Tuesday, 6:24pm
25 November 2008

Playing with wooden pixels

Silence’s ShapeMaker is making a noise in the toy world

‘Books are at the core of what we do,’ says David Goodman, who with his work /life partner Zoe Miller, is half of Silence, a Brighton-based visual research consultancy that provides creative inspiration to clients in advertising, fashion and the media, writes Liz Farrelly.

From a huge archive of photographs, illustrations, toys, objects, magazines and books, they select, edit, present themes, make connections and suggest possibilities.

‘We love books; we’ve been collecting them for years,’ says Goodman. And writing them, too – the couple have just finished Shape, their third book in a neat little series for Tate Publishing (the first two featured photographs by Ella Doran).

Like A is for Artist: An Alphabet (2004) and Colour (2006), Shape (2008) is an enticing amalgam of type, pattern, hand-made marks, found photos and staged tableaux (featuring toys, kids and general mayhem), hard-bound as a tactile package with an exposed cloth spine, spot varnish and tip-ins. The layouts are bright, breezy, packed with clever solutions but light on text, the emphasis being on parents and children creating stories and activities together; these books don’t dictate ‘how to’, but instead encourage ‘have a go’.

Above and below: spreads from Shape (2008), the latest children’s book by Silence for Tate Publishing, explore triangles, circles and other geometric shapes. The face top right is formed from ShapeMaker blocks (bottom).

Miller and Goodman share with their heroes Charles and Ray Eames a passion for toys. ‘They played with images, could put their hand to anything and made a new world,’ declares Miller. ‘That’s where we’d like to take this… Our love of toys came out of our research activities – we discovered so many design classics. But we want to make them affordable, not so expensive that they just sit on a shelf; toys that appeal to kids and parents, too.’

Play is part of the development process for all their books, and, while ‘having a go’ on Shape, they turned up a potential product. ShapeMaker is a set of 25 rubberwood blocks, hand-printed with geometric designs, that can be arranged and rearranged into giant (pixel) images. (Silence have also created limited edition screen-prints depicting some of their results.)

‘We could have licensed the toy idea to a production company but we’d have lost all control over how it was made,’ explains Goodman. Instead they went to toy fairs in Hong Kong and Nuremberg, chose a manufacturer with good credentials and a material, rubberwood, that is lightweight, sustainable and affordable.

They have set up a toy brand, millergoodman, to market ShapeMaker (named ‘best gift for kids’ at a recent Top Drawer trade fair), and already have more ideas on the boil. In an inclement economic climate, diversification could be a good way of riding out the storm. Bringing their graphic design sensibility, along with a good dose of integrity, to the toy industry, Silence is making some noise.

Millergoodman products can seen at the East London Design Show (4-7 December) and are available from the Tate Online Shop.

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