After 15 years of designing toys, our first and most important conclusion is that we've only just starting learning !! Certainly another 15 years will bring us a further experiences, but I guess that's the fun of the job!! That said, we've worked hard, made plenty of mistakes and have made ourselves some basic rules that seem to work:
(A) FRACTION OF A SECOND
Imagine a Mum in a shop looking at the toys. She'll glance at the shelves looking either for a specific toy or something that catches her attention. She'll spend less than half a second looking at any one product...a mere glance. Does your toy explain what it is, what it does and why it is cooler than it's competitors in that fraction of a second? If no, get back to the drawing board !
There are many cool ideas out there though very few make it to market and even fewer have commercial success. Years ago designers were called inventors and they expressed their creativity on the factory floor making and testing prototypes to assure their designs actually 'work'. These days, with all the wonderful computer software available, it's tempting to express creativity through visuals instead of hands-on mediums such as models, mock-ups, simulations and more importantly play tests to explore new ideas. Don't forget to play!!
Toys are merely objects.. but no other object has the power to induce such a wide variety of emotions from achievement to love, from empathy to determination, from companionship to awe. A good toy induces strong emotions and a good toy designer must find ways to communicate this in every stage of work from concept to retail. Does your design have emotional power? If no, get back to the drawing board !
(D)ON'T OVER DO IT
When designing a new product, we aim to give one or more features that will make the product stand out in comparison to it's competitors. The temptation is to cram the product with new features in the hope to make it extra appealing (feature creep). Often this makes a product seem confused. So, the acid test is to cut the features down to a bare minimum and pump all your energy into making them as exciting as possible. If the product still doesn't look cool, it means your features aren't so good as you thought....so get back to the drawing board !!!
There are a myriad of other factors that influence the success of a toy such as safety regulations, supply chain management, distribution networks, investment and so forth but these four are the most design-centered and the most ignored !