While playing with childhood toys is just a trip down memory lane for most people, one man made tinkering with toys his career.
Tony Morley, and his wife Taia design and invent toys for a living. Tobbles, the toy Morley created, was nominated to win Toy of the Year. The toy allows players to nest different-sized spheres on top of each other.
The Fat Brain Toy Co. website describes it as a toy where “physics interplays with design perfection. Creativity, experimentation and innovative play take on a new spin.”
Rope swings and zip lines probably aren’t part of the typical home, but for Emma Morley, the daughter of Tony and Taia Morley, those weren’t even the coolest things at home growing up. Growing up in a home with a Dad and Mom as toy inventors and artists was. She describes her home as one of full of fun, with interesting objects always lying around.
“I call it a black hole for stuff because there are so many trinkets and gadgets in our home that my parents collect because they’ll think it’s a neat idea or design and get ideas from it,” she said, “so we just have lots of stuff in the house to play with.”
Tony Morley says the reason why he went into toy designing is because it was the one thing he was halfway decent at.
“I was a mediocre designer and it just seemed to work,” he said.
Tony Morley said he gets his inspiration from his own childhood memories and experiences, and his own goofy thinking.
“I’ve always been perceived by friends and family to be a little off center,” he said. “I find it helpful to be a little askew from the norm. It’s also helpful to not be too grown up.”
While he said it was fun, Tony Morley said there also has to be a balance between those thoughts and how you act as an adult.
“It’s kind of dangerous because I like to keep a sense of play about me, and if you do that too much, it damages your credibility when you don’t want to be compromised,” he said.
Creativity, he said, has to be controlled.
“Being able to tap in the child in you is not creative, it’s just immature, and that’s not good,” he said. “There needs to be a reasonable sense of responsibility and childhood playfulness. Sometimes they go in hand, childlike thinking and creativity — but not always.”
Creativity wasn’t something Tony Morley wanted to describe, because he felt it boxed him in. Instead, he borrowed a quote from J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bomb.
“I could solve my most complex problems in physics if I had not given up ways of thinking common to children at play,” Oppenheimer said.
Tony Morley said everyone has the potential to create.
“I think everybody is creative but some of us have forgotten or have become discouraged,” he said.
While he doesn’t know how he continues to come up with new ideas, Tony Morley said he makes a decent living at it.
“If I knew how to do it better, I’d do it,” he said. “Usually I’m almost always unsuccessful, but once in a while it works and keeps us going.”
He said it’s fun to see his creations on a shelf in a store, to see people play with them and hear about them, but just making a contribution to the world is also satisfying.
Tony Morley talked about his dreams, including the coolest toy he hasn’t yet invented.
“I want to make an anti-gravity toy,” he said. “But I have a closet full of toys that will never be manufactured.”
Emma Morley said her dad sometimes would test out his ideas on her siblings and her.
“There are lots of things he has conjured up in his brain that I have no idea about,” she said. “He just sent me a prototype of a game that he wants my roommates and I to test out.”
Emma Morley said her Dad is always looking for fun things for people to do, like group activities. She said he’ll ask funny questions when he first meets people to get them to laugh.
“He’s always trying to find ways to have people laugh and have fun, so I guess that translates to his job,” she said. “I think there’s definitely a child in there. He’s very wise and mature, but he definitely still has a child inside of him, but he also knows when to harness it.”
Fat Brain Toy Co. is the company that produced Tobbles. The company develops a broad range of products, but focuses on educational building toys.
Eric Quam, director of product development, said they were delighted and felt it was a great honor to have one of their toys be nominated as Toy of the Year in the specialty category. Quam said Morley first submitted the idea in 2010, where the company then went through several iterations and designs to fit the company’s line of products. After releasing it in 2011, the toy turned out to be such a success the company released a new version this year called Tobbles Neo.
“Tobbles is an interesting phenomena in that executives play it at their desk,” he said. “It is at home on your mantle piece as much as in your board room or play room. It’s a toy that is also a piece of art.”
Quam said it has been a good experience working with Morley over the past couple of years.
“He has a great eye for design and aesthetic, and is very much in line with what we’re doing at Fat Brain Toy Co.,” he said.
Asked if he had any words of advice to students who might want to go into toy design, Tony Morley said it wasn’t the best career option.
“Go ahead and invent toys, but get a real job too,” he said.