Creating Play

Lewis Tyler

By Lewis Tyler

February 17th 2012 at 10:06AM
Creating Play

Ever seen a new toy launch and wished you?d thought of that? We have. So Katie Roberts decided to find out how the inventors do it, and discovered some of their tips for the top?

Depending on the size of the toy company, toy inventors can work in-house, own the firm, or be a freelancer, commissioned for their ideas by a supplier. 

Increasingly, there are firms who work closely with the inventor community to find new and exciting ideas. Key companies active in this area are Wow Stuff and Spin Master. Wow Stuff’s recent hit, My Keepon, for example, is a toy version of an autism research robot, which company found on YouTube.

But with so many trying to get their inventions noticed and keen to build a name for themselves in the industry, what is the all-time top tip for inventing a best-selling toy?

Casey Norman founded Genie Toys in 1996, having worked as development director for Bluebird Toys for ten years. She believes it’s best to go back to basics: “The more basic or fundamental the feature you invent, the more long-lasting it will be as it can be updated to new licences, categories and different scales. However, the more basic it is, the more difficult it is to conceive something novel and protectable.”

Paul Justin founded Makedo, which is distributed in the UK by Marbel. He believes the key to a long-lasting toy is unleashing kids’ creativity: “Keep it open-ended. Children have so much creativity and problem solving ability and by providing a toy that has no set outcome, in turn gives the child potential to explore it no matter what age or skill. More than this, they can grow with it, each time gaining new play value from it.”

Stefan Knox, founding director of Bang Creations, set up the firm in 1999, having left his role as senior designer for the Nerf brand. He has since created the Cool Cardz range for Flair. He believes the key element to strong toy design is simple: “Fun, fun – oh and in case of any confusion – fun. We see a lot of contrived concepts from outside inventors who have been confused by marketing messages.

“The first ingredient has to be fun, the second is rewarding play, the third is long lasting play. The design should quickly and easily communicate what it does, that it is fun and you will want to do it again and again. If you have to explain how the toy should be played you have lost.”

It’s important to be in touch with children when designing the toys and if possible, toys should be tested with kids themselves. Pete Kellond, head of development at Tomy, comments: “A lot of what we create is steered by previous influences and learnings, but it is best to create what you believe in, then test it. If it fails to excite, it shouldn’t matter as you should have many more than one. Usually.”

The steady increase in licensed toys splits opinion among inventors as to whether they help or hinder non-licensed toys.

Norman explains: “There’s no doubt in my mind that the preponderance of licensed properties prevent non-licensed toys from being launched. Most licences are short-lived and no matter how good the invention, it will live and die by the success of the licence and often be difficult to transfer to a new licence.

“Licences also reduce the royalty payable for the invention and allow toy companies to be more risk averse.”

Kellond, however, disagrees: “To get the best out of licences is to create what is best about the licence and what that licence captures in the minds of children and that is very satisfying. When licensees get it right, it can be rewarding for everyone.”

So if you do have the killer idea for a toy what are the top tips for pitching to suppliers? Knox says: “Know how the manufacturer takes an idea through to market. Know what the manufacturer is looking for. Some manufacturers work so much faster than others and are prepared to consider anything as long as it is fun and inventive such as Flair. Others such as Hasbro really need product to help grow their brands.”

BTHA Inventor Support

The BTHA has details on its website for anyone who has invented a toy or game for the first time and needs advice.

The organisation also invites design students, who are thinking of joining the toy industry as a destination career, to the Toy Fair each year for a series of short presentations and a look around the fair. 

Natasha Crookes, director of public affairs and communication, explains: “Exhibitors have been really supportive of this initiative over the past few years that it has taken place and many are involved with us in offering the students guided tours of their stands. We hope that this is mutually beneficial as it introduces exhibitors to the potential designers and inventors of the future.”

In addition to this there is an Inventors Dinner, which is timed to take place at the same time as Toy Fair each year, although it is not organised or in any way affiliated with the BTHA. Those interested in the dinner should contact MaryDanby@msn.com