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Leave them kids play

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?

Toy design industry undergoing a change

“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.

Leave them kids play
"Product personalization is a relevant trend in sectors like fashion and furniture, but it's also growing in the toy sectors."
Arianna Vignati Director of the specializing master program in Design for Kids and Toys at Politecnico di Milano, Italy

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.

<i>PA!GO</i> is an educational AI camera toy helping kids to explore, play and learn. Instead of reducing children’s exposure to technology, this to encourages children to spend more time outside and learn about the world around them.

PA!GO is an educational AI camera toy helping kids to explore, play and learn. Instead of reducing children’s exposure to technology, this to encourages children to spend more time outside and learn about the world around them.

Thanks to the step-in-step feature and reclining seat, the <i>Thule Spring</i> stroller adapts easily to different needs and situations. What is most striking is its intuitive functionality. The stable and robust design, with high quality, PVC-free materials and a lightweight frame is exceptionally well considered.

Thanks to the step-in-step feature and reclining seat, the Thule Spring stroller adapts easily to different needs and situations. What is most striking is its intuitive functionality. The stable and robust design, with high quality, PVC-free materials and a lightweight frame is exceptionally well considered.

<i>Wooden Building Blocks</i> consists of several repeating units, through which the wooden blocks can be freely connected in horizontal and vertical directions. It not only stimulates a child&#039;s imagination, but also allows them to experiment with structural mechanics.

Wooden Building Blocks consists of several repeating units, through which the wooden blocks can be freely connected in horizontal and vertical directions. It not only stimulates a child's imagination, but also allows them to experiment with structural mechanics.

<i>Mix</i> is a collection of colorful crayon building blocks in different shapes. The geometric elements can be assembled in endless ways to build cars, dragons or whatever your child imagines. In addition, the crayons can be used for drawing. It is a great learning tool for kids to explore and develop their creativity.

Mix is a collection of colorful crayon building blocks in different shapes. The geometric elements can be assembled in endless ways to build cars, dragons or whatever your child imagines. In addition, the crayons can be used for drawing. It is a great learning tool for kids to explore and develop their creativity.

This multitasking toddler spoon set was designed with several common self-feeding issues in mind. Made of ultra-soft silicone that&#039;s easy on babies&#039; gums, each of the <i>Gentle Scoop Silicone Training Spoon</i> features a first-of-its-kind choke guard that acts as a spoon rest at the same time.

This multitasking toddler spoon set was designed with several common self-feeding issues in mind. Made of ultra-soft silicone that's easy on babies' gums, each of the Gentle Scoop Silicone Training Spoon features a first-of-its-kind choke guard that acts as a spoon rest at the same time.

<i>The Moobo</i> bottle is a cow-shaped baby bottle, made from medical-grade silicone. The nipple-shaped handles help babies develop their hand muscles. When they hold the soft bottle, it is as though they are in the warm, loving arms of their mother.

The Moobo bottle is a cow-shaped baby bottle, made from medical-grade silicone. The nipple-shaped handles help babies develop their hand muscles. When they hold the soft bottle, it is as though they are in the warm, loving arms of their mother.

This basketball training set is designed for preschool children aged three to six. It can be used to practice throwing and catching a basketball, doubling as a training and entertainment product.

This basketball training set is designed for preschool children aged three to six. It can be used to practice throwing and catching a basketball, doubling as a training and entertainment product.

<i>Wood Babyroom Anyfit</i> offers an excellent way to create a safe area for your baby and is adjustable to accommodate all spaces in your place. This baby fence and safety door comes in a range of colors and is made from eco-friendly wood materials.

Wood Babyroom Anyfit offers an excellent way to create a safe area for your baby and is adjustable to accommodate all spaces in your place. This baby fence and safety door comes in a range of colors and is made from eco-friendly wood materials.

The slim and curvy <i>Urban Iki by OGK Europe BV</i> bicycle seats can be customized in color. You can mount them on your bicycle (mounting materials are included) und attach a tinted windscreen (UV filter). The buckle of the 5-point harness was designed so that you can easily flip back, open and close it.

The slim and curvy Urban Iki by OGK Europe BV bicycle seats can be customized in color. You can mount them on your bicycle (mounting materials are included) und attach a tinted windscreen (UV filter). The buckle of the 5-point harness was designed so that you can easily flip back, open and close it.

<i>LEGO And IKEA&#039;s Bridge</i> is a solution to let kids build an IKEA toy car using LEGO blocks. The adapter plate is designed with the same standard of LEGO to replace the adapter plate of IKEA. The connection board is manufactured through 3D printing, with open 3D source files available to consumers.

LEGO And IKEA's Bridge is a solution to let kids build an IKEA toy car using LEGO blocks. The adapter plate is designed with the same standard of LEGO to replace the adapter plate of IKEA. The connection board is manufactured through 3D printing, with open 3D source files available to consumers.

<i>Leg&Go 8in1 Balance Bike</i> is a transformable wooden bike that grows with a child from ages 6 months to 6 years. Its unique frame accommodates eight modifications – easily changing it into a Rocking Elephant, Tricycle, Pedal Bike, Downhill Bike or even a Polar Bike sled.

Leg&Go 8in1 Balance Bike is a transformable wooden bike that grows with a child from ages 6 months to 6 years. Its unique frame accommodates eight modifications – easily changing it into a Rocking Elephant, Tricycle, Pedal Bike, Downhill Bike or even a Polar Bike sled.

<i>ZEBLO</i> is wooden block toy that comes in three kinds of shape, with magnets at both ends of each block. The red and blue crosses clearly designate the two magnetic poles. The wooden blocks are also made at front and rear of different colored woods.

ZEBLO is wooden block toy that comes in three kinds of shape, with magnets at both ends of each block. The red and blue crosses clearly designate the two magnetic poles. The wooden blocks are also made at front and rear of different colored woods.

This <i>PLAY JELLO</i> picnic bag is a rucksack in shape of a rabbit for toddlers and preschoolers, featuring a design that highlights simplicity and bright color. It is equipped with a name tag and a strap to keep the kid from getting lost.

This PLAY JELLO picnic bag is a rucksack in shape of a rabbit for toddlers and preschoolers, featuring a design that highlights simplicity and bright color. It is equipped with a name tag and a strap to keep the kid from getting lost.

<i>Luka Reading Robot</i> is an education aid. It helps kids, aged two to eight, to enjoy the pleasure of reading and develop reading habits. With AI in computer vision, Luka identifies picture books through HD camera, and reads them out loud. All the child needs to do is to open a book, turn the page as usual, and Luka always reads the book smoothly.

Luka Reading Robot is an education aid. It helps kids, aged two to eight, to enjoy the pleasure of reading and develop reading habits. With AI in computer vision, Luka identifies picture books through HD camera, and reads them out loud. All the child needs to do is to open a book, turn the page as usual, and Luka always reads the book smoothly.

<i>Twickto</i> is a construction toy that stimulates creative thinking by using a systematic approach in the design of the parts. The building blocks, called Bricks, can be joined together by using couplings, called Twicks. All of them are connected by twisting and clicking. For certain constructions, a key, called TwickTool, is needed.

Twickto is a construction toy that stimulates creative thinking by using a systematic approach in the design of the parts. The building blocks, called Bricks, can be joined together by using couplings, called Twicks. All of them are connected by twisting and clicking. For certain constructions, a key, called TwickTool, is needed.

  • 01/15

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.

The toy designer Elif Atmaca from Istanbul, Turkey, advocates for children’s rights to play by considering safety aspects, privacy, participation, development and freedom of expression rights.

The toy designer Elif Atmaca from Istanbul, Turkey, advocates for children’s rights to play by considering safety aspects, privacy, participation, development and freedom of expression rights.

Elif co-founded the toy company Toyi that designs and produces open-ended and child-led play experience for children.

Elif co-founded the toy company Toyi that designs and produces open-ended and child-led play experience for children.

When it comes to finding the perfect present for a new-born child, the baby equipment shop owner Andrea and Sven Hofmann from Hannover, Germany, believe that sustainability is a key component to happiness.

When it comes to finding the perfect present for a new-born child, the baby equipment shop owner Andrea and Sven Hofmann from Hannover, Germany, believe that sustainability is a key component to happiness.

  • 01/03

Supporting free play to underline children's creative potential

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.

Leave them kids play

Luca Fois, what is your advice to fight strictly profit-oriented design approaches?

“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

Read the whole interview

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.”

 

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(published in November 2020)