Cas Holman on the possibilities of play

Cas Holman’s play experiences have inspired a whole generation of children to build their own worlds out of simple blocks and shapes – just don’t call her a toy designer

In recent years, much of the innovation in early childhood development seems to have come from the tech sector. Start-ups such as Kano and Tech Will Save Us have made a name for themselves making products that teach kids to code in an imaginative and engaging way, while bigger players in the toy world have also been more willing to embrace new technologies, such as Lego’s foray into AR with Lego Hidden Side. Take a glance at any of Cas Holman’s play experiences, however, and it’s clear that the designer is all about the analogue; think less iPads and coding kits, more building blocks and bolts.

Raised in a small town in northern California, Holman’s penchant for physical play evolved from a childhood that centred around the outdoors. After studying fine art sculpture and feminist theory at uni, Holman was eager to transform the interactive, sculptural pieces she had been creating up until that point into something more functional, and went back to school to study 3D Design at Cranbook Academy of Art. This led to the creation of her first product, Geemo, which essentially allowed the user to create their own species of toy using a series of flexible magnetic limbs that attracted and repelled each other in unexpected ways.

“It wound up opening up a chance for me to really observe how kids were interacting with something that didn’t have an identity, and by identity, I mean it wasn’t designated a car, or a doll, or a horse, and it didn’t have instructions,” says Holman. “It was kind of a humble moment for me, when I started thinking more about the way our imagination is or isn’t engaged by things that already have a story, and from there I immediately wanted to design ten more ways to do that.”