How to Become a Toy Designer

By TACP Staff on August 01, 2019

If you’ve ever considered doing something creative that also lends itself to childhood play, product development, and learning, becoming a toy designer might be the most fulfilling career imaginable.

1. Learn the Basics of Toy Design

A toy designer, as the name indicates, is someone who designs and creates toys. Some other job titles you’ll see in employment listings for this field include, toymaker, toy engineer, and toy creator, among others. However, most colleges and universities don’t have set majors in toy design, and there aren’t many courses designed specifically for this field, although there are many courses that lend themselves to the unique skills that a toy designer will need and use on the job.

Today’s toys are often manufactured by a few large companies, so the career path is highly competitive, especially for designers looking for full-time employment. That doesn’t mean that toy design is an impossible field to get into. Quite the contrary. But, it is important that you focus on toy design as a field – this isn’t a career path that you’ll likely fall into accidentally. There are set skills that are more highly sought after in this field and, in many cases, a four-year degree is highly desirable in the hiring process.

The most obvious attribute for someone who works as a toy designer is a love for toys. If you’re considering this field, you should be excited about toy development and the ideas surrounding improved play for all ages. That’s only the most basic requirement, though. Toy designers often create the toys from the ground up – this means sketching or CAD drawings of the original concept and creating a prototype. Toys must be intricately designed, mainly because there are many safety regulations involved and the toy must meet certain standards after repeated and harsh treatment.

Toy designers may work with a whole team or alone to create a new concept. They may be responsible for estimating production costs as well as the retail prices to get the production of the toy approved through their company, as well. So, the toy designer may wear a number of hats, from creativity and business to marketing.

Successful toy creators also have exceptional knowledge of children’s play. They may watch play studies and conduct focus groups to further their ability to create marketable toys, as well as fine-tune current prototypes. This may sound like a great many skills to master. In reality, you might find that specializing in one area is more beneficial to your success in the field. You may also want to specialize in one set type of toys – such as board games, scientific toys, or dolls. There are many areas of play that can be cultivated to great success.

2. 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 entry 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 a 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.

3. Pursue a Formal Education

While many sources indicate that there is no mandatory education requirement, the truth is that most designers need at least a four-year degree to be considered for a position within a company that manufactures and designs toys. Not only will you need education in order to compete for employment, but you’ll also need the experience in order to excel in the field.

Some degrees you might consider to move forward with a career in toy design include:

  • Liberal Arts

    Courses that include drafting and drawing skills, as well as those that include humanities will be extremely beneficial in the design and to understand the consumer market.

  • Childhood Development

    Someone with a childhood development degree who also has design and artistic skills can do exceptionally well in the field.

  • Engineer

    An engineering degree in consumer or industrial design can be an exceptional background for toy design. This coursework will teach you the skills necessary for taking a design from concept through production with great precision. For someone with this educational background, taking extra study in the humanities or child education might be a beneficial idea.

    Your career path in toy design might not be linear. If you’re currently enrolled in a four-year degree program, a great way to get in the door might be to intern with a manufacturer or toy company. You might also apply right out of college for an entry-level job in your field. Because this is a competitive field, you may have to adjust your goals and realize that this is a long-term path. You may start in design in a different industry and use that experience to apply later to a toy company. You might also consider freelancing by creating your own toy concepts. In the case where you create your own toys, you can then sell that concept to a toy manufacturer or gain funding to produce and market the toy through your own venture.

    A few kinds of toys that designers can specialize in designing include dolls, action figures, outdoor play toys, toy vehicles or instruments, water toys, scale models, puppets, plush toys, electronic toys, toys made specifically for animals, puzzles and games, mechanical toys, and scientific exploration toys, among others.

Helpful Organizations & Resources for Toy Designers

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