How to Become a Toy Designer

When we think of “fun” jobs, things that come to mind are probably along the lines of acting and singing. But, at the end of the day, what can be more fun than designing toys? These can be for any and all ages, of varying colors, shapes, and themes – as a toy designer, you can let your imagination go wild.

This being said, it is also a serious career that requires specialized training in industrial design, besides the fun stuff. As any creative field it is also necessary to build a portfolio and appeal to your audiences, by creating toys that are “cool”, innovative and will be successful on the market. This is one of the rare creative fields where many professionals have stable and well-paying employment opportunities and are able to make a living from their design work.

Here is an infographic, so you can learn a little bit more about the toy design industry.

WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING

Don McNeill

McNeill Designs for Brighter Minds, Inc.

Quick Look Bio

  • Name:
  • Location:
  • Years in the Industry:
  • Facebook:

Understanding My Career Path

  • I sold commercial printing for 20 years prior to the toy and game business.
  • I got the idea for the game of “You’ve been Sentenced!” at the end of 2004.
  • In 2005, I launched the first 1,000 copies of the game.
  • Two years later, I launched the Twisted Fish card game.
  • In 2006, I picked up Barnes & Noble and Borders Books as clients.
  • Over the years, I started winning awards and eventually ended up with over 25.
  • Then, I signed a license with Reader’s Digest Word Power Challenge and launched the RDWPC game with them in 2008.
  • Today, I have clients such as Kohl’s, Toys R Us, Menard’s and over 3,000 independent stores.
  • Recently, I signed an agreement with NASA and launched YBS Add-on-Deck NASA Space Terminology.
  • Now I am getting ready to launch the app version of YBS.

Recommended Organizations

  • TIA – Toy Industry Association
  • ASTRA – American Specialty Toy Retailers Association

Advice

On whether or not he recommends a formal education
If you have a truly strong idea what people are willing to invest money into, you may be able to do things on your own, but the chances of that happening are slim to none, and slim just left town. Education is essential, and the chance of succeeding like a Bill Gates without it…1 in MILLIONS.

Learn about the industry
You need to know who the big players are. See if you can locate a local firm that is designing toys and games and pursue them. Continue to learn about toy and game design through numerous outlets – there are many groups and universities.

Advice on getting your foot in the door
I believe your best bet is to create a portfolio of toys and games you are thinking about designing. Then attend the Toy Fair in New York and present your ideas to see if any of them hold up. Some places will see you and others will not, but you may be able to get a sense if what you are thinking about as a good idea. Of course, Hasbro turned down the idea of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and several designers turned downed Sponge Bob Square Pants. Even J.K. Rowling was rejected 22 times for Harry Potter. Sometimes you have to believe to persevere.

Joe Smith

K’NEX

Quick Look Bio

  • Name:
  • Location:
  • Years in the Industry:
  • Twitter:
  • Joe Smith
  • Hatfield, PA
  • 22
  • @Knex

Understanding My Career Path

  • I actually started in the toy industry as a toy tester for Kenner Products in Cincinnati, Ohio in the late 1970’s. I was asked to focus test toys like Stretch Armstrong, Star Wars figures and vehicles, and other now famous/iconic toys.
  • Upon graduating high school I enrolled in the Industrial Design program at the University of Cincinnati.
  • In ID school they taught me how to draw, draft, and more accurately build model depictions of my ideas. Enough so that I landed a co-op job with Kenner Products in my junior year of college.
  • After three different co-op assignments with the company, they hired me upon graduation.
  • Hasbro came in and bought Kenner Products, and I was put on the Nerf design team, which had just started with their super successful lines of foam projectile launchers.
  • After many years of making great Nerf toys I was drafted onto the Star Wars team to help develop product for the then upcoming release of Star Wars: Episode 1. While on the Star Wars team I helped design figures, vehicles, and role play items. Eventually, I was asked to become the company’s liaison with Lucas Films, which helped me get into Design Management.
  • In late 2000, Hasbro was consolidating their workforce into the home office in Rhode Island. I took that “move” as a chance to see what else was available in the toy world for me. I luckily landed a job at K’NEX in early 2001 as the Design Manager with a staff of about 7 designers.
  • I have been growing with the company ever since. Now I’m privileged to be the Chief Development Officer at K’NEX, responsible for all of the company’s marketing, design, engineering, and creative efforts. I just celebrated my 14th year with the company.

Advice

On whether or not he recommends a formal education
Yes. A professional designer needs to learn various design techniques, and an accredited school is the only place you can receive this training for real world design challenges.

Be open-minded
Keep an open-mind all the time; no idea is bad, and be willing to learn something new every day. Have a strong backbone. Be able to handle rejection and criticism on a daily basis…and ENJOY “going back to the drawing board”.

Advice on getting your foot in the door
Develop your ideas, and make sure they answer the needs of you target consumers. There are many consumers you need to appease: kids, parents, buyers, marketing professionals, other designers and most importantly, yourself. Once you’ve done this, do whatever it takes to get the right meeting with the right person. Whether it’s a big chain of stores or another toy company you wish to license your idea to, don’t stop until you get the answers you need. Keep in mind, sometimes the answer you need is to “try again”.

Rebecca Floyd

Frowny Faces

Quick Look Bio

  • Name:
  • Location:
  • Years in the Industry:
  • Company:
  • Twitter:

Understanding My Career Path

  • I started off my continued education at The Atlanta Art Institute where I majored in Photography.
  • I left Atlanta, after graduating in 1995, and moved to NYC and worked as a photo editor for about a decade at some of New York’s top photography agencies.
  • I met my husband at a bar on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. We decided to get married and move to Richmond, VA to raise our family.
  • I spent the next 6 years as a stay-at-home mom. Spending most days in my pajamas watching cartoons and eating peanut butter sandwiches.
  • During this time, I started looking around my house at all of the weird toys my son had collected. I quickly noticed that all of the dolls had really creepy faces. Most of them had big plastic smiles.
  • I decided to make my son a little doll out of a pair of socks. Instead of sewing a big smile on its face, I gave it a frown.
  • My son took that doll everywhere, and it became a conversation piece at restaurants, airports and preschool. People began asking me where they could get one.
  • In 2015, I made about 500 sock dolls, built my website on Wix, got a business license and opened my shop online.

Recommended Organizations

TIA and ASTRA for toy market information

Advice

On whether or not she recommends a formal education
These days a formal education can cost so much. I think that if you already know what you want to be doing, it might be smarter to use that money to help your business. Education is always nice but not always necessary.

Be confident
Don’t let other people get you down. If you know what you want to be doing. Don’t let negative people stop you. You have to go for it. You need to believe in your product in order to sell it. If you are shaky about your invention, others will feel the same way. Lastly, don’t sit around and think your idea too long. You have to get out there and make it happen!

Advice for getting your foot in the door
My advice for getting your foot in the door is to be persistent. Don’t be afraid to contact toy companies, the media, etc. Be ready to be the president of your company and act like one. You have to go for it full force until you begin to get attention. Remember that everyone loves toys. You are in a great market!

What Kind of Education Do I Need to Become a Toy Designer?


Normally, toy designers need to obtain a degree in Industrial Design before they can enter the professional field. They should also look into specializations at their college or university in order to begin building a portfolio early on in their career. There are, of course, some professionals that do not follow this path and either choose to pursue a different degree or self-teach, however it is highly recommended for those who are specifically interested in a career in toy design.

Another path, which is better suited for entrepreneurs, who develop an innovative toy line, such as one of our experts, is similar to that of many entrepreneurs. Whatever you may have studied or not studied, these toy designers get an idea and bring it to life. They might license with a larger toy brand; they don’t necessarily need a specific degree but perseverance and business skills. This is, however, not often an option for someone looking to have a stable career as a toy designer for a larger corporation.

WHAT IF I DO WANT A FORMAL EDUCATION TO BECOME A TOY DESIGNER?

  • Rhode Island School of Design
    One of the top design schools in the US, the RISD offers a BFA and an MID in Industrial Design, both combining theory and in-studio courses. Students are taught to understand the design process and create objects, products, systems and experiences. Tuition averages $44,594 per year.
  • Art Center College of Design
    Located in Pasadena, California, the Art Center College of Design offers a variety of design programs for its undergraduate students, including Product Design, Interaction Design and Entertainment Design. Additionally, students may pursue master’s level studies in Industrial Design. Classes make a strong focus on hands-on learning, however there are mandatory humanities and social sciences courses included in the program as well. Average tuition for undergrads is $36,480 per year.
  • Carnegie Mellon University
    The CMU School of Design in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has a variety of tracks available for students wishing to pursue studies in Design. Undergrads can choose from one of three main concentrations – Industrial Design, Graphic Design, and the design of physical and digital environments – or combine 2 of 3. They may also choose to pursue an interdisciplinary degree combined with humanities or arts and technology. Master’s level studies are also available. Average tuition is $48,030 per year.
  • Ohio State University
    The Department of Design at the Ohio State University in Columbus, offers an undergraduate program in Industrial Design, focused on extensive learning about the design process, as well as sustainability. Students may also pursue a general design minor. Master’s level students can choose to follow the Design Research and Development track. Tuition for in-state undergrads is $10,037 per year and $26,537 for out-of-state.
  • California College of the Arts
    With campuses in San Francisco and Oakland, the CCA program in Industrial Design looks to foment innovation and ensure real-world experience for its students. A variety of master’s level studies are also available, including interaction design, design strategy and strategic foresight. Full-time tuition is $21,624 per term.

GETTING MY FOOT IN THE DOOR

As many creative careers, toy design requires a portfolio. How can this be done if you have never held a job in the industry? Well, experts recommend that you include your design ideas, even if they have not been brought to life. This will give the hiring management an idea of what you are capable of, and who knows, maybe they will even bring your idea to life!

Besides this, you should, of course, network. Start by looking into relevant groups and meetups in your community or college. Then, invest in attending industry conferences. Even if that means paying for a flight, it could be a perfect opportunity to meet potential employers and others who are in the same industry. Keep in mind, that by just going, you probably won’t get your money’s worth. You should prepare beforehand, by learning who will be at the conference, making sure you try to meet them and be memorable, while also actively partaking in the activities and workshops.