In today's post, I'd like you to meet an unsung hero of product design: the Czech toy designer, Libuše Niklová.
If you were a child in the 60's or 70's and ever went to a beach, you might already be familiar with Libuše's work—she was a designer of inflatable toys at Fatra, a plastics manufacturer in Napajedla, in Czechoslovakia.
I really like the way that Libuše approaches design. She not only has a visual style that is in keeping with some of my other favorite designers of the time: The Eameses, Alexander Girard, or Paul Evans and shares a similar outlook, too. Her own mission as a designer could easily be applied to any of these examples:
"Unlike foreign products which are mostly decorated without regard to the form, my designs aspire to find a single harmony between the form and the decoration."
Her design work says and shows that she is having fun at work—how many people can claim that they can do that every day at the office?
Libuše was as much a materials engineer as a designer: she loved the material she worked with. Although her enthusiasm for plastics can be a little cringe-inducing knowing what we know now, they come from a place of untrammeled optimism:
"In the future, products from plastic matter will surround man just like the air, and they will become commonplace. Increasingly, natural materials will be a luxury and the object of admiration. The future, however, belongs to plastic."
Somewhat prescient and also depressing. But to her credit, Libuše respected plastic, seeing it not as a second-rate material, but as a medium that offered a designer countless possibilities:
"When working, I first start from the possibilities presented by the material...I look for the most optimal technological approach and at the same time, I consider the product from an aesthetic point of view...Each plastic material has its own specific characteristics which must be understood and respected."
The joy that these objects bring to people is implicit: it's one of the things I found distinctly enjoyable while reading about Libuše. Her writings are far more technical than expositional: they're toys. She writes, "One feels happy just looking at them", and 'nuff said. The lack of ideologuery is refreshing in our current era when even a toilet paper company must have a heartfelt mission statement ready for consumers.
We lost Libuše Niklová in 1981, but these simple joys transcend time. Watching her son, Petr Nikl enjoy his mom's creations is simple proof of that.
All quotes and images from: Niklová, L., & Bruthansová, T. (2013). Libuše Niklová. Praha: Taktum.