The Emotional Connection of Design and Toys

What makes us fall in love with a toy?

Elena Strickler, June 22, 2010

"On hunches, follow them, like the ancient navigators followed the stars. The voyage may be lonely, but the stars will take you where you want to go". (David Ogilvy)


Hunches are good things, and sometimes they reveal themselves as things we may already know. Here are a few thought processes I have picked up over the years when designing and inventing toys that have showed me how emotional energy or a connection can translate into retail sales.


 Peter Wachtel toy sketchesSketches of toy designs by Peter Wachtel.

The Idea
What makes us fall in love with a toy? Is it a look, feel, shape, color, smell, sound, taste, or a texture? It is all of the above, and is about where you come from. It starts with the idea. Everyone's tastes are different, but there are some similarities. Familiar smells, surroundings, colors, what is cool, patterns, etc. it is basically what is familiar to you in some way. Whether it's a car, a toy or a person- there are subtle clues that make you have an emotion connection. Good toys have these attributes in them. We fall in love with toys that remind us of our childhood, play patterns, friends, colors of rooms, toys, etc. It is very important when designing or selling a toy that you really think about the end user and where it will be. This is what sells toys. I tell this to both my toy design students as well as my design teams. There have been a lot of psychological and philosophical studies that show how things are cathected and loved (emotional energy). What can be the next hot toy may be as simple as mixing a few things we love, and combining it with things we want and need in our lives.

"How can you turn people on to discover new ideas? Take the invisible and make it visible".


The Process
So how do you incorporate all that is memorable, fun and exciting into each toy? Well you can't but, you can give subtle hints of what people love in a toy. There is a lot that goes into a toy: safety, ages, play patterns, price, manufacturability, and yes design. This is the process — When you design with elements that people love, and make it through the maze a toy travels you will translate it into something that sells. People love certain colors, cars, clothes, books, sounds, textures that are familiar to them.

 Peter Wachtel toy designsToys designed by Peter Wachtel

When these elements are designed into the toy, it resonates with them. They feel that they know it already, and are subliminally drawn to it. I use this methodology in everything I design. For example, Red is a favorite color, simple shapes are familiar, and if we combine what we know and feel, with what we want — such as how to build, draw, emulate, learn or play, it is like having a good friend along with you. You feel comfortable, yet at the same time are challenged to make it your own. People buy and depend on toys and emotions we trust and love. When making a new brand or product, put this into the mixing pot of design, and make something that is fun, good looking and memorable.

"When you are sincerely pleased, you are nourished". (Ralph Waldo Emerson)


The End product
Every time I get or design a great toy for myself, or my kids I am very happy. Take a look at a few toys over the years that were great sellers and kids loved: Barbie and Hot Wheels for example. They all had a lot more in common than you may think. Barbie has the most current trends in fashion and look, but combines it with the nurturing and glamour that a girl wishes to emulate. Hot Wheels have the latest styles, even future trends, but also helps boy's imaginations and dream of being a race driver, etc thrive. Toys reinforce the basic needs and growing patterns of kids and help their imaginations and their learning process. Take a look the next time you are at a toy store. What stands out to you? Then ask yourself why- is it color, shape, texture or a familiar brand? You will see that you are drawn to toys that resonate with what you like and what you need. "Toys are a way of discovering who we really are, or want to be".

 Peter A. Wachtel

Peter Wachtel (aka) "KID Toyology" is an award winning creative toy and entertainment designer, inventor and teacher. Has designed more than 500 products for the Toy, Entertainment and Design Education industries many of which can be found at Peter was recently the Chair/Academic Director & Design Instructor at Ai Hollywood for Graphic & Industrial Design, and has taught Toy Design at Pratt Institute, Parsons School of Design and Otis College of Art & Design.


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