Product/Experience Design With Toys

This summer I would have never imagined I was going to intern at Hasbro, one of the most popular toy design companies in the US. Work and fun blended together!

I shadowed my manager throughout the summer at the SPARK Labs (the team working on innovation and technology within toy design) as a product designer.

Even though I came in with a specific idea of what the work would be like, during the 12 weeks that I worked here, I realized I had a very different interpretation. These are the major things that changed my perception of what it takes to be a product designer and now I can take this knowledge and apply it to my future work.

#1: What is my role as a designer in the product development process?

On the grand scale of things, I learned that the consumer is actually quite far away from the designers. In school, it can often be misleading how you can design products that could go straight to a consumer, but as part of a major corporate company, I have come to realize the specific role I have amongst a giant turning mechanism.

Communicate the essence of the toy clearly

As you can see, there’s a long way to go until something that I designed would reach a consumer. This thus brings me to the first lesson I learned — it’s so important to communicate to others what the product does. This may sound like common sense but is something I needed make a distinction from the projects that I had done in school. As a design student, many of our projects revolved around the idea of exploration and outside thinking on what a product could behave and appear to be, and this as you can imagine, the products that result from this are forms that are usually not as commonly seen. Thus, for a product like that to be in popular retails stores such as Walmart or Target, the consumers there would not have the time and need to discover what this product is. If they don’t understand it at a glance, the product may not be sold. That is the difference between designing in a mass consumer goods company versus a smaller product design company for specialized goods.

Not only is communication through interaction and appearance of the toy important, but also how you communicate the message of this toy to others in the company to support you in producing it. Successful products are the ones that have convinced the whole company that it’s a fantastic product. Then would the sales department push harder to convince the retailers to buy this product to place on their shelves, and finally reach consumers.

Essential initial conversations with people

This makes the conversations and brainstorming sessions for the beginning stages of product development extremely important. Having designated meetings with people of very different design specializations and experiences, to just throw out their wildest ideas was something new and so worthwhile.

These initial conversations aren’t limited to only designers, but across disciplines. Working alongside my manager, we talked to engineers, researchers, and marketers along every step of the way to develop a toy. They informed us of which directions to move forward. Especially with their experience at Hasbro and knowing what products become successful, they gave us insights specific to this type of product that I may not have been able to get easily with just research. I want to bring more of this type of diversified brainstorming into the future work that I do!

#2: Three things you should know as a product designer

I gained experienced as a Product Designer in this industry. First of all, this role has always been a complicated one. Some people think UI/UX when talking about product design, Carnegie Mellon University emphasizes its industrial design aspects… So what is it actually?

I don’t necessarily create the appearance of a toy

Here at Hasbro, a Product Designer is about creating the story behind a product than designing its form. It’s another way of giving the best experience as possible to a user through closely examining what the target audience wants and enjoys, then using this information to design a play pattern that will produce long term engagement and value.

This experienced allowed me to improve on my presentation skills and methods of working in cross-discplinary environments in addition to the technical skills Product Designer skills that we gained through school.

Talking to my manager everyday was very helpful in reflecting on these interactions with people and examining the reasons how design directions were pursued, how a person articulates a conversation and what impacts your ways of communication could hold.

Every project has a unique timeline

Even before I started my internship, my manager explained to me that work really depends on the time and it quite unexpected. It really can be described as, projects at fast-paced consumer goods companies is “like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get”. It depends on the season, current trends, and directions of thoughts from executives of that time that determines what project you work on.

Each project depending on its brand and situation will have its own pace and timeline, which was a big contrast to the planned out time frames for projects in college.

From this, being flexible became essential. Because each project was so different from the next, one has to pivot and work accordingly to these circumstances.

Engaging interaction ≠ Success

Has anyone at an earlier stage of their career thought like this before? “If my team and I give our ultimate effort and create an amazing product, it will be a success in the market!” This has definitely changed in my view. It’s not that I’m disillusioned by reality, but rather gained real experience on how consumer products work. It widened my perspective on what is determined as success. Even if a design had fulfilled the criteria of being a valuable interactive product, its final success is sometimes dependent unforeseeable factors. For example, it was just not the right time, there were other products on the market that took away its attention, the sales team did not share the same value for a project…

It can be heartbreaking seeing the results of a project after so much hard work, and even more difficult when you have to call it the time to kill the project all together, but in the end, it’s important to remember that this is what agile design thinking is. I have to emphasize the significance of flexibility again, because in order to be a great product designer working in consumer products, I must always keep an open and forward thinking mind.

With the personal projects I pitched at Hasbro, I took this to action. While constructing my pitches, I had to keep in mind that even with great intentions, a project may not succeed in the market because of a multitude of reasons, and that this was not an ultimate reflection of my abilities. I would take those kind of projects as a learning opportunity and apply them to my next projects.

#3: The special case of working remotely

COVID-19 has significantly impacted every aspect of our lives and that also includes internships. I was extremely grateful that Hasbro transitioned to remote work and that has created positives and negative.

Positives of being remote: Intimacy in communication

One of my favorite parts of this internship was having 1-on-1 meetings with different people working in Hasbro. I think talking to them was one of the best ways to learn a lot in a short period of time. These meetings ranged from meeting with people from engineering to marketing, and executive to senior positions. Their experiences at Hasbro, past careers, memorable lessons or mistakes they made were not only interesting talking about but gave me much time to reflect on.

Downs of being remote: Observation & research

Being remote definitely took away the ease of being able to roam around the company and see what is everyone working on. It also becomes more difficult to participate in consumer research such as observational research at the FunLab (place for observational research for children playing with products) or being able to actually play with a prototype.

More Thoughts

A perk about interning remotely this summer for Hasbro was that I learned a lot about more tools that Microsoft offers, especially the ones that involve online collaboration. I think this was very useful because it allowed me to evaluate the tools that I could use in the future to work in group situations such as using task lists to keep track of what everyone is working on, Team folders to document progress and keep shared files, taking meeting minutes on Microsoft’s shareable notes…

With so many people working together on a project, sometimes it can be difficult to keep track of everything. Having a single place where meeting notes, updated presentations and documents are saved would be very helpful. For implementation, at least once a week, there could be a check-in where everyone updates these files and add a comment in the chat a short summary of these updates so there is a record. Also including meeting minutes for larger and key meetings would be very helpful for those who had conflicting schedules.

Finally, I wanted to express gratitude to the amazing people that I met during this summer. No matter who it was, someone who was working in the same team or an executive chief, they were very welcoming and opened their doors to chat anytime. I really appreciated the reachability to connect in the Hasbro community, and I felt like I was able to really connect with people in my time here!

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Industrial/Experience Designer, Human Computer Interactions and Physical Computing at Carnegie Mellon University