Moving Beyond Hand Buzzers

I read a great article in Fast Company's Co.Design by contributing author Hellen Walters, who writes about the "4 Elements That Make A Good User Experience Into Something Great".  As the title implies, product design is critical for not only function but also to set expectations for "what we expect (the product) to do, and then, ideally, get the hell out of our way until we need it again".  Apple products, such as the iPod, are great examples.  Apple was the first to introduce a music player that was intuitive, attractive (red anyone?), and didn't scare the Belarus out of you!  For us working in the toy industry (and especially for us integrating more technology into our designs), these concepts are as important as ever and should be a part of the design team's tattoo collection.

Ms. Walters was a judge for the first ever "Interaction Awards", which honors and celebrates innovation and excellence in interaction design, or as the program puts it:
This year’s inaugural awards will begin a dialogue, inspire designers and businesses alike, raise the profile of interaction design, and demonstrate its value in the global economy. 
The 4 elements she used as guidelines for judging the entrants into this inaugural affair are very simple.  I've summarized below with an explanation on how I see them applying to the toy and play industry:  

  1. Building Platforms: The toy industry is fragmented, and unless you are Hasbro or Mattel, you probably aren't looking to build a toy or play platform for others to utilize or build upon.  Who has the money and energy for this?  But you need look no further than Facebook, who originally started out as a virtual place to share pictures.  The founders (and investors, I'm sure) saw an opportunity to become the preeminent social media platform upon which to build other services and applications.  Their early partnership with Zynga to bring Farmville to the masses was a great example of working toward this.  The toy industry could benefit from leaders who look to identify needs in these areas. 
  2. Moving Beyond the Screen: In today's hyper connected society, with young adults maturing faster, this is crucial for the play industry.  Toys and games may be great, but providing fresh and new content, as well as a means to be more interactive, will keep kids engaged long term.  Without the consideration put toward complimentary features, a toy is likely to be shelved for something fresh in a few months. 
  3. Seamlessly Integrating Data: While this doesn't necessarily apply to toys (unless you are integrating technology into the toy), it can be applied to marketing and promotion.  If a company isn't using social media to direct and control the company's message in the public, then it won't be long before social media controls that message for them.  Capturing and, more important, deciphering the mountain of data and applying it appropriately to marketing efforts, product life cycles, and product development can make the difference between a one-hit-wonder and a perennial brand name. 
  4. Empowering The User: As large retailer and media start to loose their clout to more influential social outlets, allowing the consumer to "participate" in the product and brand will help establish loyalty.  Too often, I see good products launched, then crash, mostly due to not collecting (properly) and responding to customer (and social) feedback.  When this happens, consumers feel alienated. 

As Ms. Walters states in her article, "it is clear that play and fun are now a serious business."  I couldn't agree more.  Now it's time for the toy industry to start looking at functional interaction in their product design instead of just churning out plastic toy guns.

You can follow Hellen Walters on Twitter @HelenWalters.
Follow our product design efforts and let us know if we are meeting/missing these interaction elements on Twitter @WildCreations @Flipoutz