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Interview with a toy designer: Louise White

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Toys and games are essential to child development since playing is the most basic way that human beings learn how to engage and explore the world around them. This, subsequently, leads an individual being better able to retain information. The importance of play has been at the forefront of child psychology studies in recent decades since cognitive psychologists have strongly linked play and amusement to a person’s heightened capacity for memory and creative and critical thinking—skills that teachers and employers strongly value.

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Although practically everyone has some experience with toys, not many people design toys nor know the basic creativity and thought processes that go into designing them. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Louise White who is an award-winning toy designer who has been bestowed with over twenty honors for her contributions to the field. Louise’s awards include the prestigious Oppenheim Best Toy award, the iParenting Media award, and the Dr. Toy Best Toy award.

Louise White is the President and Head Designer at “Me First! Design Inc.,” which specializes in creating plush, plastic, fabric and accessory designs for the infant to pre-teen market. Since its 1998 launch, “Me First! Designs Inc.” has created innovative and best-selling products for some of the largest toy manufacturers in the world including Toys R Us, International Playthings, Alex Toys, Goody, Ohio Art, Infantino, Mary Meyer, Kids II, Summer infant, Crown Craft, Sassy, and many others. The “Taggies” product line for International Playthings was a highly successful and lucrative license.

A graduate of the Pratt Institute of Design, Louise White is known for her innovative designs and ability to create entire product lines from initial concepts through to final production. Her designs have also been featured in numerous publications and she is considered among the elite in her field. Below, Louise shared her insightful views and experiences as a woman who is presently working as a designer in the toy industry:

Q: How did you get interested in toy design?

My parents’ own a special education pre-school in Staten Island, New York, with an emphasis of therapy through play. They are avid collectors of antique toys and along with every toy I’ve ever designed, they display them proudly at home and in their school. I’ve always loved wind up, mechanical toys.
I was an artist from a very early age and enjoyed sketching, sewing and creating. I played store with my close friend where we would create all the products including the packaging. I sewed Barbie doll clothes with my sister and I would put on fashion shows for my parents. I was the student that my teachers would pull out of classes to create their classroom boards or to design parade banners. I won many awards and poster contests as a child. For me, art was very natural and second nature. I saw the world differently and to this day I still do.
I was always interested in getting my hands on the latest toys. I was fascinated by interactive toys; especially things like Lego where I could build anything that I wanted.
Art was my life as a child. I thought about it all the time and knew that one day I would become an artist; even though my parents’ wanted me to have a more traditional career like an occupational therapist or physical therapist. When I decided to become an Industrial Designer, I never looked back and my parents were supportive every step of the way. My dad does however, introduce me as his daughter, the starving artist.
I graduated from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, with a degree in Industrial Design. When I was at Pratt, I took a course in toy design during a summer session and everything came together for me. I noticed that every product that I created in design school was very whimsical and it became clear what I wanted to do in my career; be a toy designer

Q: As a child, what were your favorite toys? Do you think they impacted the kinds of things you now design?

Many of the toys that I played with as a child were interactive and demonstrated cause and effect. Toys like Capsela, Lego, and Speak& Spell were my favorite toys. I would build tall forts with Lincoln Logs and intricate houses with my Legos. I was the typical girly girl and loved Barbies and Cabbage Patch kids. I loved using my imagination with low tech, basic toys as well as more interactive toys. My favorite toy, however, was just a box of crayons and whatever blank paper I can get my hands on.
When I was young, my Grandmother had a hanging miniature toy shop in her dining room that I would look at for hours. Regardless of where I live, that toy shop hangs on the wall next to me as a reminder of my grandmother but also of my love for of this industry. I’ve always had that childlike fascination with all things small and precious. Toys have become overly complicated and sometimes the basics are really the best toys.

Q: What have been the most interesting and/or rewarding parts of making toys?

After sixteen years in the industry, it is a source of pride that a number of my toys have been recognized and received awards. I created a career for myself without any connections in the industry, have persevered in a very tough field, and built a name for myself as a creative, reliable, and out-of-box thinker. I instill in my children the idea that they should always strive to do what they love in their chosen field one day. I don’t view toy design as a career but as my passion in life. I get excited when I get a challenging new project or an innovative idea pops into my head.
I still get excited when I see one of my toys in the arms of a baby. I am filled with joy that what I do for a living provides comfort and fun for little ones. I love that what I create for children will be remembered as fond memories of their childhood.

Q: Do you ever try to make your toys educational as well as amusing?

My specialty is designing low-tech, yet engaging activity toys. As the mother of three children, including a fifteen month-old baby, I’m always trying to create something new and interesting that will inspire interaction on the part of the child. Little children today are bombarded with products that tell the child how to play with the toy in a specific way. I strive to create toys that are soothing, full of discovery, safe, and inspire imagination.
My most successful toy design is a play set called “Lil Shoppers” by Earlyears. I designed a no tech shopping bag filled with groceries that promoted good eating, green technology, and was also very safe. The fruits and veggies all have my signature smiley face and fits perfectly into their little hands.
One of the tricks of being a successful designer in the industry is creating a product that is both innovative and safe but also one that deals with the reality that you have a child with limited, yet developing skills. You can’t reinvent the wheel in this segment. You need to develop toys that can grow with the child as they age. I try to create toys that grow with the child. I consider that parents don’t want to throw away their money with a toy that have limited play value but rather toys that can be rediscovered as the child gains more skills and competency.

Q: What are your career aspirations over the next ten years?

I have reached the point in my career where I am interested in manufacturing my own toys versus only licensing and designing for other companies. Becoming a mother again with a young baby, certainly opened my eyes to some gaps in the marketplace and I plan on taking advantage of my experience and concepts to help other parents with products that they need. I am also rare in my industry from the perspective that I am both a designer and inventor. Most in my industry are one or the other. I love a new challenge and am constantly trying to learn new things and to better my skills.

Q: Are you currently working on any projects that you would like to mention?

I have a number of products that are in development but can’t discuss them as they are for existing clients and will soon be released into the market. I am always looking for new clients, and also love helping people who are new to the industry navigate the maze that is toy design. On my end, I am working on patents and inventions that I hope to introduce into the market in the near future.

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For more information about Louise White and her creations please visit her official company website:
http://www.mefirstdesigns.com/portfolio.html

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