How to turn a drawing into a best-selling toy

Many toys start life as a doodle - but how do companies work out which will be the stars and which will be left on the toy cutting room floor?


Have you ever looked at a toy and wondered who came up with the idea? Who turned an aggressive roaring bear into a soft, cuddly toy that helps hundreds of children to sleep at night?


Who came up with a squared board showing slippery snakes and extended ladders? And who made a telephone on wheels with a friendly face and string to pull it along? 


Well, the answer to that last one is Fisher-Price. The Chatter phone is indeed an iconic toy that has lasted for many generations, even though phones haven’t looked like this for years, and was given a new lease of life when it featured in Toy Story 3. (If you want to know the answers to the other two, they’re at the bottom)

The real toy story

We caught up with Deb Weber, who leads product development research for Fisher-Price, to find out how to make a toy that ends up on Santa’s list, rather than disappears quietly into jumble sales.

“We watch children play,” explains Deb, describing what we reckon is a rather cool job. “We have observation rooms and we watch how children play with a range of toys, what they want from toys and how they interact.”


Bring in the toy engineers

Deb then works with teams of designers and toy engineers to pass on what’s been seen in the observation rooms.

The designers, meanwhile, are inventing new ideas that start life as doodles and sketches. The engineers then build prototypes from the drawings and the 1st generation toys go for their most important assignment – being played with by baby, toddler or child testers. 

Can I bring my toys round?

“We take toys out to people’s homes,” says Deb. “They’re just early versions, as we’ll make more changes following the testing. 

“We watch how parents assemble the toys and how they interact, as well as how the children are playing. With technology toys, we also turn them off, and see if the children still enjoy playing with them.” Which can only be good news for parents who discover that their child’s noisy, techy toys have mysteriously lost their batteries…


We have our own toy testers

Once toys hit the shelves, that’s not the end of testing. Fisher-Price continues to develop its current roster of toys and look for ideas for new ones.

MadeForMums and Fisher-Price have worked together for a couple of years now recruiting toy testers. You can see our MFMers’ video reviews here


Oh yes, and those first two inventors…

The inventor of the teddy bear is a controversial matter. There are two claimants, and so the history books now suggest that both had the idea at the same time. The two inventors are American Morris Michtom, who went on to create the Ideal Novelty and Toy Co, and German toy designer Richard Steiff, of the famed toy company Steiff.

Most people think the person behind teddy bears is Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt. However, Roosevelt didn’t invent the teddy, it’s just the toy bear got his name from this US President, after he refused to shoot a bear during a hunting trip. 

As for snakes and ladders, it’s believed to be an ancient Indian game. According to some Indian historians, the inventor was a 13th century saint called Gyandev, who’d devised the game as a journey of life – with ladders representing virtue and the snakes representing you guessed it, vice. Fascinating fact: It’s thought that the phrase ‘Back to square one’ may have come from the game of snakes and ladders.

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