University of Minnesota
Jumping into toy design
'Things that are silly now are going to be innovative in the future.'
Toy Product Design is a fun introduction to general product design. "Everyone is familiar with toys," says Barry Kudrowitz, the course's instructor. "You can jump right in. You don’t need to have a background in anything. We teach the basics of mechanical engineering and graphic design."
What people often don't realize, Kudrowitz says, is that toy design is challenging. "The turnaround time is short. The toy has to be on the shelf for the holidays or for summer. It has to pass a lot of safety tests and quality assurance, because we're dealing with children here. And it has to be made inexpensively."
A process like you'd see in industry
At the start of the course, students are grouped into four teams. Each team brainstorms lots of ideas and then narrows those to a handful to present in the form of poster sketches. After getting feedback, the teams make quick prototypes to play-test with kids at the Minnesota Children's Museum.
Then each team makes higher-level prototypes of its two most promising toy concepts. These prototypes are presented at Creative Kid Stuff headquarters to designers, marketers, and engineers. With that feedback, the four teams each pick one concept and has a month to make a polished prototype for the final "Playsentations": a theatrical show for industry professionals and kids.
Toys: serious business
Toy design is a $22 billion industry in the United States, $80 billion worldwide. And to those who say, "If you’re being playful, you’re just going to come up with silly ideas," Kudrowitz replies: "When you’re playing, that's when you're going to make non-obvious associations. And that's the basis of creativity. Things that are silly now are going to be innovative in the future."