What you played with as a child more than likely influenced who you became as an adult. Seems simple, but have you actually thought about it? I know it certainly shaped who I am and how I look at the world.
We are now in the season for toy talk. What will be the hottest toys of the year, the most desired, the one that's sold out? We hear it every year; but do hot toys necessarily help shape who you will become?
Let me preface what Im about to talk about by stating I'm a Baby Boomer, and licensed character products outside Mickey and some choice western TV shows, were few and far between for me as a child! Too early for the mass of licensed properties of today, but there were plenty of toys that were relevant to my youth, and two I still have treasured memories.
First was a rather large, round, spaceship with all sorts of lights, sounds, hatches, cranes, and pods that launched off all the sides. It looked somewhat unearthly, but so cool. I cannot remember who made it. What was interesting was this product was produced during the earliest times of the space race, and there was more fantasy associated with space travel than reality for the average person. Neo-futuristic design concept artists like Syd Mead were starting to serve up the future travel and space worlds with super cool illustrations for many public companies, especially cars. Those images were bringing strange new shapes and colors to out-of -this-world landscapes. As a young boy I embraced the fantasy of it all and couldn't get enough.
What put this toy in solidly in my memories was not the toy alone. My older brother, who was an aspiring artist, presented me with a giant, hand-painted play-mat of a spaceport with all the roads, transport rails, launchpads and mission control buildings. Now my toy had a world, and I began to make up great stories about space travel and the elaborate combination of man, machine and alien universes! I added to that environment daily, and it became my model train system, only for space!. Fantasy met reality and stories were continually crafted. I wish I still had it!
The second toy was not a toy at all but rather a very early consumer electronic. I was so proud to have a Awai Mini Reel to Reel tape recorder. A mini one! It had 3 inch reels in a portable case that was teal and cream. Now that was styling! I carried it everywhere, and with it I told stories, arranged background sounds, and used it as another character as I performed my made up plays to anyone who would listen. It was a production story machine. The stories of my imagination were enhanced by whatever I inputted into this gem of a "toy". As a child, it couldn't get much better. Stories were more than just stories; they were events!
Fast forward to my career as a toy designer. Did these toys make me a more creative person? Did they help me frame my imagination and conceptual thinking? Did they help me in pushing story into whatever product line and presentation I made? You bet they did. Could I still have been creative; perhaps, but my childhood was enhanced by the toys I played with.
You are the result of influences throughout your life. Childhood memories, environment, and the things you played with are more of an influence on who you become then you may have realized.
So, those hot toys of this holiday season; do they offer that magic that will stay with a child and influence their personality in later years? Let us hope so. Look beyond fad and licensed character, and look at products that enrich those growing personalizes. Licenses or not, toys that let you imagine are so necesary. Whether you are buying a toy for a child or designing one for manufacture, please think about the play. Think about what a child will experience with it and what it might mean to their future personality. You'll be glad you did.