by TRINA MCFARLAND, Owner and General Manager, TinkerTini
Not so long ago, the concept of open innovation in the toy and game industries didn’t exist. The working relationships companies had with inventors weren’t something that was openly discussed or celebrated. But times change and so does the perception of how a company’s capabilities are measured, especially when it comes to innovation.
Partnerships with inventors are now a critical component for any company with an eye on a long-term plan for success. The toy business now openly welcomes, supports, and celebrates our inventors unlike any other industry — and we should! Inventors have always been a part of the toy business DNA. They’ve been faithful industry companions that ride with us on the collective — and sometimes volatile — waves of business, industry, economy, and most recently, a global pandemic and its unpredictable ripple effects.
Despite the highs and lows of the business and a varying appetite for new product ideas from major companies over the years, inventors consistently create and offer options that can become the next big brand. These ideas can bring characters and stories to life in new ways, and inventors can step in when great company-generated ideas need expert execution to get them to the finish line.
Given that The Toy Foundation’s Toy of the Year (TOTY) Awards are finally back home in New York City for the first time since 2020, now is the perfect time to celebrate our industry’s inventors and the award-winning concepts they have created or supported over the years. They may not have received an actual TOTY Award themselves as the inventor, but they sure do deserve one!
Please join me in honoring our courageous and resilient toy business friends. And, the next time you see them, give them a long overdue congratulations and “thank you” for being such an important part of our toy industry story.
CONGRATULATIONS TO THESE INVENTORS ON THEIR TOTY WINS!
- 2022 Crazy Bunch O Ballons | ZURU, Josh Malone
- 2022 A Game of Cat and Mouth | Exploding Kittens, Mikkel Bertels
- 2021 Story Time Chess | Tyler Schwartz and Jon Sieber
- 2020 Pictionary Air | Mattel, IDEO, & Sound Machine
- 2019 Cool Maker KumiKreator | Spin Master, FUSE
- 2018 Disney Junior Minnie’s Walk and Play Puppy Just Play, Bang Zoom Design & SG Labs
- 2018 Soggy Doggy | Spin Master, Ulco Toy & Game Co
- 2017 3Doodler Start Essentials Pen Set | WobbleWorks, Maxwell Bogue and Peter Dilworth
- 2017 Hatchimals | Spin Master, Shoot the Moon
- 2015 Gravity Maze | ThinkFun, FUSE
- 2015 Simon Swipe | Hasbro, KID Group
- 2015 Zoomer Dino | Spin Master, G2 Inventions
- 2014 Zoomer | Spin Master, G2 Inventions
- 2014 Boom Boom Balloon | Spin Master, Frans Rookmaker
- 2013 Rainbow Loom | Choon’s Design, Cheong Choon Ng
- 2012 Fijit Friends Interactive Figures | Mattel, Shoot the Moon
- 2011 The Sing-a-ma-jigs | Mattel, Ron Magers
- 2009 Elmo Live | Fisher-Price, Shoot the Moon
- 2009 Bananagrams | Abraham and Rena Nathanson
- 2009 Bakugan Battle Brawlers Battle Pack Series 1 Spheres | Spin Master, Shelly Goldberg, Matt Lazich, Aldric Saultier
- 2008 Smart Cycle Physical Learning | Fisher-Price, Christian Hölljes
- 2008 Rubik’s Revolution | Techno Source, REHCO
- 2008 Power Tour Electronic Guitar | Tiger Electronics, KID Group
- 2007 TMX Elmo | Fisher-Price, Lund & Co. Invention
- 2005 Peek-a-Blocks IncrediBlocks | Fisher-Price, Shoot the Moon
- 2003 Hokey Pokey Elmo | Fisher-Price, Bang Zoom Design
- 2001 Cranium | Richard Tate and Whit Alexander
BEHIND THE INVENTION: PICTIONARY AIR (2020)
by ADAM SKAATES, Partner & Managing Director, IDEO Play Lab
Pictionary Air had an interesting journey to becoming a product. The first sketch (back in 2011!) was for a device you’d plug into your TV and players would draw in the air and have it show up on screen. For this version, we had concerns about cost and complexity. At that time we were in the middle of designing several kids’ iPhone apps so we quickly evolved the concept to being “iPhone enabled” through an app. We had also just hired our first software engineer and on his first day of work we gave him this project to explore. When we played his first prototype we knew right away it had the right DNA to be successful — the technology was inexpensive but magical and it was super fun to play. It made drawing less threatening, more physical, and lots more fun. Plus it had a natural “sharable moment” that could help drive marketing and popularity.
Interestingly though, when we started showing clients in late 2011 they were scared off by using the phone at all. One client even said “This is a great idea but it’s before its time,” and it turned out he was right! We continued showing (13 different clients passed on it!) and improving the idea for the next seven years before Mattel eventually fell in love with the concept and decided to make it.
Once we knew they loved it we did lots of hardware and software design, experience design, usability testing, and gameplay work to help Mattel create a great product. We’re thrilled with the end result and the item continues to sell well into its fourth year on the shelf.
Thank you to The Toy Association for supporting inventors and for providing historical TOTY information to support this research and documentation effort. Please report any change requests to: [email protected].
A version of this feature was originally published in the 2023 Toy Fair issue of The Toy Book. Click here to read the full issue! Want to receive The Toy Book in print? Click here for subscription options!