Remembering Ello Creation Systems
Children’s construction toys stand the test of time, even with the current dash forward to all things electronic. The genre has both long enduring franchises like the ever-expanding Legos universe, as well as pop-up toys that were more short-lived. The second category describes Ello Creation Systems, one of my favorite toys as a child, and one of the few toys I enjoyed that didn’t involve staring at a screen.
Ello Creation Systems was a construction and craft set, primarily marketed towards girls ages 5-12, during the narrow window of 2002-2004. At the time, I fit neatly within Ello’s target demographic, aged 10-12 years old during its run.
Looking at this short window of time is surprising to me, as this toy had many pros. Even after so many years, I remember the eye-popping colors and designs of each set’s pieces, and the experience of working together with a friend to create, demolish, and re-create again and again.
Each set came with a light-weight and reusable carrying case, with roughly 150-200+ pieces each. Ello encouraged children to build houses and furniture, characters, and jewelry. Ello Creation Systems used large, plastic geometric shapes to create open-plan houses, with smaller pieces for furniture, and long, squiggly strips to make staircases. The pieces ranged from opaque magenta and lime green to translucent cyan.
All the pieces were colorful and easy to work with—in fact, these were the two best features for the whole franchise. Building was easy to understand, as the pieces could all be held together by plastic “bolts,” colored spheres and cubes with ridges to lock in the larger pieces.
One final plus was its general openness to interpretation. Ello imposed little “narrative” onto its construction sets. For Ello Creation Systems, the only backstory came with general themes for each new set. For example, my own personal favorite was the “Aquaria” set, with most of its building pieces coming in varying shades of blues and greens, often with ocean-wave flourishes. Character pieces came to create mermaids, special pieces were designed to make colorful fish, stickers helped to place seaweed on nearly everything, and so on.
“Ello is hands-down the stand-out toy of my childhood.”
Beyond this, children were free to build and imagine on their own. It’s possible that lacking a firmer backstory may have contributed to its short shelf-life. However, this also made it easy to pool together pieces from different sets, literally multiplying the possibilities for your creations.
I remember my Ello sets coming most in handy during my family’s weekend trips to rural New Hampshire. I was equally invested in both my Gameboy Advanced, as well as CD-ROM games cashing in on the popular cartoons of the time. But when my Gameboy would become stale after hours of playing, and my Dad would need the one shared desktop computer for work, I would pack up my Ello sets in their carrying-cases to my friend’s house. We would spill the hundreds of pieces on her living room floor and work together to build our houses and their pretend inhabitants, with all the wacky furniture and design details we could pack in. The two of us would create and customize, and then take it all apart and start again. This was the beauty of Ello: there was something new to be created every time, and connecting the various parts was easy, but it had the distinct Elllo look that stays in my mind to this day.
Today, as I edge closer to my late 20s, I find myself having thick nostalgia goggles for the early 2000s, from music to movies and video games. In the case of the hands-on, non-electronic toys of the times, Ello is hands-down the stand-out toy of my childhood. Today, Ello sets are hard to find online, having been discontinued years ago. However, if I were to swallow my pride and buy a physical toy from my childhood, Ello would be on the top of my wishlist.