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Childcraft logotype from Milton Glaser: Graphic Design (Penguin Books, 1973).
March 21, 2014


In 1970, Childcraft Education Corp. turned to Milton Glaser to design their flagship store at 150 E. 58th Street. Glaser recounts how he cheerfully accepted the assignment in Milton Glaser: Graphic Design (1973):

Asked to design a store for children in New York, in my profound ignorance of what was involved, I said yes. I went about it in a totally amateurish way, making little paper mock-ups to demonstrate my ideas to the contractors. After considerable confusion, it all worked out.

A rough pen sketch on a stained white paper. The sketch is planing layout, some of the drawings is hard to make out what it is. There us also dimension, numbers, random shapes on the sides of the paper. On the top right is a small cubby design. Below is big design of four set staircase going up to the same platform that has a rainbow on top. On the bottom is a design for what looks like a front desk. It has a cylindrical pyramid shape.

Milton Glaser Collection Box 57 Folder 3. Sketch for Childcraft interior, c. 1970.

A photo of the "Childcraft" location from the outside. It has an large windows, so you can see inside. There is a illuminated circular motif near the windows that looks like a rainbow. The entrance door has a bright yellow storefront awning and near the door is a quarter circle wall walkway. "Childcraft" on the top of the location in a simple white illuminated sign. The lettering is minimalistic and is not in all caps. Inside you can see the brightly colored lobby that has cubbies on the wall and toys displayed in front of the window.

Childcraft storefront from Milton Glaser: Graphic Design (Penguin Books, 1973).

Glaser played with a circular motif (see also his typeface Hologram Shadow) throughout the store, beginning with the rainbow at the entrance.

Childcraft seems to have shared a general philosophy with Creative Playthings, the forerunner and dominant force in the market for toys that facilitated unstructured play (though this feature implies a greater emphasis on social activism). Within the store, durable plastic laminate display units were color-coded by appropriate age group. Claire Berman, writing in the December 7, 1970 issue of New York, said that the parent-adored “educational” toys also looked like a lot of fun. A soundtrack of trains, planes, crickets and thunderstorms played throughout the store (I wonder what piped music experts would say about cricket sounds in a retail environment).

A close-up photo of the entrance of the location. The is two sets of doors, one for entering and one for exiting. The entrance has a bright yellow rigid storefront awning. On the side of the awning is a quarter circle rainbow pattern. There is a pair of small quarter-circle rainbow walls on the sides of the entrance door. You can see in the inside, two adults are looking at the cubbies that is filled with toys and other kid-like things.

Childcraft storefront children’s entrance from Milton Glaser: Graphic Design (Penguin Books, 1973).

A photo of a a white geometric-like staircase housing inside the location. Its behind the front desk. It has a red railing on the left and a blue railing on the right. The house has a curved top that has two wide holes that serves as shelfs for the front desk. You see the cubbies of toys on the left with rainbow striped colored walls.

Childcraft staircase housing from Milton Glaser: Graphic Design (Penguin Books, 1973).

A close up of the curved top for the staircase housing from the front. The holes is yellow and wide enough to serves as a shelf.

View through Childcraft staircase enclosure from Milton Glaser: Graphic Design (Penguin Books, 1973).

A photo of the back of the location. A geometrical colorful set of large and small cylinders with holes served as shelfs. The cylinder shelfs are on top of a white circular table that is covered in toys. The floor is tiny white swore tiles. The lighting on the ceiling are big white circular lights. And the wall of the cubbies is minimalistic yet colorful. The wall is a rainbow stripped design and the white cubbies has a bright yellow inside the cubbies.

Childcraft interior from Milton Glaser: Graphic Design (Penguin Books, 1973).

A close up photo of the metal door handle outside. The handle is two Cs overlapping one another with shading giving it a 3D effect.

Detail from Childcraft door handle (logo in metal) from Milton Glaser: Graphic Design (Penguin Books, 1973).

The curated, high-end spaceship interior of Childcraft seems to me to be both calming and a bit intimidating (read: don’t let your kids trash this store). It speaks to a fantasy of freakishly well-behaved children, each politely asking if he may touch the toys on the shelves before carefully placing them back exactly how he found them. Most toy stores I frequent are packed to the gills with merchandise, and the effect is (as with almost all things made for kids) overwhelming. A toy store of 1970 had the benefit of a much less saturated marketplace, but still, I look at these photos and can’t help but imagine the sense of relief parents and kids must have felt that someone else had done the choosing for them.