5 Toys That Use Tech To Inspire IRL Play

Who says your smartphone will ultimately destroy your domestic relationships?


Smartphones and tablets are the bane of domestic relationships. Critics say they make us worse spouses, and worse parents. But what if they could help us connect and have fun with one another? What if technology could have all the appeal of a good old board game?


This year, the Prix Émile Hermès design competition challenged designers to develop new tools for play. Of the 12 finalists recently highlighted by Designboom, five reconsider the relationships of our toys, to our screens, and to ourselves. Because even though a toy is constructed from paper and wood, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily stuck in the 1950s.

The Oracle

Oracle is a pair of felted containers created by graphic design studio Playground Paris. An app assigns you a very specific color, and you and your opponent must attempt to find something of that color in your immediate environment. When you submit your object, the box scans it for color-matching and whoever was closest, wins.


Wooden trains and tablets should have no earthly reason to exist together. But Dorémix, by culinary arts studio Dinettes, uses digital technology to turn a train track into a circle of sheet music. Using the tablet, you can tell the motorized train to drive forward or back, faster and slower. And on the track, you can program notes to play whenever the train passes.


It doesn’t do much. Vibrato, by Jean-Simon Roch, is just a wooden box that shakes and vibrates a piece of paper. But by drawing shapes on the paper, and topping it with marbles and other objects that roll around, the paper becomes what Roch calls “an open-ended object [that] creates ‘time out’ for the contemplation of movement and shapes.”


Developed by Camille Courlivant, Rose Dumesny, and Line de Carne, Clio is like an erector set for the digital world. Using a kit of pieces, you can build your own transportation systems including a rocket, helicopter, and submarine. Once built, you can drive that vehicle in the game.


Interactive Wallpaper

It’s the most fun you’ve had with wallpaper since Willy Wonka. Alexandre Echasseriau designed his interactive wallpaper to be printed with conductive ink. All you do is touch it to make music, which plays through the center speaker. An accompanying website lets you alter the sounds so your decor doesn’t get sonically stale.

All Photos: BABEL/Wearemb, courtesy Hermès

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach