Interview with Marko Pavlovic: Oblo – design for kid’s minds

February 2, 2009

If somebody would have a strong need to rethink and freely take in count definition of design by Carnegie Mellon School of Design, which sees design as ‘the process of taking something from its existing state and moving it to a preferred state’, trying at the same time practically adapt it for kidz, they would find Oblo as an perfect example.


Marko Pavlovic is a young designer who has created a didactic toy, three dimensional jigsaw he called Oblo. In 2007 at D&AD’s contest for design students in London, Pavlovic got the third award in the category for product design and innovation. The category was sponsored by Hamleys, one of the biggest companies for toyz.

After that, he was awarded with golden IDEA’08 – IDSA International Design Excellence Awards among 1517 competitors. Last year Croatian Designers’ Society gave him annual year award in the student’s category for industrial / product design.


He graduated at Faculty of Textile Technology, receiving a degree in Fashion Design, but the thing Marko really wanted to study was something more connected with industrial design. So, he had worked for shorter time in a company related to graphic design, having some time to mull about what he really wants to do. The decision was made: he passed exams and entered at the School for Design in Zagreb (Croatia).

The chance to prove this was the right decision came very very soon. As a freshman on his first year he submitted Oblo, under the guidance of his mentor Mladen Oresic, to the above mentioned D&AD’s contest.

Jury members of IDEA’08 were obviously quite impressed coz Bill Mak from IDSA said that ‘Whenever another juror picked up this fascinating toy, we could observe continuous streams of smiles and intense mental concentration. The design engages in a way that few toys (for children or adults) are capable of. This is a world-class design achievement. While Mark Dziersk of FIDSA captured it keenly: ‘I played with it a lot. I showed it to everyone I could. It captured my imagination.’


In that sense Marko says that ‘he wishes to specialize in industrial design and sees future exciting and full of challenging design adventures, of particular interest developing new toys for children, exploring interior design solutions and new vehicles projects.’ He strongly believes that ‘other than nature, everything on planet Earth must be designed’.

Pavlovic designed Oblo with an aim to create a toy that will enhance intelligence and fine motor skills in preschool children.


Oblo indeed looks overwhelmingly lucid, what’s the reason why I invited Marko Pavlovic for a deeper explanation about the whole thing…

Hi Marko! Oblo is a multi layered toy that uses spherical equal parts (each in different colour), which needs to be disassembled and reassembled around central axis. Can you tell me more about a product you designed?

M: Oblo is a bowl consisting of a round shape container, a lid and 10 removable pieces placed in layers inside the bowl – base container itself. In order to obtain a successful progress from one level to the next one, one needs to find the right extracting position for each removable piece to enable its smooth passage through the fixed shape open space provided.

The exercise allows graduate direct insight and the examination of the inner space of the bowl, step by step, as it becomes available. By interacting with the toy child gets acquainted with the geometric knowledge of the spherical body and its basic characteristics.

With its aspect and design the bowl recalls the look of the common play ball, appears challenging and attracts child’s attention, curiosity and exploring talent while offering possibilities to improve his technical and motor skills. By playing with the bowl, children seek for and are encouraged to discover new possibilities and/ or ways of disassembling and reassembling the pieces, combining one piece with another as well as placing them inside the bowl.


How did you come out with the idea of making Oblo?

M: Everything started when I was a first year student on the School of Design at the Faculty of Architecture in Zagreb. I said to my mentor that I want to compete at D&AD’s Global Students Awards 2007 in London. In the category Product Design & Innovation, sponsored by UK’s company Hamleys, the task was to design a modern 3D toy, not necessarily based on the latest technological advances and made of digital parts.

They wanted a toy that has to motivate and enhance kids in their development, explorations and discovering of the world they are surrounded. My mentor supported my idea and I started to work on the model and documentation according to the design procedure.


How much time it took you to create it? Can you tell me everything from the beginning, from concept and sketches through final practical production?

M: The whole process took from 3 to 4 months of work. The story about the beginning of these toys is rather unusual. Everything had started as exercise in my first semester. The exercise was based around topic of ‘protection’ (humans, animals, nature…) and its articulation in 3D form, respectively in space.

The toy Oblo is basically a result of my explorations and analysis of that topic, whereat I focused on harmony and compability of all elements in that composition. On that basis spherical elements were created which are functioning as parts of the bigger unity. This connection that merges all elements with the case is their shape, which matches the same mouth at case. On that way toys disassembly and assembly is possible, based on the principles of the key and its lock.

I started my work with the material quite early, without precise elaboration of pre-existing sketches that came later. I designed all elements from styrofoam, and by combining them I just came to the desired sample. After that, I worked out on all elements on the computer. That phase was later on used for making the first model with the equipment for fast prototype production.


I know you tested Oblo with kids in Children’s Library? What was their reaction? What were the expected reactions by you? Have you been surprised with something?

M: Yes. That was a great experience. The toy was presented to a group of children, aged between 2,5 and 6,5 years old. I used then several models: the final model and a variety of models based on different level of severity for disassembling and reassembling from styrophore, which precedents this final model.

Overwhelmed with the toy, kids showed their explorative and competitive spirit, trying to ‘solve’ the model. Presented model showed me that it’s suitable for children aged about 5 years old, while less complicated models are more suitable for kids till 3 years old. There were interesting, yet even successful efforts to combine less and more complicated parts of toys.

Is Oblo now a finished project or you have some plans to do something else along with this line?

M: Oblo, in this form, is now finished project and my only wish is to see, as soon as possible, the toy in production. Of course, it’s possible to re-adapt this product to different children’s needs and their age, in order to create a set of toys under the name Oblo. In addition, I have some ideas on designing the group of products that would offer to kids the opportunity to discover the space around them.


How did you get into this field, designing a kinda puzzle toy for kidz?

M: I came through by accident, as I mentioned before, that was a project as an exercise that I was finishing in that period for my school. The project corresponded excellently to propositions needed for D&AD’s competition. After conversation with my mentor, I decided to advance my exercise according to the propositions of the contest. I’m very glad that innovation characteristic for Oblo had been recognized at international contests.

How your educational background in textile arts influences your current work?

M: Well, certainly it had influenced my current work. I look at it as a sort of development, growing up and a search for myself. Fashion design, graphic design, industrial design, and all that fields interact on different levels. People very often talk about the multidisciplinary design, in a sense that in the process of designing a product different disciplines and sciences are incorporated.

Designer is forced to educate himself with every new project he gets. Designer needs to educate himself in a variety of disciplines in order to work out the task. Fashion, graphic and industrial design are using similar, or almost the same, methods of collecting and analyzing the data.


Tell me a little about how you became interested in the object design project… industrial design… and what exactly does an industrial designer do?

M: For a long time graphic design, especially visual identity were my main interest. Industrial design came later on, after I entered the School for Design in Zagreb. My decision to specialize myself in that direction came as logical choice after the success with Oblo, but it wasn’t the only one.

Creating a new product and its ‘bringing’ to the world is a long-lasting and hard process. No other form of design, for instance graphic or fashion, are not giving you such a satisfaction at the end of the process, when the product is finished. Especially, in the moment when you realize that you have something in front of you, what is the result of your efforts, endeavours and wishes to create something new and of valuable existence in the world fulfilled with products of doubtful quality.

The responsibility of industrial designer is huge, because designers have to try to enhance the quality of human life with their work. Therefore, designers have to encounter time, accessible technologies and the whole chain of different factors.


What’s your next project is going to be about?

M: At the moment I’m working on the multi purpose chair. I’ve tried, by respecting the norms of ergonomics, to keep high standard of comfort; therefore I used a number of segments that form the back and the seat. In that way the seater is actually surprised by the comfort of seemingly cold, straight surfaces. There are two different types of chairs in the system. I’ll publish the project on my webpage, but until then you can see it on:

Tnx a lot, Marko!

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