Alex Hochstrasser – Inventor of Bilibo® is taking open-ended play to the next level with MOLUK.
What do you do in the industry?
MOLUK is a small Swiss brand developing abstract, open-ended toys. I founded the company in 2011 together with my sister Doris who is an architect. After working for over ten years as designer and creative director for another toy manufacturer I came to the conclusion that starting my own business was the only way to have full control over every aspect of a product and realize my vision for a coherent family of open-ended toys.
MOLUK strives to create universal play objects that transcend the traditional categories of age and gender and remain relevant through smart, timeless design and responsible use of materials and resources. All toys of the MOLUK range work together and complement each other.
Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
Play in all its forms has always fascinated me. I can’t imagine a more rewarding job than creating objects that make people smile and encourage them to play.
Bilibo, my first toy, actually grew out of my final thesis at the University of Art and Design in Zurich.
Developing toys that inspire and encourage children to use their imagination and become independent thinkers is one of the ways a designer can have a positive impact on the future of our society.
What are you working on now?
There are always several projects in development. Sometimes an idea matures over several years until I feel it is right and fits perfectly with the existing line. We are not in a rush to have as many SKUs as possible but rather want to make sure that each toy is unique and different.
If you go off the beaten track and create play objects that are not age and gender-specific, it takes a much more significant effort to explain and communicate their possibilities. That’s why we spend a lot of time creating content for social media to help spread the word and increase awareness of our toys and play philosophy. Right now, I’m working on additional marketing materials and videos for the two toys we launched this year.
What does your typical day look like?
Running a small company, I get to wear many different hats. There is no such thing as a typical day. I enjoy switching between roles as I quickly get bored doing the same thing for too long. I’m working on the design of new toys one day, doing video or photo shootings another or travel for trade shows or meetings with our distributors. My sister is taking care of sales, logistics, and finances. We are always in touch with our distributors in more than 40 countries around the world and manage production runs and product development with our factories.
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
Our toys are abstract and deceptively simple. The depth of play possibilities is only revealed over time. This is one of their essential qualities, yet at the same time, it makes it hard to communicate in stores where people have little time to absorb complex information. We are now addressing this by introducing custom-made video screens that show the toys in the hands of kids and illustrate how all MOLUK items work together.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
On the way home from ASTRA in New Orleans I learned that both toys we launched this year had received the spiel gut® award. This means a lot because spiel gut is a non-profit organization with 60 years history of promoting excellent toys. Winning awards and having our toys on display in Museums like the MoMA in New York is cool and makes for some great PR. However, the only audience that really matters are the kids. Their feedback is brutally honest, and nothing beats the moment when we get to test a new toy with children. Seeing them enjoy the toys I designed and coming up with ever new ideas how to use them is fantastic. We just heard from a teenager who got his Bilibo when he was a toddler, and it is the only toy he still keeps in his room. Little stories like this make my day.
How do you recharge or take a break?
Our office is just two minutes from the lake in Zurich. Whenever possible, I go for a quick swim during lunchtime or in the evening. A long walk in the nearby forest also helps me clear my head and focus my thoughts.
Where did you grow up and how did that influence who you are today?
I was fortunate to grow up in a small village in the Swiss countryside where we were free to play outside all day together with other kids and no adults constantly hovering around. We would build a space station with cardboard boxes, search for magic stones at the river or roam through the woods. We were creating our own world, and most often, simple objects like sticks, moss or shells proved more useful in our games than actual toys.
In my work for MOLUK, I draw heavily from these memories. I try to develop objects that tickle the natural curiosity and playfulness of children and bring back some of that wonder and sense of magic and excitement I enjoyed when I was a kid myself.
For more info!