Over time, consumers have come to expect a never-ending influx of new toys. Take for instance Lego, known for rolling out over one hundred original sets of bricks every year. Or the fact that more than 5,000 toys are currently available online, many of which, such as a gravity-defying remote control vehicle or a self-balancing Star Wars droid, are highly touted additions.
As we have come to know at Ryerson University through our new Toy Invention program, in partnership with Spin Master, Shenkar College and OCAD University, these innovations are serious and intricate ventures, backed by science and carried out by a range of passionate experts.
The genesis of toys
As is the case in other consumer products, innovations often stem from a gap in the market, be it a new toy for a particular age bracket, an emerging interest, or an opportunity to leverage a given entertainment intellectual property. Toy companies are also on the lookout for the hottest internet craze and influencers to stand out in this crowded market.
Examples include the collaboration between WowWee and Pinkfong, creators of the ear worm “Baby Shark” song, or 16-year-old YouTube influencer Jojo Siwa’s deals with Just Play, Spin Master and Sambro.
Toy makers are also paying attention to the older crowd and kids at heart: collectables, board games and role-playing toys are increasingly designed for devoted fans of popular TV shows and movies like Game of Thrones and Star Wars. You may want to pre-order your baby Yoda doll now before they run out.
Factors such as rapid changes in consumer demand, turbulence in the retail side (due mainly to the ongoing difficulties of Toys “R” Us), demographic shifts and lower birth rates also explain why toy makers seek to diversify their offerings and cater to adults.
Turning raw material into something that sparks kids’ imagination, promote social and motor skills development or perhaps even trigger career aspirations, is no small endeavour. Involved in this process are designers, artists, videographers and engineers, in addition to marketers, sales representatives and everyone in between. These innovators leverage the latest science — psychology, early childhood development, linguistics, physics, computer modelling — and use techniques such as biomimicry to replicate nature’s work (such as hatching).
Yet no innovation process is foolproof. For every product that hit the shelves, hundreds of ideas are generated, prototyped and ultimately canned. Others simply become dormant, waiting for the right time to surface.
Success is also not guaranteed for those who make it to market. Poorly designed toys can even draw attention for the wrong reasons and lead to commercial failures.