Play comes in All Colors

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Gender differences are real, and color-gender stereotypes are nowhere more pronounced than in the toy industry. Our job is to neither exploit nor fear these differences. 

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Tegu introduced its Sunset and BLUES “colorways” in November and December this year.

At Tegu, we’ve done more in color this year than ever before, and we wanted to take a moment to share with you a bit about what’s behind our approach. I was shocked at what little I knew (or remembered) about the biology and physics of color as I recently began to consider the subject more holistically.  As humans, we identify color as it “occurs” via visual perception when certain parts of our eyes receive and communicate certain light data to our brain via the optical nerve. This is an active, working process, most intensely concentrated on a tiny dimple on the retina (back of eye ball) known as fovea centralis. At the risk of getting too technical, think about the eye and the brain working as a team in tandem to help you identify greens versus greys, reds versus blue, and so on. It’s real work, and, of course, like breathing, we do it without thinking about it all.

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Source: Wikipedia. The eye and the brain work masterfully together as we encounter millions of colors around us.

 

Color is a vast scientific and emotional subject, and we’re increasingly fascinated with its role in toy design and play possibilities. Color is awesome.

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Ever since we entered the toy industry, we’ve loved being outsiders, and we’ve been determined to avoid the pitfalls of “me too” thinking that often hinders creativity and real innovation amongst our peers. Most companies prioritize what will sell according to what has already sold well. This mentality breeds narrow perspectives and often leads to the deepening of cultural stereotypes, especially as it relates to the color-gender debate.  Originally, conventional wisdom would suggest that our toys were too expensive to produce, and veterans of the space warned us that it would be bad business to launch a company around the idea of a system of magnetic wooden block play.  The margins were, presumably, just too low to be worthwhile.  Similarly, as we began to research the use of color in Tegu’s lineup, we kept hearing feedback from salespeople at other toy companies that bright colors sell the best. Frankly, all of this seemed way too simplistic. And, to top things off, we were borderline nauseated by the prevalence in toys of primary colors – red, yellow and blue – as if color and play research supported their specific use amongst kiddos.  How they have somehow come to therefore dominate the toy industry remains a mystery to me. In seeming competition to the prevailing toy design wisdom of using primaries, I recently learned that at one week after birth, infants can see red, orange, yellow and green. But it takes a little longer for them to be able to see blue and violet. So, what gives on the primaries in toys? We reject conventional wisdom which calls us to use them alone, or, maybe worse, to mindlessly head the way of pinks and blues because others have done the same for the last thirty years.

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One thing is for sure. Color has become increasingly controversial as it finds itself wrapped-up in gender. Pinks for girls and blues for boys is a cemented cultural construct that seems to be nowhere more pronounced than in toys and fashion.  Interestingly, while these color-gender stereotypes are, from a cultural standpoint, almost second nature today, they’re relatively new developments. And, the backlash from certain segments of the population on this gender-typing is severe. When LEGO launched its girls-oriented LEGO and Friends line a couple years back, the color palette was almost entirely pinks and purples. Many parents were mad, and yet so many of them were excited to see their daughters choosing to engage with construction toys in addition to doll play and the like. It’s a tension: can we draw girls more into “engineering” type play if we incorporate colors that seemingly appeal to them more? Hard to say, but it appears to be a billion dollar ticket for LEGO.

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If I may be so bold, I am comfortable saying that girls really are different than boys, and visa versa. Gender differences are real, and that’s a good thing. And at the same time, those differences – I believe – are far more nuanced and, in total, not nearly as binary as advertisers might have you believe. By way of example, you might be surprised to learn that modern color-gender associations are relatively new. In fact, at least in infant clothing in the early twentieth century, pinks were actually the color for boys and blues the color for girls. I found this history almost impossible to believe when I encountered it.

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At Tegu, we believe our responsibility as a toy design firm is neither to exploit nor fear these differences. Sometimes, when we’re considering certain colorways internally at Tegu, one of us will turn to the other and say “that’s too boy.” And, it’s in these moments that we, too, unknowingly fall prey to prevailing cultural gender group-think. But, as we seek to maintain discipline on design, what you can expect is that we won’t create versions of toys explicitly for boys or explicitly for girls. At the same time, if we create an all blue set – as we recently did in our BLUES colorway – don’t assume it’s been designed for boys only. It’s a good example of how we think about color. It is not intended in any way to be a “boys color.” More notably, it’s a different approach to blue – a combination of bold and soft – that we know both genders will find attractive. Whether they like it for its boldness, its softer side, or because of the beautiful combination this creates, isn’t up to us to decide.

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Related, our Tints line – Tegu’s first entry into color back in 2010 – is a beautiful combination of “softer” colors that are more pastel in appearance, with pink included. As we started experimenting with colors, we pursued translucent finishes in the Tints line to let the beauty of our woods’ grain shine through the finish, and this approach may well be one of the most distinguishing design features of our product.  And, while you could argue that it isn’t “boy friendly”, it has been our most popular historical seller, by a long shot. So, who are we to say that an iconic color scheme punctuated by pink isn’t appropriate for boys in the end?

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Tegu uses beautiful hardwoods from Central America and seeks to let gorgeous grain striations shine through its proprietary finish formulations.

In truth, I dressed my eighteen-month-old daughter today in a pink Patagonia down jacket and put her to bed tonight in a pink and purple onesie. If she grows up loving pinks and purples, I’d have to say that’s partly on me; we know that a little nurturing goes a long way. But it might just be what she learns to love. Either way, what matters most is that she knows what she loves. Perhaps its time to rethink the color palette of her wardrobe…or just see how she responds to 42 blue blocks

Playfully yours,

Reader comments (5)

  1. I get so frustrated at the pink and purple sets that LEGO and Playmobil (and others) putout.. Not only do I hate those colors, but it is next to impossible to find a house/family set that, for starters, has realistic colors in it, and secondly that any small boy woudl go near. My grandsons all liked to play with the figurines from their parents playsets, but I could never find new ones that they would go near becasue now all “house” stuff is so ‘girly’. But people still but hte for their daughters because that is all they can find – so the companies think they have it right. AARRGGHHH!!!!!

    By the way, that 42-piece blue set it gorgeous, too bad I have too many sets already.

  2. I just discovered these and I am VERY ENTHUSIASTIC!!! What beautiful blocks! I’m a mother of 4 and grandmother of two little ones and at our house we LOVE blocks. I just discovered Tegu blocks at a new toy store in town and I love the feel, sound and color of them. I also really appreciate your thoughtful discourse on color and share your love for the look of the natural grain of wood. I also appreciate your attention to gender issues.

    Thank you so much for what you do. I look forward to much fun shared with my family using Tegu blocks!

    Yours,
    Bonnie

  3. Have just discovered your practical & beautifully aesthetic approach to color which appeals to the key senses of sight, sound, & touch! The sunset array is exquisite! Will you be offering a collection of rainbow colors for toddlers who are truly “magnetized” in their attraction this color palate?

  4. Can you please make trapezoid only sets like in 4 or 6 pieces? I really want a set to add to my collection :$

  5. This is why I love Tegu compared to Lego and Playmobil and majority of the toys sold in retail avenues like Toys R US because Tegu is a system of world class building blocks geared to be Gender Neutral. It allows both binary genders: Boy & Girl to play these, people who are transgender and non-conforming, and those who are non-binary. Colors are natural part of nature since color is light refracted from Prism split so you can see ROYGIV spectrum and society only likes to categorize Blue to Boys and Pink to Girls, which is totally wrong for society to do to box people into acceptable gender roles. The pocket prism Sunset, which I have is an example that anybody regardless of which gender(s) or no gender they identify with can play this particular set and all Tegu sets. Early on kids are thought that they need to play gender roles: Tonka trucks and War is for Boys and Barbies and Littlest Pet Shop are for Girls (which brainwashes kids that they must only stay within that gender role) and the biggest culprits are the mainstream toy manufacturers. Along with the LGBT transgender movement (I’m a transperson, maybe the only transperson who loves Tegu Blocks), I believe that toy companies in the future will start moving towards more gender neutral toys alongside traditional based Blue and Pink Aisles. There are many transkids (even those you see on TV documented) who play with toys and these kids are left out because they identify to a gender which does not match their body, an growing up for them is awful since their gender role is different from many cisgender kids. Tegu is right, one day if they ever did come out with a Tegu Pink Set, that would be targeted for People who like the Pink color, whether it be boy or girl, transpeople, etc. I would like to see a Tegu set based on Earth Day tones, that would be cool.

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