The Future of Toys

The New Age of Digital — Edition 1

Twins Jemmy and Rona jump out of bed, waking to the alarm clock of anticipation as excited children do. Today they turn six, and there are fewer pleasures for birthday boys and girls than toys that await. Mum and Dad are at the ready. Dad helps Jemmy use their 3D printer to turn the filament (made from his old train set) into parts specified for his weight and height. Meanwhile, Mum and Rona are training her AI pet to recognise her voice and commands.

At school, the toys make learning meaningful, engaging and fun. The twins work on activities such as measuring the carbon footprint of their reused materials, using a study kit to understand the robotics and electronics, and applying lessons in social issues like inclusiveness through design changes.

Toys don’t just provide topics for learning; they produce data for learning. Their teacher uses software to write personalised lessons that have replaced standardised classes. The data also helps to modify exercise to the twin’s development and even pick up early signs of medical issues such as eyesight, hearing and motor skills.

The New Age of Digital by Isabel Wu — Edition 3

The Future Story of Toys

This story is an example of “scenario writing”, a story constructed in a micro setting to develop insights to human needs and lifestyle patterns.

Like scenario planning, scenario writing is a futuring technique that changes “the future” from something you react to, to something you shape. Whereas scenario planning is a defensive mechanism to pre-empt high risk and high impact situations, scenario writing is used for value creation.

Scenario writing led to the development of the iPod. The Apple team applied a decade-old technology to the popularity of the file-sharing application, Napster. They realised a game-changing insight: it was not MP3’s poor quality sound but poor interface that stood between people and their music. The iPod’s wheel for quick scrolling, a shuffle feature and folders for sorting songs not only changed how we listen to music; it forever changed our relationships with our devices.

The New Age of Digital by Isabel Wu — Edition 3

As families change, so will toys.

If we assume a pandemic economy where travel restrictions, public health orders and closedowns are just business-as-usual, we can envisage how a toy industry could respond to changing attitudes, not only with new ways to produce toys, but new ways to sell them.

We know that the pandemic has accelerated other trends such as financial caution and a desire for self-efficacy. We might see fewer toys bought off (physical or virtual) retail shelves. 3D printers will enable both upcycling and toys finished to users’ precise specifications. Toy share and swap sites will grow in acceptance. Toys may be leased in the way people lease cars. Crowdfunding will will give several parties a share of one toy, saving money and the planet.

With technology such as immersive realities (AR/VR), Internet of Things (IoT), 5G and edge computing, the “mass customised” toy market will explode. It will follow smartphone trend for personalising mass-produced items through marketplaces of accessories and apps. No two people with the same toy will end up with the same play.

Combining technology and people through scenario writing provides a context to fit your value proposition with emerging trends, demographic shifts, major events and social attitudes. With the focus being on feelings, interactions and behaviours, even a basic understanding of technology will generate invaluable insights.

From insights come hypotheses to be tested, and from hypotheses come problems you can solve for your customers. Every business success is a solution that found a problem.

What future problem is waiting for you to solve it?

Originally published in The Bugg Report, April 2021.

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