Collectobil - Hans Beck: "The Father Of PLAYMOBIL®"

Collectobil Collectors Guide - Hans Beck, the Father of Playmobil


Hans Beck, the former Head of Development at Geobra, has often been called "The Father of PLAYMOBIL®". Before the very first PLAYMOBIL® toys were introduced at the International Nürnberg Toy Fair in 1974, he had spend three years developing the product.

Hans Beck working on the first version of the PLAYMOBIL® alligator.The idea for the PLAYMOBIL® system came to mind after the 1971 oil crisis demanded a radical new idea that would help to overcome the problems that the rising oil prices imposed on Geobra Brandstätter, PLAYMOBIL®s future manufacturer.

In the Golden Sixties, Geobra had been producing hoola-hoops and large plastic toys, which required a lot of solid plastic material.

So, the first response to the oil crisis was to develop a line of much smaller vehicles, which would require less material while offering children an even more valuable playing experience.

These vehicles would be accompanied by very basic action figures, which at first, were secondary to the vehicles and were only meant to be static add-ons to the vehicles. But somewhere down the road, Hans Beck's focus shifted towards the figures.

At first, these prototype figures did not make a very convincing impression on Horst Brandstätter, the owner of Geobra. But Hans Beck was allowed to continue working on them, to prove the strengths and advantages of his creation.

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. That is the reason why PLAYMOBIL® figures did not end up with bendable knees and elbows.

The figure also 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.

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 omitted. These valuable observations influenced the design of the subsequent prototypes for the original 1974 PLAYMOBIL® figure.

And as development continued to evolve towards the final KLICKY figure, the root concept for the PLAYMOBIL® toy line was also taken into a new direction: The new goal was to to develop a system of customizable toys, that were small in scale but had interchangeable parts which offered unlimited possibilities for re-combination and expansion. The KLICKY figures now became the centerpieces for the toy line as configurable characters with whom children would be able to identify easily. A large base of accessories and clothing parts would allow children to put these KLICKY characters in every imaginable situation and role.

After training a group of product designers that could take his place and assure the continuation of the PLAYMOBIL® family of products, Hans Beck retired in the spring of 1999, just before the celebration of the 25th birthday of PLAYMOBIL®s introduction on the market.

During the World Expo 2000 in Hannover, Hans Beck was among the 100 German personalities that got a statue within the German Pavilion, as a recognition for the very successful toy he created and the educational influence his creation had on an entire generation. 

Read a 1997 interview with Hans Beck, from the Christian Science Monitor

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