KID Toyology: Inventor Peter Wachtel Discusses Toy Design
Posted ago by Invention Ambassadors
As a three-time Quirky inventor, Peter Wachtel is hardly a stranger to the product development scene. However, beyond his presence on Quirky, Peter is also a career toy designer, having designed over 500 different products for the toy and video game industries through his company, KID Toyology. This made him a perfect source of sage wisdom for our content series on toy design, so we asked Peter to share a little insight into the process of creating and crafting toys, along with a gallery displaying some of the many toys he’s had a hand in designing.
When I was inventing Stake and Mercado, I almost thought of them as toys: while they do solve a problem, they’re mostly just fun to use. Here are a few tidbits of information to help get you into the right mindset for designing toys yourself:
Expect the Unexpected
I always loved toys: in fact, I still play with toys today. However, when I became a toy designer and inventor, I learned that designing toys is a bit like eating chocolates. Sometimes, you don’t know what you’re going to get. You may have something particular in mind when you start out, but as the process continues, new information, technology and needs come into play, requiring you to adapt your design or invention as a result. Whether you started out moving in one direction or many, the world and your own experiences will start to mold the toy in new direction, as if it had a life of it’s own. The results of this may vary: sometimes your design will work out even better than expected, like finding gold in the river, and sometimes you’ll find out that your idea was nothing more than a mirage. However, I guarantee that the journey will always be an exciting one!
Think of Toys as a Learning Tool
Toys are a way to learn, grow, and experience life. They give kids a sense of pride, belonging and importance in the world, and offer children the chance to live what they imagine, and to always stay fresh and curious. Children are little scientists full of curiosity, confidence and ignorance, and toys are like three-dimensional books for their minds and bodies, facilitating learning, experimenting and self-motivation. So, when you sit down at your sketching table, remember that children must first discover that skills are learned, and that creativity is experienced. To this end, toys can be thought of as a “starter kit for life”, designed to show and teach them how to draw, drive, build, act, and create. These so-called playthings have an undeniable impact, both intellectually and emotionally, and if done right, toys can truly shape the kids that, one day, will be running the world. After all, who knows what toys the president, this year’s Super Bowl champs, or your favorite author played with while growing up?
“The little world of childhood with it’s familiar surroundings is a model of a greater world”. - Carl Jung
Don’t Grow Up
In some ways, all kids are inventors. I say this because they’re not afraid to get their hands filthy, to eat paste, or to use a hammer as a brush. They’re willing to break something just to see how it works, and to start with the impossible, which is where grown-up brainstorms usually stop. To invent, you have to wonder why and how, and not worry too much about constraints when you’re getting started. You also have to want to invent, not to make money, but to improve children’s lives, along with the objects that surround them. In this way, a child’s focus and trust are essential to the inventor: the idea should always come first.
The first step is becoming a successful toy inventor is to think like a kid again. We all did it once. Use all the imagination and wonder of the universe and just play with your thoughts, even if your starting point is a single, simple idea. Explore every possibility and option tied to that idea, then weed out the inconsistencies through direct application (If you reach for the stars, the results will be better than if you only reach for the sky). Then, run tests and experiments to see if your solution is practical, using logic and realistic constraints to finalize the design. In simple terms, take baby steps. Start with your idea, then modify and experiment, trying again and again until it works, while always keeping an open mind to new solutions.
“Clearly the designer of toys is an artist, a creator with a special turn of mind, a streak of fantasy preserved from childhood which most of us have lost.”
Surround Yourself with the Right Inspiration
When designing toys, its important to surround yourself with “kid-like” things: toys, playgrounds, toy stores, and yes, even kids (I play, therefore, I am). My own kids are six and four years old (a boy and a girl respectively), and I spend a lot of my time just playing with them, along with the other children in my family. Play with kids, listen to them, talk with them. In some ways, become one of them. You have the rest of your day to behave and act like an adult. Not only does thinking like a kid help you invent like a kid, but it also opens your mind to a whole new world of possibilities. When romping in the sandbox, try inventing new ways to play with toys and games. Think differently, and don’t be afraid to role-play and experiment with all kinds of toys and gadgets. Even if you don’t have kids, toys are a tool for better understanding not only. So go ahead and play: you will feel younger, and most importantly, it will leave you with a big smile on your face!
Know the Ingredients of a Good Toy
When you’re in the throes of the design process, every toy is different, but there are a few rules that always seem to apply, regardless of the project. Here are a few of the most common ingredients found in a successful toy:
• Fun to use
• Interesting to the child
• Safe and durable
• Stimulates creativity and imagination
• Encourages inquisitiveness and resourcefulness
• A tool for learning
• Challenging yet not frustrating
• Invites repeated use, and longevity
• Involves child interaction
• Addresses developing needs, as well as nostalgia that ”Magic Ingredient”.
• Cost effective
At the end of the day, the trick to becoming a successful toy inventor is to never give up, and to never stop expanding your skills and avenues for creativity. Humility and patience are also essential, so be ready to put in a fair amount of work before you start to see a payoff. It’s all about the experience: creating cool new things that people want, and that make both you and the consumer happy. So keep those pencils burning, and your versions of Illustrator and Photoshop twirling.
For more useful insights and advice, check out Peter’s book, KID Toyology: An understanding of why Toys are, and how they effect us as we grow, or his Coroflot portfolio.