My other car's a Tonka Toy: Jonathan Glancey has spotted a trend: the emergence of Toddler Style for adult goods

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The Independent Online
There is a sub-species of adult that likes to dress in nappies, suck dummies and otherwise behave like a pramful of toddlers. There are specialist shops, contact magazines and encounter groups catering for such late-weaning tots.

For the rest of us it is a relief to grow up and to act - as far as possible - like adults, even though we might feel nostalgic about the railway set in the loft, the teddy stuffed in the sock drawer and that copy of The Secret Garden bearing our own crayon illustrations.

So it is surprising to see what one might call 'Toddler Style' digging deep into our adult psyche The success of the theme park and 'interpretation centre' at historic sites are obvious examples of the way in which adults are rediscovering the joys of being spoon-fed. More remarkable is the example of the most talked-about new city car, the Renault Twingo, which looks like a Tonka Toy for grown- ups that has escaped the nursery and dosed itself on steroids.

The Twingo is a different car, a practical and likeable urban carry-all. But the first thing journalists noted was its childlike cabin, dashboard and controls. Not only does the car look like something that needs a couple of batteries before being plopped into the children's bath, but its switchgear appears to be designed for the reach and touch of little tots.

Even the name is symptomatic of the rise of Toddler Style. A colleague asked some friends who had not heard of this mechanical cherub what product they thought the Twingo was. A new chocolate bar was a popular choice, and the closest anyone got to a car was a baby buggy designed for twins. But Renault is not the only pioneer of Toddler Style. Yamaha has recently launched the 'Scooter-Frog', a bizarre motor- scooter that would be perfect transport for a Japanese Noddy. The Badger Line operator has turned its London buses into cuddly toys, with giant cartoon badgers smiling down from the sides of its double-deckers. And Toddler Style is not just out on the streets: increasingly, household gadgets such as vacuum cleaners and dishwashers are being designed along the same infantile lines. They come in comfy, rounded shapes and are operated by big lime-green or pink buttons.

Ten years ago the design of cars, motorbikes, vacuum cleaners and dishwashers was overtly technological and serious. When the Western economy was buoyant and confidence and spending power were high, we demanded sleek and sophisticated products and decorated our homes as if they were Nasa research laboratories: rubber-studded floors, chromed-steel swing-bins, gantry- like desk lamps.

This was the world of the successful single person or double-income power couple; babies were unacceptable in such a controlled environment, where every trace of a past life was swept away in the quest for a streamlined adult identity. But all that changed when recession and slump rocked the confidence of hi-tech folk, who began to look wistfully at the comforts of childhood and to soft, anthropomorphic and zoomorphic forms. The rigours of the machine were abandoned in favour of teddy bears, ethnic craft toys, nursery food and . . . Toddler Style.

At the same time, babies came back into vogue as thirtysomethings panicked their way into pregnancy and parenthood and discovered a good excuse to slide off the vertiginous career ladder. After years of aspiring to be super-competent, magnificently controlled adults, they suddenly found comfort in childhood a second time around. And here are the Renault Twingo, the Yamaha Scooter-Frog, the Badger Line bus, all designed, Toddler Style, to carry them off to the world of the adult nursery, where everybody lived happily ever after.

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