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Companies in the toy sector have gone through a mentality shift recently – from preferably serving parent’s purposes to claiming the empowerment of children. This creates new perspectives for adults in their pursuit to find the perfect gift for a baby shower and Co.
It is a very special time in any family’s life – the arrival of a new baby. Sharing joy and celebrating parenthood, they decide to invite to baby showers or, most fashionable, to gender-reveal parties announcing the gender of the forthcoming baby. In this context, one question usually arises: How do we choose the right toy? It is hard to decide. Adults get drawn into a battle between their personal design taste and the awareness of the kid’s needs. Where to start?
“There is not a pre-set perfect gift,” Arianna Vignati says. She is director of the specializing master program in Design for Kids and Toys at Politecnico di Milano, Italy, one of the few universities in Europe that provide ground for this research field. “Purchasing a product for a new-born child is very challenging,” Arianna says, adding, “From a designer’s point of view, it depends on multiple factors such as wellness, sustainability and intimacy, just to name a few.”
Since its launch in 2018, the master program aims to support young designers in tackling complex design processes in the world of products for kids. Among these questions are the following: What role do products play in children’s lives at all? Which technology is suitable for the development of logical and creative skills? How to deal with childhood cognitive diseases or motor coordination disorder? According to Arianna, fast consumption still prevails over design when talking about products and services for children these days. However, the Italian researcher perceives a mentality shift among companies in the toy sector.
In a recent research, Arianna and her colleagues collected more than 60 case studies of products and services for kids. Almost all of them show that more and more companies are including customizable features in their products – and hence parents can individually decide the features of toys according to the needs of children. Arianna says: “It’s a relevant trend in sectors like fashion and furniture, but it’s also growing in the toy sectors.”
The Kind der Stadt concept store targets design-conscious parents and exactly meets the increasing demand of customization. Andrea Hofmann has run a Kind der Stadt store together with her husband Sven in Hannover for two years now.
One of their special offers include a wish box for new parents. The concept behind this idea is simple: Parents pack their personal wish box assisted by the store staff and let family or friends further buy the selected equipment. Andrea says: “Our wish boxes are well accepted since they give control over what is desired as a present, such as related to birth or baptism.”
In a nutshell, the Kind der Stadt store’s philosophy is to help parents choose items such as baby furniture and strollers that best fit their need and demand. Furthermore, the couple distributes certified and environmentally friendly materials. When it comes to their product line, they prefer calm colors, a clean line of modern Scandinavian and gender-neutral design. Owner Andrea admits: “At present, the most popular and bestselling color for girls is grey.”
Gender-neutral toys can be considered one of the most important trending topics of toy design now. The Spielwarenmesse Nuremberg is the largest international trade fair for toys and has precisely identified genderless design language as a central theme of this year’s fair edition. Using the slogan “Be you!”, the organizers stress the need to approach diversity in the design thinking process since inclusive toy design has the potential to empower equality, respect and the own talent.
Elif Atmaca is toy designer from Turkey and in her work, she is focusing on empowering children. In 2015 she won the iF DESIGN TALENT AWARD for her product Toyi, a creative play kit with which kids can turn common objects into their own unique toys. Three years later, Elif co-founded a company under the same name in Istanbul. „Limiting children in gender stereotypes from the moment they are born, traps them in a set of rules and expectations that shape their future lives,“ Elif says and continues, „we give priority to children’s need, support free play and help them to become the person they want to be by using their creativity.“
With her start-up company, Elif makes at statement against the fast-moving urban lifestyle and parental instructions. Most of Elif’s motivation comes from her experience of volunteering at different NGOs in Turkey. “I witnessed how children are affected by the difficult conditions they live in and how they lose their creative potential as a result.”
Toyi has already received great success, among them the Parent’s Choice Award 2020, the Independent Toy Silver Award 2020 and the Play Creators Rising Start Award 2020. Their recognition in the design industry reveals a strong need for innovative pathways for which activists like Creative Director Luca Fois from Italy have long been fighting for.
“Today, innovation means sustainability. In my opinion, the future market is the one that is wise and conscious about the natural and social environment. Many companies have understood that there is both financial and ethical profit. Of course, earning profit is important for most companies. But we have to bear in mind that without a new holistic and systematic approach to the management of natural resources, companies may face new problems and even lose profit. So, I recommend young designers to be courageous and creative in this direction.”
Luca Fois – Creative Advisor and coordinator of the Design Manifesto from Italy
Just like Arianna, he is Design Professor at the Politecnico di Milano. But he pours his major passion into coordinating an international collective that has recently published a book with design guidelines for toy design titled “Design Manifesto – 96 theses to design in the best interest of the kid”.
Luca is convinced: “The manifesto and all the other activities we have been implementing for quite some time now aim at providing practical design tools for companies and helping parents to select good products.”
(published in November 2020)