Develop In Demand Skills
Plan Your Academic Coursework to Meet the Requirements of Employers
There are many skills that are indispensable in the field of toy design. However, there aren't many programs that award Toy Design degrees. Because there isn't an academically pre-determined path for entrance into the field, budding toy designers often need to look at the career path and plan their coursework according to the most highly sought after skills from employers. Many toy designers start with a degree in the arts, such as a design degree, or in areas such as consumer engineering. The necessary skills include design creation, often computer assisted or CAD, and engineering skills to complete production of a prototype. So, a toy designer will often be well versed in both the creative thought process and the technical aspects associated with materials and construction.
The most in-demand skills for a career in toy design, include:
CAD Systems & Hand Design: Toy designers often use a combination of CAD and hand design. So, it's important to have some education background in both computer-aided drafting and drawing or architecture. Architectural design is often quite similar to the process of commercial engineering for toys because blueprints and plans are designed for similar fine measurements to meet building specifications. Fine arts courses, such as sketching still life, may not be as helpful in toy design as courses in math, measurements, and logic-based engineering and drafting courses.
Materials and Production: Toy design is not just coming up with a great idea, though that's certainly part of it. A great toy designer will have an intricate knowledge of materials and production. This means that you'll be able to look at a design and determine which materials will best fit for function, style, and safety. You should also be able to accurately estimate production costs so that you're not choosing materials which will price you out of the market.
Marketing Basics: Toy designers don't necessarily need to have their hand on the pulse of how the marketing department works, but they do need to have an intricate understanding of their consumer. Marketing coursework and continuing education can help toy designers better understand the individual consumer, both child and parent.
Safety Standards and Regulations: Meeting regulatory requirements is of paramount importance in this field. Regardless of your position in the company, you should have intricate knowledge of all safety regulations, both state and national, in order to create the best prototypes and stay within the safety guidelines. There are often employees who specialize in verifying that new creations meet standards, as well.
There are also a number of ‘soft-skills’ that all toy designers should have, such as: critical thinking skills to give full attention to what clients, managers, supervisors and the public are requesting and using reasoning and logic to reach solutions or approaches to problems. Designers must also be able to solve complex problems, use sound judgment, be able to analyze needs and product requirements, and have good time management skills. They should be able to adapt equipment and technology to meet the needs of the design, determine how a product works, and whether it is successfully designed to function as it should, Designers must be good communicators, within a team environment, and be able to bring other members of the team together to solve problems or reconcile differences. Designers must also have a strong knowledge of math and science, and be willing to instruct and take instruction.
Because toys must meet strict standards for safety, and must function as intended for each age group, toy designers should also have design, engineering and technology, mechanical, math (algebra, geometry, statistics, calculus, and their applications), and electronic and computer knowledge. They must be innovative, adapt easily to change, deal well with stress, have leadership abilities and drive to succeed, be cooperative, dependable, and persistent.
According to over 1,500 CEOs worldwide, the number one skill a future leader needs to have is creativity. While this might seem obvious, consider it in the following context. Since 1990, even as IQ scores have risen, measures of creative thinking have decreased significantly in the United States, particularly amongst kindergartners through third graders. This result has been so troubling that some have declared the United States to be in a "Creativity Crisis."
In order to prepare today's children's to become tomorrow's leaders, it is clear that an intervention is needed. A creative intervention. But our kids live in a paradoxical world: although technology is ubiquitous, it is typically used to consume media, rather than to create and implement new ideas. Investments in education technology are at an all-time high, but school curricula have become increasingly structured and standardized, at the expense of playtime and the arts.
Since creativity underlies innovation, how do we spark the curiosity of young children to better prepare them for the future? How do we design smart toys to inspire kids to create and innovate? "Smart" now has a dual meaning: smart toys provide children with an intellectual challenge, but are also connected devices in their own right, in the "Internet of Things" usage of the term. Technology has truly infiltrated every part of our lives.
As a learning designer building toys for kids, I ask myself similar questions every day. Here are five principles for designing "smart toys" that can help spark imagination and creativity in kids of all ages:
- KISS: "Keep it simple, stupid." Our obsessions with beeping, buzzing, flashing gadgets may make us seem plugged-in and tech savvy, but these "bells and whistles" can distract from learning. A 2013 study found that the presence of electronic features in storybooks negatively affected dialogue between parents and children during reading time and led to poorer story comprehension. Parents tended to spend more time interrupting the experience with comments like "Click here!" and "Don't turn the page yet!" When designing, focus on a set of core features and avoid unnecessary complexity.
- Weird can be good. Creativity requires divergent thinking, or the ability to generate unique ideas by exploring many possible solutions, or "thinking outside the box." Young children are often skilled at divergent thinking, as social norms and life experience have yet to force constraints on their imaginations. So in order to design for divergent thinking, we need to practice divergent thinking. Inspiration can often come from seemingly random sources -- when brainstorming, don't dismiss ideas as "just too weird." They might evolve into something really interesting.
- Trial and error is encouraged. Children are constantly asking questions and experimenting. If you have ever seen a young child play with blocks, you have seen the scientific method in action. By trying different solutions to solve problems, even simple ones like "is this the same or different?" or "does this block fit in this space?" new knowledge is discovered. Designing play experiences that include opportunities for experimentation can provide both children and adults with illuminating insights.
- Avoid functional fixedness (or, try to bring out kids' inner MacGyvers). Functional fixedness is a cognitive bias against using objects in new ways to solve problems. For example, if you need to tighten a screw and don't have a screwdriver, you might not think of using a bobby pin or paper clip in a pinch. Adults have learned through experience that certain objects serve specific purposes. However, at 5 years of age, children do not show this bias. But by age 7, children learn to associate objects with specific functions, and have trouble seeing them in different ways. When designing for creativity, keep your mind open. Test out your ideas with young children as much as you can, and you are guaranteed to be surprised and inspired by their ingenuity.
- Focus on the learning, not the teaching. If your memories of school consist mostly of sitting in a lecture hall or in rows of tiny desks being talked at, you are definitely not alone. However, when encouraging creative thinking, it is important to focus less on pedagogy, and more on the opportunity for inquiry and discovery. Introduce concepts in ways that kids can relate to things they already know, and allow them the freedom to direct their own learning experiences.
John F. Kennedy once said, "In a crisis, be aware of the danger -- but recognize the opportunity." Declining creativity scores are troubling, but also present an opportunity. For those of us who design smart toys for learning, it's time to add some childlike wonder to new experiences and products that provide a foundation for the next generation to create the future.
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