the boezels

The Boezels are a series of seventeen fuzzy human or animal-like toys developed by Twan Verdonck. They were initially designed for mentally challenged people and elderly with Alzheimer’s as sensorial stimulation therapy (snoezelen) tools to help the learning process and reduce anxiety.

Each Boezel friend has unique characteristics and stimulates one or more of the four senses (touch, smell, hearing, sight.) There is a monkey, called Tummy, which can be heated in the microwave and makes the user’s belly warm when placed in proximity. Reura is a snake with a relaxing smell. The zHumanoyd is an abstract baby with a special scent and a mirror in which a person can recognize himself. The Boezels vary in size from 20 cm to 200 cm so that some Boezels can be cuddled on the lap and others will cuddle the user. Due to the perfectly balanced combination of material, weight and size they provoke a strong feeling of physical contact.

The Boezels are not only meant for, but are also created BY mentally challenged people.  They are not produced in a typical factory, but produced in a daycare center "De Wisselstroom" in Hapert, the Netherlands where a small group of people with mental impairments are working in close collaboration with Verdonck. Much research has been done on the tactile qualities of the Boezels. Besides literature studies, observation of snoezelen rooms and interviews with social workers, many prototypes were made in a large variety of materials and tested with focus groups. Initially this was done to find out which prototype would have the best sensorial effect on the user. Later models were simplified and tested to enable production at the Wisselstroom’s workshop.

Currently, the Boezels are successfully used for therapy by a large variety of people and organizations throughout Europe. However, Verdonck has discovered that not only mentally challenged people or elderly with Alzheimer’s enjoy the pleasure of Boezels, but they appeal to almost anyone who interacts with them. They have appeared in collectors’ living rooms and trendy design magazines. "My project is a metaphor and example for how we could deal with social care, industry, design and art" says Verdonck.                                        

In 2005 the Boezels were exhibited in "Safe: Design Takes on Risk" at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), in New York who also acquired the Boezels for their permanent collection (2006). Since then, the Boezels have been travelling around the world for design shows, and conferences making friends with people across ages, needs and lifestyles! More information available at: www.boezels.com (text by Lisa M. Abendroth, Associate Professor, Metropolitan State College of Denver.)