The Real Poop
Geppetto had the right idea: dedicate your life to making toys, and one day you might become a toy-making wizard capable of bringing real life to your puppets.
But he wasn't thinking far enough outside the box. If you work really hard, perhaps you can craft a small puppet army that'll take over the world but will be unable to tell any lies. That sentimental, single-real-boy-for-companionship thing that Geppetto was going for was just small change.
Okay, so maybe a toy army isn't the right reason to get into the toy design business. Maybe you picture your workplace as a combination of Willy Wonka's factory and Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, with prototype toys zooming, flying, and buzzing about your creative workspace.
Or perhaps the very thought of Santa's workshop works you into a tizzy, with industrious small people tinkering away on the latest toy designs. (Which, by the way, always seem to range from wooden trains to Raggedy Ann dolls. Why are elves never shown making toys that kids actually want?)
If any of these are true for you—or, more realistically, if you excel at the process of imagining a new and fun idea, designing possibilities, and seeing your projects through to the end—being a toy designer might be just the job for you. And you could make a good living doing it, too, with a median annual salary of $61,460 (source).
If this whole possibility of designing toys makes your head spin with ideas, you'll probably be eager to get started. How can you become one of these manufacturers of mirth, a designer of dreams? How can your creations fill the spaces between Saturday morning cartoons?
To start off, you'll need to be creative. Really creative. Take five minutes to think of a new toy idea right now. Think hard. Think about your little sister or your nephew and what they'd like to play with. Go ahead, we'll wait.
What did you come up with? Was the best you could do Sponge Party or Collection-o-Sticks? You might be on the wrong track. If you think your idea is a good one, ask that little sister or nephew. If they don't tell you it's lame, you might be the next great toy designer.
The actual development phase of toy designing means that, aside from creativity and artistic ability, toy designers need technological skills in art and design. These days, toy design is done less and less with sketches and paintbrushes, and more and more with computers and software.
Your computer skills will need to be more impressive than being able to update your Facebook status to "kickin' it" or to illegally download a song. You'll most likely need to learn various CAD (computer-aided design) programs to bring your creative ideas to life and market them to toy companies.
Speaking of marketing, the best toy ideas will follow the pet rock into oblivion if they're never mass produced or distributed to toy stores. This reality means toy designers will also need business know-how and excellent people skills to be able to present and sell their ideas to companies—the companies that can actually mold plastic, paint wood, and exclude batteries from every single box.
So, potential elf, what does it take to join the legendary creative ranks which claim the designers of the Slinky, Silly Putty, and the Rubik's Cube among its members?
Most toy designers have, at minimum, a bachelor's degree hanging on the wall. Undergraduate majors in industrial design are common, with a sprinkling of toy design concentrations available—although those are rare (and the suggestion may make guidance counselors look at you funny—but press on).
The more common route is a degree in art and design, or some combination of degrees which include coursework in child psychology or sociology. Some toy designers may even take business courses to better understand the marketing and sales facets of the toy world—and so they don't get ripped off when it comes time to negotiate royalties.
With a degree under your belt, you'll have a couple of options. Some toy designers are directly employed by toy and game manufacturing companies, working on assigned projects. Others strike out on their own, conceptualizing and inventing their own ideas, which must be pitched to toy companies for production and distribution.
A select few toy pioneers take on the entire process from design through manufacture and marketing, and may reap spectacular benefits (or face crushing bankruptcy) based on the toy's market appeal.
The world of toy design is one of the few careers which depends on the wishes and whims of a notoriously unpredictable (and often snot-encrusted) group: kids. While the overall market is stable (and unfortunately, not growing quickly (source), some toy designers may skyrocket to worldwide desire with a toy that plugs into some current trend or fad.
Others may wallow in relative toy oblivion, with their works gathering dust on shelves alongside such spectacular duds as Broccoli Time! and Mr. Mud Head.
At the end of the day, if creativity, design, and marketing are among your strengths, you should toy with the idea of becoming a toy designer. The Magic 8-Ball says to take a shot at it. Don't worry, we asked on your behalf.