFrame I designed is the one below. It was really big and is probably one of the few models that really catch the attention of a child for more than 5 minutes, named “King”.


 


>


<

Raf Peeters, July 2016

English/

2017

TEMPLE CONNECTION

SNOW WHITE

JUMP IN’

IQ-FOCUS


2016

LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD

PENGUINS POOL PARTY

PARKING PUZZLER

IQ-XOXO

DEDUCKTION

DINOSAURS MYSTIC ISLANDS

WALLS & WARRIORS

SMARTCAR 5x5

HIDE & SEEK PIRATES JR

HIDE & SEEK JUNGLE

NORTH POLE EXPEDITION

GHOST HUNTERS

ANTI-VIRUS MUTATION

2015

THREE LITTLE PIGGIES

BUTTERFLIES

IQ-BLOX

IQ-CANDY

PENGUINS PARADE


2014

QUADRILLION

BRAIN CHEESER

CITY MAZE

IQ-STEPS


2013

BUNNY BOO

VIKINGS BRAINSTORM

BACK 2 BACK

IQ-LINK

AB UNDER CONSTRUCTION

AB ON TOP


2012

TEMPLE TRAP

BILL & BETTY BRICKS

BEND-IT

IQ-FIT

NOAHS ARK

AQUABELLE


2011

PENGUINS ON ICE

TRUCKY 3

TROY

IQ-TWIST


2010

CHICKEN SHUFFLE

ANACONDA

CANNIBAL MONSTERS

SMARTCAR

SMARTPHONE


2009

TITANIC

DAY & NIGHT

2008

ROADBLOCK

METROVILLE

ALCATRAZ


2007

CAMELOT JR

CASTLE LOGIX

GOGETTER 4


2006

AIRPORT TRAFFIC CONTROL

HIDE & SEEK PIRATES

TOWER OF LOGIC INFERNO

DUOPUZZLE


2005

CAMOUFLAGE

HIDE & SEEK SAFARI


2001

GOGETTER 1, 2 AND 3