Can Great Ideas Come out of a Remote Backwater like Michigan?
Uncle Goose makes wooden toys. We design and hand craft our products in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
When we go to large toy shows in major cities, designers and others seem surprised to learn we’re from Michigan. They like our designs and our sense of style.
“Really solid work,” said one high end designer. “Well crafted and executed. But who actually designs your toys?”
Um, we do.
Many seem to think that great design can only be informed by constant exposure to vibrant metropolitan populations. How else could Uncle Goose possibly come up with great designs in the stagnant backwaters of a faraway, odd, and remote peninsula?
It’s a fair question.
Because some days, we wonder if we’re more of a wildlife sanctuary or petting zoo than a toy maker! Our shop abuts Ken-O-Sha Park. This is a large, forested green space. Plaster Creek winds its way through this 100+ acre park.
As you might imagine, this park is filled with Michigan wildlife. And every day, critters come leaping, creeping, flapping, and crawling out of the woods.
The deer have demolished our bushes. On any given day, we’ll see a herd of deer in our front and back yard. In the spring, fawns like laying against our building.
When we go out to get the mail, the fawns seem curious about our activity. If they get too close, their mom might stand nearby and glare. And when we go out to the dumpster, it’s not uncommon to hear a mama deer snort.
We’d like to think the deer are too smart to come inside our building, but now we’re not so sure. They’ve been coming closer and closer to the tool room door. It’s as if they want to know what we’re doing indoors and want to see for themselves!
Snapping turtles show up to lay eggs. Muskrats and foxes come by to dig up their eggs. It’s what Elton John might call the circle of life.
And let’s not forget the Canada geese. They flock everywhere. In the yard. On the roof. In the parking lot. Our feathered namesakes get into everything.
During the day, we’ll go outside and take a break. If we leave the door open — a flock of geese might waddle right into our facility. We need to escort the geese out of the building before we can resume work.
We don’t know what herd of tiny varmints have been on our roof. But we hear them crawling and hopping. Hopefully, they’re squirrels using our roof as a highway to go from branch to branch. But it just might be chipmunks or small birds.
At Uncle Goose, we’re exposed to animals and nature every day. Could it be possible that the forest and the animals are partly responsible for informing our design sensibilities?
After all, nature inspires us. Through daily exposure, we have a working familiarity with wildlife and woods. It informs our work, our designs, and helps fuel our creativity.
We’re also inspired by great design and designers. Even though we live and work in Michigan, we have access to the internet and television. We study at colleges and universities. We read and travel.
Perhaps great design can indeed come from odd, faraway places like Grand Rapids, Michigan. And perhaps creativity can spring forth from wherever you might find yourself, as well.
Other than living in a large city, what else can inspire great design work?