Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Review + Giveaway: Design Tiles: How to Make Sense Without Saying a Word

WHAT: Design Tiles by eeBoo
INVENTOR: Saxton Freymann
DOES: allows your child to make complex designs without pen, paper, computer, or even a crayon
INVEST:  $19.95
TOOLS: Express Yourself, Think Like a Scientist/Engineer, Family Fix-it (create calm in your home)
GIVEAWAY: see details below

In the almost two years that Toys Are Tools has been around, the greatest lesson I've learned is this: 

There is no substitute for great design.  

For the longest time, I never understood this profession.  Even though I took more than my share of art classes as a kid, I never learned what people do after they graduate from an art college. I imagined that they were either starving artists, cartoonists, or people who took lots of money from rich people to choose curtains and couches for them.

But now that I work with toys, it's very clear that the world of design is absolutely limitless. They have a say in so many aspects of our life.  They pay attention to the things we care about most: beauty and necessity. Sometimes, I think the two ideas are indistinguishable to the point where you are just thinking, "Does this make sense?" If the answer is YES, then that is good design at work.

Puzzled? Bear with me. I do have a point.

Designing is not easy but Design Tiles makes it easy for you to try.

If You Have LEGO Kids....

In 1st grade, #1 Son often came home with artwork that had to be in a cardboard box or else it would get shmushed and ruined.  At the end of the year, I complimented the art teacher for giving so many 3D art assignment to the kids. She then told me that this was not true at all.  It was only #1 who just turned all his art assignments into 3D work. Yes, she is that amazing an art teacher. She always let him do his thing.

My kid is a maker but he's very much a maker of 3D things. I used to think that since he had trouble writing, he would be a kid who draws.  However, I think it's going to be a while before I see something wild coming from him in 2D.  In the meantime, he is lucky that he has eeBoo supporting his need to create with his hands without drawing (just like LEGOs).

#1 did this one and he did it so quickly.  Then he put these Magic Loops on it. He reminds me of that one girl at school who could draw just about anything. I hated her. So jealous!
Wow, I wouldn't know this was possible unless I saw this picture.

Importance of Trying A New Medium

It's important to note that freely designing something does not mean it is easy. In fact, when I looked at the Design Tiles (new by eeBoo this year), I wondered if I could ever make anything eye-pleasing with it. (I'm still trying) However, what I find most important about this "toy" is that it creates a new dimensional space to create and express yourself. It's 2D with a 3D essence.

My son was really lucky to have that teacher to lead his art class that year.  But I can't count on my kid meeting teachers who are going to "get" him year after year.  I too, as a parent, must "get" him and so giving him various opportunities to use different mediums for self-expression is my gift to him (and maybe you can even call it my obligation). I think this because any time a person encounters an occupation that he enjoys, he is going to be really thankful for the discovery.

Looks simple? This too me at least 30 minutes to do. I have trouble making decisions. (another reason why I like this toy)
With such a few changes, I have completely changed the design.

Math and the Mind of Designers

My son was indeed grateful.  And I was just grateful watching him feel good about himself. Still, though I know that his 3D art medium of choice will likely be LEGO for years and years. I am so happy to have given him this opportunity to try out new things. While I can't prove it just yet, I think Design Tiles will likely be linked to future great LEGO building projects at home - I don't know how but I just know it.  I also think that this type of play will be an interesting way to sneak in some math education. I am no math teacher but my intuition tells me that I'm on the right track.

To be sure, math has been a great influence in art for many years. The world's favorite math-y artists have to be Leonardo DaVinci and M.C. Escher.  I even learned that the Mona Lisa is associated with a mathematical concept called the Golden Ratio which interestingly enough, is something that I've learned from toymakers. 

Mathematics and art have a long history together. Pictured is the Great Pyramid of Khufu, photo: Nina Aldin Thune source: Wikimedia

This is a diagram of the pyramid above with specific emphasis on the golden ratio.  This is the caption- does this make sense to you?: "Possible base:hypotenuse(b:a) ratios for the Pyramid of Khufu: 1:φ (Kepler’s Triangle), 3:5 (3-4-5 Triangle), and 1:4/π source: Wikimedia

Relativity by M.C. Escher, questions perspective and representing 3D work on 2D surfaces. source: Wikimedia  Is this an example of 2D work with a 3D essence.  I think so.   BTW, M.C. Escher, I'm told, was not the greatest student when he was a kid- not even in Math!

Serenity in Thinking in Pictures

I should actually not veer off too much from the real reason why I like Design Tiles. After my son opened the Design Tiles box, he got to work right away and within minutes, he came up with a groovy design. However, when I tried my hand at it, it took me much longer to come up with something decent. I was surprised by this but then I reflected on the process of making my design.

When I was choosing the tiles, I never said any words out loud and I barely thought "in words" either. If I did, I might have said white, pink, or maybe one word to describe something ie. squiggly.  And what is so important about this?  Well, looking back, I realized that I was thinking in pictures and not words to create my design.  That's right! I was thinking in pictures! I was using pictures to reason out my work.

I don't believe we are saying much in our heads when we are using the tiles however, clearly, we are doing lots of things.

Here's another example of not using words. See those top two pieces? Then the bottom one? They're different.  But there is no point in using words to differentiate them.  Your brain would just do it for you automatically.

I have always said that my son thinks in pictures but with the help of Design Tiles, I got a chance to think like him for a while. I was fascinated. It was a quiet way to think and it was extremely calming.  I actually fell asleep in the middle of my designing - at 10 AM, right there, smack in the middle of my living room.  And believe me, I was not the least bit bored. I was just tired and wired from lack of sleep that day but if it weren't for the Design Tiles, I have no doubt that I would have just carried on like a stressed out zombie all day long. Why? Because being calm, let's your body feel its needs (hungry, tired, sleepy, restless). With Design Tiles, I learned that  emptying your mind of needless words can do amazing things for you.

Thank you to Saxton Freymann for sending us a photo of your prototype. Folks, imagine designing something that allowed kids to practice making good designs. It's no easy task!

How to Make Sense Without Saying A Word

This goes back to my original idea about design. It is about creating something that makes sense. We need to give our kids opportunities like this because their world usually gives them room to make sense in just one way. (grammar, arithmetic...)  But there are more ways to make sense of things and we need to give kids time to explore their thoughts this way.

Just the way that purple and chartreuse make a great match. It's impossible to explain in words but you know it works.  If your child is a visual-spatial thinker like mine, this is the toy for you.  I wouldn't be surprised if you experienced the calm that we experience here.  (Gosh, now that I think about it...  I wish this could be in every school!).  But even if your child isn't phenomenal in seeing the world visually and spatially, I would think that having Design Tiles around would be an easy way to become accustomed to boosting up these skills.  To me, that is always the mark of a well-designed toy- something that makes sense to everyone.

You don't have to be neat about clean up too. But you don't have to worry about the tiles banging into each other either.  And that is good design!
Another mark of good design.- making something that is built to last.  I am keeping these for my grandkids.

And now try winning a set of Design Tiles for your home or classroom!

Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below.   
educational toy, best educational game, best educational toy, learning tools, toys for learning, toys are tools, child development, therapeutic toys, special needs toys, gifted children toys, games for gifted kids, 
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Want to get it on Amazon? Allow me to 

If you are a specialty toy retailer who loves eeBoo and has an affiliate program, I would love love love to hear from you.  I love buying my eeBoo products from specialty toy stores. Y'all have great prices on eeBoo products!

Other cool stuff made by this inventor

About Face

Disclosure:  Toys are Tools was not compensated by the manufacturer for the publication of this review.  The reviewed items were provided to Toys are Tools to facilitate a review.  Reviews are never promised. 



  1. Volcano tell me a story looks fun.

  2. My boys like to build with Legos, sometimes I can get them to draw or paint.

  3. I like eeboo's obstacle game; creativity and cooperation

  4. Our favorite arts & crafts activity is painting; no matter what age and gender, it is a great activity. We use all kind of different papers, thick/thin, absorbent and less so, colored or not, textured or not, fingers/brushes/homemade tools/improvised tools/etc, and we make all our colors from the primary colors and white. Lately we've been painting a page somewhat heavily and folded the paper in 1/2, press it and see what happens to color and shapes, a bit wabi sabi :)

  5. I'm most interested in this: in addition to the design tiles which look amazing.

  6. my kids are: boy (7) and girl (4). We enjoy using soft pastels.

  7. I can always get my kids to paint but they are so damn messy! I can get them to draw but teaching them a new drawing skill is much harder but eeBoo has really great books. I hope you will see my reviews on the eeBoo drawing books.

  8. My testers (7 and 8) got this last night. Already hearing rave comments.

  9. wow, it's so amazing how everyone is interested in story cards. that's so cool! My testers (7 and 8) got this last night. Already hearing rave comments.

  10. how do you not create permanent paint marks in your home when doing all that? I use acrylic paint mostly. We have paint everywhere.

  11. I do not use acrylic unless supervised for special project that require more permanent colors (e.g. wood projects) and outdoors (we _I_ spray with clear coating away by myself); as you say acrylics are painful to remove.

    I use watercolors and to be precise Crayola Artista II Washable Tempera; the only thing is the sweet smell it emanates which I cannot stand so I dry things out as far as possible from my sensitive nose. I haven't had time to look for a better option. Anyway, we use fabric aprons and if we use an easel, I put a garbage back under it and we let it rip. Nothing that can't be mopped or washed which is a team job :)

    The violet is not particularly exciting without some white as it is very dark. Also when mixing colors involving yellow, since it's a tint, you will need a very disproportionately large amount of yellow to other colors unless you want a very dark version of a green or orange or a black (all 3 primary colors, more blue) and deep chocolate (all 3 primary colors, more red) You can make all the colors with yellow, red and blue (and white) and teach harmony while you're at it if going that route. :)

    More info on the product; there are smaller containers as well, buy extra yellow if you mix though :)


  12. I forgot, I also have these:

  13. I thought I'd post an example of what I'm talking about below, the wabi sabi paintings :) Those cups are enable to keep things relatively clean; there are drips, but nothing that can't be cleaned up with these washable paints. We then have fun seeing things in there; somewhat like watching clouds.

  14. We like working on plastic canvas and yarn projects lately. My daughter helped me make Q-Bert baby blocks with jingle bells inside. They turned out so cute. (Gianna)

  15. Small Pencil Assortment

  16. I really like the artwork of the Old Fashioned Matching Game!

  17. I like to do simple sewing with my daughter using fabric with a loose weave (like burlap), yarn, and a plastic yarn needle. She really wants to learn to knit and crochet (like mommy), so we'll probably start that as her pincer grasp develops.

  18. I would like to try the Volcano Island Tell me a Story cards with my boys.

  19. my 8 year old is into Rainbow Loom and painting - for now.....

  20. love the Small Sketchbooks Assortment to take on trips

  21. My boys are into coloring, puzzles, and painting right now.

  22. The travel size candy matching game looks fun.

  23. I'm so excited! I can wait to receive it. It will make a nice addition
    for Christmas if I can wait that long before opening it :)) Thank you
    for setting this giveaway up.