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Play hard, play hard: toy design

Play hard, play hard: toy design

Where would we be without toys? If we were never allowed to use fascinating objects as springboards for our imaginations, our brains would fail to develop properly. We project ourselves onto toys, explore the world with them, learn with them. We discover cause and effect, relationships, and our own identities through toys. From Ancient Mesopotamia to Toys ‘R’ Us, children have constructed their realities with the help of tangible playthings, either made for them by their parents or made by the children themselves out of what’s lying around.

Toys are such a vital part of human existence that they have become a huge business. Speaking of Toys ‘R’ Us, their annual revenue is $13.6 billion and every city has one. But if you are a toymaker, how easy is it to get a new toy onto the shelves at the big retailers? A good idea is nowhere near enough. It will need research and development, materials sourcing, safety testing, manufacturing at scale, branding, packaging and marketing. And that’s only if it is already an outstanding idea that has gained the approval of investors, retailers and, most importantly of course, children.

So how do you go about creating the next big hit in the toy market? Well, it’s a notoriously fickle and fast-moving market. Some classic toys have sprung up from personal experience, like Jenga, the best-selling wooden tower-toppling game invented by Leslie Scott in Ghana, a country rich in wood. Scott literally used what was lying around at a local sawmill to come up with this addictive and hugely popular game which she successfully presented at the London Toy Show in 1983, sparking a worldwide hit.

So some games just happen. But for the rest of us, we need to sit down and think, plan and do lots of drawings and models before we come up with something that has potential. One U.S. college has a Toy Design course for those with itchy fingers and big dreams. Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles runs a Toy Design major covering Principles of Design, Drawing and Building Form, Visual Culture, Prototyping, Methods & Materials, 3-D Visualisation, Package Design and Career Development.

This is a serious career degree for those aiming to become professional toy designers. It covers everything from traditional toys to game consoles, via vehicles, action figures, dolls, playsets and preschool toys. Summer internships include placements at big toymakers like Hasbro, Mattel, Disney and Spinmaster.

Maybe Otis College is where Santa’s elves go for the rest of the year, designing the most irresistible things for kids to find under the Christmas tree.