On a recent trip to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, architecture alumna Michelle Noceto was excited to discover a familiar toy for sale in the design store. The toy, Sphaera, was designed by two of her former peers, Bryanna Dering (Arch ’18) and Sarah Ahart (IDS ’17), as freshmen for the Naef toy design competition. The toy is a wooden half-sphere of smooth textural quality that allows it to rest comfortably in the user’s hand. A finely crafted, concentric maze draws the user to navigate small steel balls through the toy.

“On the day of the competition, people were walking around and looking at everyone’s toys on display in Cowgill,” recalls Sarah. “They would stop at each toy for a minute or so and then move onto the next. When they got to our toy, they wouldn’t leave until they solved it. It looks very simple from the outside, but it drew people in to stay and want to use it.”

Sarah and Bryanna approached the design process intending to thoroughly consider all factors including functionality, how it felt in the hand, and packaging. The texture was an important element of their design; they wanted the wood to feel soft in a person’s hand. The pair went through several iterations to determine other factors, such as how many metals balls to put in the toy. “We didn’t want the puzzle to be too difficult that people would get frustrated and not use it, but also not too easy to solve in an instant,” says Bryanna. “It’s a delicate balance of those extremes.”

Their entry placed second in the competition and the toy company proceeded to take their design into production. Following the results of the competition, the pair had the opportunity to sign a Sphaera for Naef’s archives.

“It’s remarkable how similar our prototype is to the manufactured product,” adds Bryanna. “They look almost identical side by side. Sarah and I are both proud that Naef loved the design just how we originally envisioned it.

“People were sending us links to different videos and articles showcasing our toy and every time I take a step back and think ‘we actually designed that!’,” says Sarah.

“I don’t think the picture of our toy in the design store at the MoMA really sunk in until I saw it on their online store on the same page as a Keith Haring puzzle,” says Bryanna. “It’s pretty crazy to think that something Sarah and designed in our first year of school has made it this far.”

The Naef toy design competition will be on display in the Cowgill Lobby again this year in April. Stay tuned for more details.


Bryanna currently works at LS3P in Charleston, SC as a designer. She’s been able to work on several projects in multiple sectors including affordable housing, hospitality, education, and corporate commercial. Outside of work she enjoys photographing the charming city she lives in and spending time with her Aussie puppy, Aspen.

Sarah currently works at 42 Design Fab in Springfield, MA as a designer and fabricator. Her work involves doing a variety of things including woodwork, CNC machining, fiberglass, sculpture, graphic design, and project management. In her spare time, she likes to spend time at a local pottery studio, Easthampton Clay.