Inspiring Workday Creativity Through Play, One Desk at a Time

Co-founders of Swedish toy brand Acne JR discuss their collaboration with Toca Boca and why you should never stop playing.

Parker Barry

JRws_Sofia_Mats_Photo_Susanna_BlavargToca Boca and Swedish toy brand Acne JR partnered to create an exclusive collector’s edition of wooden desk toys. Toca Magazine interviewed Acne JR co-founders Mats Johansson and Sofia Ekvall about the their work, the desk toys and the importance of play.

How did the two of you get into the toy business?
Sofia: We met at design school in the mid-1990s. Since then I have been working as a graphic designer, mainly with branding and packaging.

Mats: I started out as an illustrator, with character design and toys as my biggest inspiration. After a few years of freelancing I co-founded the design company Acne where I started developing kids concepts. In 2010 we got married and decided to join forces and create the Acne JR toy line.

What are some of the distinguishing characteristics of Acne JR products?
Mats: Reinventing the classic iconic toys is our main focus. Simplifying the design. Sometimes adding function.

We love working with geometric shapes and always choose quality materials. Our goal is to make toys that will be passed on from generation to generation.


Acne JR and Toca Boca collaborated to create desk toys. Why desk toys?
Mats: We really like the idea of desk toys in general. Something that you put on your desk to make the working day more enjoyable. Both decorative and playable. An object that inspires creativity and at the same time gets you organized. Balancing between work and play.

How did you bring Acne JR’s unique personality to the collaboration with Toca Boca?
Sofia: We love the Toca Boca characters. Their aesthetics fit our style perfectly. We immediately felt we wanted to turn them into some kind of wooden toy, produced here in Sweden. Simplifying the characters with our geometric style came naturally. Giving the toys individual functions connected to the playfulness of Toca Boca’s digital world.


Besides the fact that Acne JR makes toys, how does your work embody the spirit of play?
Sofia: Running our own toy shop here in Stockholm gives us the feel of playing every single day. A bit surreal, since it had been a dream of ours for many years. We also get to watch kids and their parents interacting and playing with our products in real life.

The design process is a lot about playing around with materials, colors and design elements. Trying things out. Sketching and drawing is a big part of our work, as well.

Has your perspective on play changed since you were a child?
Mats: Not really. Having three kids of our own keeps us updated on the child perspective. And makes us think of our own childhood constantly.


Why is it important to play?
Sofia: Play develops kids’ abilities on so many different levels, building their self-confidence and self-esteem. It sparks their imagination and creativity.

Sofia + Mats: Playing is equally important to us grown-ups. To indulge in creating something, a hobby perhaps? Allowing yourself to do something that you do not necessarily have to do. Don’t stop playing!

Related stories