Toy Designer  What They Do

Just the Facts

Insider Info

dotToy designers have one of the most important jobs in the world: making children happy. Toys come in many styles, from simple handmade wooden blocks or plastic action figures to complex and intricate robotic toys. Toy designers design and create them all.

dotDesigners must know how to use materials properly so that toys are safe, durable and easy to maintain. They must have mechanical skills and love gadgets.

Designers should also be knowledgeable about children and know what a child can do at different ages. They must also have a great imagination and be sensitive about the effect of colors.

dotMost toys are produced by designers working at manufacturing companies. But some are the products of inventors who run their own companies.

"I guess the unique thing about me as a toy designer is that I also manufacture and sell the toys I design," says Don Olney. He started his toy company about 20 years ago in a friend's basement. Today, he employs up to 20 people and creates almost a million small wooden toys a year.

dotToy designers must keep the following in mind as they work:

  • Is the idea a good one, and is it unique?
  • Will it sell?
  • Is it cost-effective?
  • Is it safe?
  • Is it legally protected by a patent or trademark?

dotMost toy manufacturers buy ideas from toy design firms. Some will consider a product only after it's been tested in the market. Others won't accept outside ideas at all.

A toy designer's best chance may be to contact small- or medium-sized manufacturers or to hire a firm to negotiate the sale of their idea.

Some designers manufacture and distribute the invention themselves. Although this path is more time-consuming and costly, it may lead to the personal satisfaction of establishing a business of your own, or having a toy company purchase your idea after you've made it successful.

Jim Deacove designs cooperative games for kids and adults. In fact, he has his own game company. He started out with four or five designs, but manufacturing companies weren't interested. "So, I started my own company," he remembers.

His company designs, manufactures and distributes the games. "We ship all over the place now...and we have some in different languages. It's just grown slowly and organically," says Deacove.

dotThe industry's largest toy trade show, the American International Toy Fair, is held every February in New York City. Exhibiting at trade shows like this one is the most cost-effective way to reach a large number of toy buyers.

dotToy designers must be motivated and able to face competition and rejection. Some designers quit their permanent jobs to devote time to their venture, as the turnaround time to get a new item on retail shelves sometimes exceeds two years.

All toy designers face frustration at times when their designs are rejected or when they cannot be as creative as they would like. Independent designers are under pressure to please clients and find new ones.

Toy designers employed by manufacturing establishments or design firms generally work regular hours in well-lit, comfortable settings. Self-employed designers tend to work longer hours, especially when they are first trying to establish themselves.

At a Glance

Design toys for children, keeping fun and safety in mind

  • Many people invent toys as a second job or hobby
  • You must have mechanical skills and love gadgets
  • A college or university degree is required