21 Mar

Childcraft

Childcraft logotype from Milton Glaser: Graphic Design (Penguin Books, 1973).

In 1970, Childcraft Education Corp. turned to Milton Glaser to design their flagship store at 150 E. 58th Street. Glaser recounts how he cheerfully accepted the assignment in Milton Glaser: Graphic Design (1973):

Asked to design a store for children in New York, in my profound ignorance of what was involved, I said yes. I went about it in a totally amateurish way, making little paper mock-ups to demonstrate my ideas to the contractors. After considerable confusion, it all worked out.

Milton Glaser Collection Box 57 Folder 3. Sketch for Childcraft interior, c. 1970.

Childcraft storefront from Milton Glaser: Graphic Design (Penguin Books, 1973).

Glaser played with a circular motif (see also his typeface Hologram Shadow) throughout the store, beginning with the rainbow at the entrance.

Childcraft seems to have shared a general philosophy with Creative Playthings, the forerunner and dominant force in the market for toys that facilitated unstructured play (though this feature implies a greater emphasis on social activism). Within the store, durable plastic laminate display units were color-coded by appropriate age group. Claire Berman, writing in the December 7, 1970 issue of New York, said that the parent-adored “educational” toys also looked like a lot of fun. A soundtrack of trains, planes, crickets and thunderstorms played throughout the store (I wonder what piped music experts would say about cricket sounds in a retail environment).

Childcraft storefront children’s entrance from Milton Glaser: Graphic Design (Penguin Books, 1973).

Childcraft staircase housing from Milton Glaser: Graphic Design (Penguin Books, 1973).

View through Childcraft staircase enclosure from Milton Glaser: Graphic Design (Penguin Books, 1973).

Childcraft interior from Milton Glaser: Graphic Design (Penguin Books, 1973).

Detail from Childcraft door handle (logo in metal) from Milton Glaser: Graphic Design (Penguin Books, 1973).

The curated, high-end spaceship interior of Childcraft seems to me to be both calming and a bit intimidating (read: don’t let your kids trash this store). It speaks to a fantasy of freakishly well-behaved children, each politely asking if he may touch the toys on the shelves before carefully placing them back exactly how he found them. Most toy stores I frequent are packed to the gills with merchandise, and the effect is (as with almost all things made for kids) overwhelming. A toy store of 1970 had the benefit of a much less saturated marketplace, but still, I look at these photos and can’t help but imagine the sense of relief parents and kids must have felt that someone else had done the choosing for them.

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21 March 2012
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Milton Glaser
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