In my own early days (born 1976) I cannot think of a day in which I did not play with any kind of Playmobil setting. Just like in the sixties where you had Stones vs Beatles, in my time it was Lego vs Playmobil. And I chose the latter any which way. Now I see my own kids handling 7,5 cm figurines, some of which I used to play with, I thought it was time to get some writing down on this brilliant design.
After closely studying children behavior in the early seventies, Hans Beck came with a toy design that changed the world. At least it did with mine. Playmobil. The little figure would have to be ideal for a children's hand, and in such a way that the world constructed around the figure would still fit into a children's room. These two factors were determinate for the eventual height of the figure: 7,5 cm!
It was not Beck's first major change to the world of children's toys. In the sixties it was he who came up with the Hoola-Hoop. And it was this design that forced him into developing something smaller. In the early seventies the worldwide oil crisis also made the prices of plastic rise. So large toys (as the hoola-hoop) were simply too expensive to produce. Geobra Brandstätter, Beck's employer asked him to come up with something cheaper..Playmobil.
The design efforts of the basic Playmobil figure went through many stages and the sketches for the figure soon got more complex, as head, arms and legs became separate parts and were able to move, so that the figure could assume numerous different poses. On the other hand, Hans Beck made sure not to make the figure too complicated, because research showed clearly that too much moveable parts seemed to hinder the natural course of children's playing activities. Hence no bendable knees and elbows.
While fine-tuning the now famous archetypical head of the figures, Hans Beck paid a lot of attention to children's drawings. When a child draws a human character, the head is always drawn with exaggerated proportions. Additionally the eyes and mouth are always there in children's drawings, but a nose is often left out. These valuable observations influenced the design of the subsequent prototypes for the original 1974 figure, known as the Klicky.
Hans Beck died in 2009 and only this year Horst Brandstätter passed away. Horst was the Director of Playmobil who appointed Beck as Director of Development in the sixties. Both of their legacies are enormous. Besides the millions of children they have taught to play and use their imagination, they also left us 5 theme parks and geeky collectors...
But one thing I feel should inspire all of us. It's great design and determination that will prevail.