Using toys to tackle gender stereotypes

The Challenge.

BILU toys is an entrepreneurial toy design project from Uruguay, which aim is to contribute to a non-stereotyped and diverse education with a sustainability perspective. 

Through play, boys and girls learn how to interact with the physical world in which they live, as well as the social norms that operate within. The development of their personality will depend on the freedom with which adults allow them to play. In other words, it would depend on the limitations imposed by reproducing stereotypes.

The approach.

The project started when Maria Marinovic was awarded a fellowship grant by the Uruguayan national research agency (ANII). The study focused on researching sexism in the Uruguayan toy industry in 2014. The project involved teachers, psychologists, sociologists, designers, children and parents in the design process. The research methodologies used were co-design and participatory action. A series of workshops, surveys and usability testing sessions were conducted to gather expert and user feedback on the designs.

The design solution.

The first product by BILU Toys was Clan, a magnetic wooden pieces set fully customizable and designed to build non-stereotyped characters. Its shapes are abstract and anthropomorphic. This design decision aims to create a non-descriptive narrative where body parts can be diverse and inclusive.

The set comes in a natural wood finish and invites children to decorate the pieces with washable colour paints. The shapes can be wiped with a damp cloth and painted again. In this way, the possibilities of play are infinite. 

Clan is a product of its designer’s culture. Maria studied and felt fascinated by the work of Joaquin Torres Garcia, one of the most prominent Uruguayan artists of the 20th century. Torres Garcia was a pioneer in wooden toy design, creating transformable sculptures under his brand Aladdin Toys whilst living in New York in the 1920s. The geometric simplicity of Clan figures was inspired by the work of this great artist.

Clan has various play modes. On the one hand, it can be used for social play by creating characters and scenarios, encouraging imagination and creativity. On the other hand, the toy can be used as building blocks for creating a tower, and developing fine motor skills and coordination. 

Regarding its manufacturing process, the designer is committed to its environmental sustainability. Clan is a wooden toy designed to last for generations and made with FSC-certified Uruguayan wood, finished with Italian-made water-based varnishes. The process is highly manual, and a lot of it is hand-made by the designer herself.

Clan by BILU offers a fun, creative and safe play experience to contribute to healthy, egalitarian and enjoyable child development.

The results.

  • The toy contributes to non-stereotyped social learning by creating diverse characters for social and representative play.
  • The toy encourages children to represent real-life situations and elements creatively.
  • The toy favours the development of manual skills, such as eye­-hand coordination needed to reach and grab objects.

Read the full report here (in Spanish)

Awards & recognitions

  • The research was honoured with a Research Initiation Scholarship from the Research and Innovation National Agency in Uruguay (ANII) – 2013-14.
  • BILU Clan was featured in some of the most popular international online magazines for children’s products, such as Afilii, Hello Wonderful, Babyology, A Misura Di Bimbo, The Inspiration Grid, Ecomania and MiraMama.
  • BILU Toys was a selected brand to represent Uruguayan design at the Uruguayan pavilion at one of the biggest regional toy fairs in South America. Brazil, Abrinq – 2016.
  • BILU Toys was selected as an exhibitor in ‘Toys for small and big kids’ at Month of Design Ljubljana, Slovenia – 2017.

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