I am a huge fan of wooden block puzzles. Having playing since I was a child, I have always appreciated the elegance of these puzzles. The pieces can seem very simple at the first glance, however, The simplicity is deceptive. Not only they are a great entertainment for both children and adults, there are also a lesson or two that designers can learn from them.
1. Problem solving (forward and backward)
When I was holding a puzzle in my hand, I always first tried to observe and figure out how these pieces fit together and how the end result should be. Once I could paint a picture of the final product, I started to play with pieces. Often this involves both forward and backward problem solving.
Sometimes you know the last step first. Sometimes you know step 2 and 3 but then have to work out step 1 first and see how you can get to step 4. This isn’t a straight forward liner process, but this is a situation that designers face sometimes. We could have a clear picture of what a product should be and work backwards to figur out how to make it happen. It’s helpful to have the confidence that early steps will become clear, even if initially they are hard to see.
2. A understanding of three-dimensional relationships
In order to solve these wooden puzzles, we need to understand how the shapes fit together in a 3D space. As a designers, it is important to understand this as well, especially when so much is being designed on a computer. If a product is being designed for the physical world, it needs to follow the rules of physics.