Toy story

There was an interesting article on Reuters today, looking at some of the activities underway at toy company Fisher Price. It strikes me the toy industry is undergoing something of a transformation as toys transition from objects which imitate adult life to devices which make it possible for kids to use adult ideas in their own context.

Where before a toy manufacturer would create something which looked like a mobile phone, but actually did nothing, now these companies are developing products which offer ‘real’ features such as texting and voice. This is a market which presents some unique user experience challenges, particularly in the area of durability.

The Reuters piece states:

The children in the playroom tested a camera prototype, which looked like a white video cassette tape with a viewfinder and a small LCD screen on the back.

At first, the kids were reluctant to use the strange object. But once they got the hang of it, following some adult instruction, they eagerly snapped pictures and peered at the screen to see what they had captured.

“It’s a good sign when they don’t put it down,” Ciganko [David Ciganko, vice president of product design at Fisher-Price] said as he watched from behind the mirror.

Through testing like this, Fisher-Price discovered that a child’s natural tendency is to grab a camera with two hands, covering up the flash. So they developed their Kid-Tough camera with two fat grips on either side to protect the flash. The camera also has two-eye viewing, making it is easier for children to look through the viewfinder.

For the Song & Story Player, Fisher-Price settled on a shape that looks like a miniature CD player. Its LCD screen will show song and story titles, and icons so children who cannot read can navigate the technology. Instead of earbuds, Fisher-Price designed pint-sized headphones that conform to volume regulations.

General Manager Kevin Curran said Fisher-Price has a history of developing youth electronics, pointing to the boxy brown tape recorder introduced in 1981 that was shown in ads tumbling down a staircase unscathed.

While other toymakers have rolled out digital cameras and MP3 players for the younger set ahead of Fisher-Price, Curran said Fisher-Price waited to develop the toys until they met three criteria — low cost, high durability and ease of use.

“We would have loved to do this five years ago,” he said. “We waited until the cost came down and we could make it durable.”

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