SMARTMAX magnetic construction toys

 

PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT OF SMARTMAX 2010-2015


When my boss asked me in 2009 to develop an existing toy under the brandname SmartMax, I was not very enthusiastic. First of all, because it’s more satisfying when I can work on something which I also invented (like many SmartGames). But secondly, because I had no idea how I could improve the existing concept. So how could I make something better, that was already good? The last thing I wanted was to generate a lot of new parts, but without adding any real playing value to it. New is not always better.


But in a way, working on something existing is also a challenge. Because you don’t start from scratch, you have to use what you have and try to work from there. For SmartMax, the basics are and always will be: “making constructions with balls and bars (with magnets)”. So every year I started there and asked myself: “What more can I do with these elements?”


My work on SmartMax was often done in collaboration with a few colleagues from Smart. So when it says “I”, it sometimes should say “we”. But constantly switching between both words, made the text a little bit confusing.


SmartMax 2010

The first year I wanted to get the basics right. I didn’t have much time that year, so I could only adjust the existing parts, without adding anything really new to it.


I gave the magnets inside the bars a specific orientation. The bars that have a warm color (yellow, orange and red) have the magnets with their south pole towards the ends. The bars with cold colors (blue, green and purple) have the magnets with their north pole toward the ends. In other existing magnetic toys, it’s different. Normally they have a north pole at one end and a south pole at the other end. If you do it that way, bars can always connect to each other. If two bars repel, you can make them attract each other, just by flipping over one of the bars.


Coupling the polarity of the magnets to specific colors of bars, actually limits the number of possible combinations. You can’t connect two bars with a warm color to each other. Neither can you connect two bars with a cold color. But from the point of view of a very young child, these limitations are opportunities to learn something about magnetism. Now they have to think before they can build something. The chance that they realize that magnets can have two different polarities is much bigger this way.


I also made the balls look like metal balls (instead of plastic balls), because that’s what they are. They communicate to a child that the material of the balls is different to that of the magnets inside the bars and that they function differently: metal balls are attracted by the magnets inside the bars, but two metal balls don’t attract or repel each other.



The last thing I did that year is to create a booklet with examples and information about magnetism and how to make strong constructions. And of course we needed to design a line look and logo for the packaging.


Examples of geometric shapes that can be made with SmartMax (as shown in this booklet) can be found on the following page.


SmartMax 2011

In 2011 I added something of my own. Already since I was at the design school, I always wanted to create some construction toy with simple elements that could be used in different combinations. So this was the first opportunity to try out my ideas in a real product.


For SmartMax I added wheels, a little container and cockpits that could be clicked on the existing SmartMax bars. By slightly adjusting the position of these element or by combining two cockpits on the same bar, a child can already create a variety of different car models. And when they connect multiple cars, children could create a train. The metal balls in between the different wagons function as a hinge.

                               

What is also nice about adding wheels is that you can push one car with the other without the two cars touching each other (when you use two cars with the same magnetic polarity). If you want to visualize the invisible force of magnetism to children, this is a magical way to do it.


One of the sets (STUNT) also included a big ramp, which is still one of the most popular parts at home when my sons play with it.


I also designed a wing and tail that can be attached to the bars to create a plane. The metal axis of the rotor blades can be fixed on the front of the plane or on the wings, using the magnets inside.


                               


SmartMax 2012

In 2012 I went a step further with elements for vehicles. I am always looking for simple elements that are so universal that they can be used for different purposes. The crucial parts that year, were the heavy duty “arm” and new “cockpit” . When you combine these with other parts, you can create a bulldozer, fire truck, a fork lift or a tow truck.



I also designed a spiral ramp, but this one was less successful than the straight one, because children had problems assembling a stable construction using this part. So it was discontinued after 1 year. Not everything you design always works the way you expect.


The idea of one of the other additions came from my youngest son. He liked to make flowers of bars and balls. So I created some flower shapes that also connect magnetically to each other. Although it looks pretty cute, it’s more decorative than functional. But  my sons always use the small flower as some kind of rocket motor at the end of a car. I alway like it when children can use a toy differently than the designer intended. See some examples of what my kids make with SmartMax on this page.


SmartMax 2013

I am not such a big fan of electronics in toys. They are often used to add movement and sound to a toy, two things children a perfectly capable of making themselves. To only exception I ever made in one of my designs was adding light to the SmartMax bars. My sons are quite smart but so far they don’t light up in the dark.


The lights switch of automatically after 5 minutes to save the battery. And when the battery needs to be replaced (or when you don’t want to put on the lights), you can still use these LED bars as standard bars in a construction or car.




The second addition that year, was a bar with a pull back mechanism. We already had all kind of vehicles, so this was a no-brainer.


The last thing I made was a container with magnets in the lid. This way the packaging would become part of the toy and you didn’t have to trow away the packing after you opened it. Although I still like the idea, it didn’t sell well. Probably because these small containers were much more expensive to produce than intended. And it was also very hard to explain to a customer what the purpose of those containers was. The cardboard packaging of all other SmartMax items also functions as a communication tool.


SmartMax 2014

I already explored all kinds extra possibilities for the bars, so that year I concentrated on finding other uses for the metal balls. This resulted in tubes that could be attached to existing constructions to create giant marble runs. I also made a few other new parts (windows, Y-shaped bars, an XL bar and a bridge). But only the tubes were really important that year because suddenly the same parts could be used for a different kind of play.



SmartMax 2015

The last year I worked on SmartMax was more tying up the loose ends. Originally we started with only 3 different packagings, but by 2014 there were more than 30 different items. So we tried to make a selection, some kind of “best of”. The only real new parts were a connector, an extendable bar and nice big container. You can use this container on both sides. On the lid you can create a orthogonal construction, on the bottom side of the container a hexagonal one.


Since 2015 my colleagues further develop SmartMax, so that I can concentrate more on my work for SmartGames.

More information about SmartMax can be found on the official website: http://www.smartmax.eu

Although SmartMax is intended for young children with big parts that can’t be swallowed, my oldest son (age 11) still plays with it every weekend. But of course, we own a lot of SmartMax for testing purposes ;-).


SmartMax are not cheap, but remember that the number of possibilities increase exponentially with the number of parts you have. Start with a set with only balls and bars. And if your child likes this, add special parts to it later, like vehicles or ball runs.

 


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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