BlogFrom idea to prototype

From idea to prototype

Mhendo Play, for me, started with a desire to produce quality products for children that will foster their creativity and imagination. Playing is an important part of growing up which helps to develop social, cognitive and problem-solving behaviors in children. These will instill an important life skill and prepare them for the external world, outside of their home, where they interact with friends and other people with confidence. I myself have grown up reading children’s books, playing puzzles and blocks together with my sisters and cousins. And, that has been a big part of what I do today, to make children’s books that make learning fun.

For the last few years, I have been observing locally produced books, toys, and craft materials in Nepal. The Nepali market offers varieties of plastic toys imported from different countries but it doesn’t endorse safety standards nor supports the local artisans. I have felt that we can actually do something about it, that it is possible to produce toys in Nepal, using local resources and local crafts skills and that it can be a replacement for plastic toys.

Since my original idea, the project has evolved to design products, specifically toys that are sustainable and locally produced. The past two months have been full of challenges and adventure as I worked to convert my ideas and concepts into actual tangible objects. For now, the plan is to experiment with different techniques, the complexity of the toys catering to different age groups, available materials, sustainable alternatives and options, and designs that can successfully showcase the beautiful works of Mithila artisans I plan to work with. The experimentation at this stage will be valuable to collect data, preferences and study the market to some extent. For example, I am planning to create three sets of toys for three different age groups, which will cover a broader spectrum of the audience for the product and allow me to study reactions and responses from children of different ages to these products during the field testing phase.


Design concepts for Stack Toys

During the process, it has been important to research the history of toys in context to Nepal and the world. I learned about traditional toys from around the world, in different countries and different cultures, and how the age old practices are being preserved and being marketed to the current generation. Most traditional toys use craftsmanship and environmentally friendly materials such as wood, paper and fabric. Some of the interesting practices I came across were Channapatna toys from India and Hrvatsko Zagorje toys from Croatia. The Channapatna toys use a unique coloring technique with local materials, and Hrvatsko Zagorje toys were interesting because of their tribal motifs and whimsical minimal design. Along with many other traditional toys, these have given me an idea about sustainable toys and their impact on children and the environment. During my study, it was also apparent the effort it requires to continue with traditional practices and make it a profitable business. 


Channapatna toys (Photo source: 

Hrvatsko Zagorje(Photo source:

In the case of Nepal, traditionally people use crafts to create household items such as containers, windows, doors, clothes, utensils; basically, items used in daily lives and rarely as a commercial venture until recent times. This is perhaps why I could not find the specific practice of making toys in Nepal for children, or that the practice is obscure and limited to personal use, hence not a visible part of Nepali craftsmanship. This makes my project equally important and challenging at the same time. 

I have always been an admirer of the Mithila art from the Terai region of Nepal and felt that the abstract shapes, vibrant colors, nature-based motifs, and storytelling nature of the art can bring joy to children and move their imagination. So this was an opportunity for me to bring together my love for this craft with the products that I envision. My plans to travel to Terai and observe this practice in person couldn’t be possible due to the covid-19 restrictions but my designs come from years of observation and appreciation for this craft. As a designer, I plan to provide just the framework for the paintings. The designs, inspired by the motifs found in Mithila art such as sun, fish, flowers, and the daily activities of Maithili people such as fishing and folk dance, will be created in wood. Then the pieces will be painted by Mithila artisans in their own unique styles.

mihtila art

Mithila Art (Photo source:

One of the things I have struggled with is to find craftspeople who are willing to work with products that they are not familiar with and deviate from their usual practice. One of the solutions offered by my mentor, Pratisthit Lal Shrestha, was to create 3-D prints of the toy designs, to aid the process of creating the prototypes. For me, this was an interesting collaboration, as we both come from different backgrounds: art and engineering.

As toys are objects that need to be not only fun and aesthetic but also functional, the input from my mentor was very helpful for me. Working with the Design Lab team at the Kathmandu University in Dhulikhel and creating the designs in 3-D rendering was helpful to find and solve design flaws. This was especially the case for one of the challenging designs, the automata toy, which has mechanical parts that need to move and function well. The designs were then rendered into 3-D models and printed using PLA, also known as Polylactic Acid which is a degradable material. With this, I was able to quickly create 3-D models of the toys and also find out the things that worked and that did not. After the models were created, I revised the design and sizes to make them more child-friendly and safe. It was my first time working with 3-D printing and it was interesting to learn about different approaches to creating prototypes. It has been relatively easier to approach craftspeople with 3-D models. Currently, wooden prototypes are being produced and I am eagerly waiting to receive the first batch of wooden prototypes.


3-D Print prototypes for toys at Design Lab, Dhulikhel

During this whole process, the design of the toys are being constantly revised and is still in the process of evolving. I have narrowed down the design options and am working to create prototypes of 3 types of toys at the moment. I have found there are many limitations to producing original products in Nepal in regards to materials, cost, and human resources. While these challenges are tough to navigate through, I believe that with revision and design solutions, the end result will be products that are the result of all these challenges as well as strengths unique to Nepal.

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