Richard Heayes on the importance of a product’s first impression

As a toy designer, this time of year is one big occupational hazard. Walk into any toy shop and you’re immediately distracted by something cool.

Before you know it, you’ve wandered off and entirely forgotten all the things you should be buying…”SQUIRREL!” (Seen Disney’s Up? Good – you know exactly what I mean).

I’m penning this in the run-up to Christmas, which is also a great time to people-watch. Observe carefully, and what you see and hear can be an ideas goldmine for product developers.

We know that consumers have just a few seconds to notice and process our offerings and in crowded stores, even less.

Will they understand the ‘try-me’? Will they read the elaborate copy? Will they understand those multi-lingual symbols? Will they even see it at all among that wall of colour? (Before they get distrac…SQUIRREL!)

Hanging back and observing some of the processes that lead people to actually buy a toy or a game is interesting and valuable.

It’s amazing how many toys I’ve seen put back on shelf because they need batteries, even though the initial attraction might have been the electronic features.

‘Free power inside’ is a huge consumer draw and one that companies should seriously consider more often, instead of spending money on superfluous features.

It’s human nature to want to try new things.

New things are the oxygen of our business and my day job, but it’s just as important to pay attention to the basics.

No one wants to buy something that looks like it’s been kicked around the storeroom a few times.

Some packs, while innovative, are poorly designed – if, after a few days in the field, bits of them are hanging off, innovation is pointless.

Great names are so important for new products, Unless you’ve got a hot licence, a great name that captures the play experience (especially on a boxed game) makes all the difference.

One of the things I’m always interested to overhear is that something ‘looks’ well designed or well or vice versa, ‘looks cheap’.

Sometimes, it’s the smallest details that get overlooked in the development stage, or get hacked off at the last minute to save a few cents, that bring the whole product down.

As consumers, we’re much more design-aware today and we don’t leave that behaviour at the toy shop door. The value of good design is critical to the success of most leading consumer goods companies.

Good design is not just about how something looks – it permeates every aspect of the product.

Good design is considered design. Put in what you need, leave out what you don’t. Maximise the value for the manufacturer and consumer alike. When working on toys, always squeeze out the maximum fun per £.

Apply this ethos to anything from a simple deck of cards to a set of DJ decks (and everything in between) and you’ll be onto a sure-fire winner.

About Robert Hutchins

Robert Hutchins is the editor of ToyNews and its sister title, He has worked his way from Staff Writer to Editor across the two titles, having spent almost eight years with both and what now seems like a lifetime surrounded by toys. You can contact him by emailing or calling him on 0203 143 8780 You can even follow him on Twitter @RobGHutchins if ranting is your thing...

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