Considerations for Product Research & Development (Updated: 2018)

There is a market full of amazing products that we have come to know and love over the years, from plush toys and action figures, to construction kits and board games. Just through reading this list, perhaps the names of well-known toy brands related to these categories instantly popped into your heads.

These brands have spent a lot of time, effort and money in order to gain this power of awareness and this has led them to become leaders within the industry.

This is the power and awareness which these brands have spent a lot of time, effort and money on in order to be associated with such toy categories and has led to them to become leaders within the industry.

There can be a very thin line between success and failure. The most important thing to remember is that even if you do fail, it does not necessarily mean you should just ‘pick your ball up and go home’.

Man stressed about work on his Macbook

On the contrary, it is an opportunity to take a step back and recognise what went wrong and what you can do differently the next time around, to avoid the same pitfalls. Being able to do so means you are converting that failure into success.

So how can you, as a toy inventor or brand, ensure that you are taking all the necessary steps to ensure your idea or product has the best possible chance of breaking into and succeeding in this industry?


Just remember that Failing to Prepare is Preparing to fail

At the earlier stages, you will need to have an objective, one that will be crucial in allowing yourself and the rest of the team (whether they are internal or external) to understand what you wish to achieve with your product.

One method to achieve this is to prepare by answering a series of questions about your idea or product. Each question should prompt bot h you and your team to discuss how you can get from where you are right now, to meet your objectives.



Here are a few questions you might want to consider:

  • Is it a good idea?
  • Is there a sizeable demand for your idea or product?
  • Who are your competitors?
  • Is it cost effective?
  • What are the design considerations?
  • Is it safe?
  • Are you legally protected?

As toy industry heavyweight Mike Marra puts it, “Research, research…and research”. And here at Fundamentally Children HQ, research is the foundation of all our work. 


Learn more about how we process and review toys and other children’s products such as apps and books at Fundamentally Children


You might think your product is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but let’s be honest, you’re slightly biased. Gaining feedback from desk research, focus groups, surveys and observations will help you better understand both your target market and your product.

Conducting research and developing a concept without any understanding of who your target audience is, and what their needs and wants are, is essentially setting yourself up for failure.


The Importance of truly understanding who your Target Market are

In-depth into your target would market would seem like a given for most, but interestingly enough, there are actually companies who fail to focus on understanding how their customers evaluate and purchase products, and they will still go ahead and launch products!

A recent study found that of almost nine thousand new products that were able to achieve distribution at a US retailer, just 40 per cent of them were still sold three years later1. That’s almost 5,400 products that have been invested in, brought to market, yet no longer on the shelves.

I think it’s safe to assume that anyone currently in that exciting period of developing a new idea would not want it to end up in that 60 per cent of failed products.

Taking the time and opportunity to learn your customers’ needs and understand what they truly value will put yourself in a stronger position to successfully launch your product and ensure that it is still in demand three years from now.

This process allows you to effectively pinpoint who your target audience is, by identifying key variables within the market against a number of factors: demographic, geographic, behavioural and psychographic.

Product Research & Development is expensive, but don’t be put off

Research and development can be costly but is essential to getting your product off the ground..  That being said, the development stage allows you to make cost-effective tweaks and discover any major issues before it’s too late, whilst presenting you with opportunities to minimise any other potential risks going forward.

In this digital era, applications certainly have the advantage over their physical counterparts as they can be developed rapidly in countless iterations. However, physical products cannot afford the same luxury.


The stages of developing a children’s product

Every app follows very similar stages of development, unlike physical products that can have very different developmental processes and costs depending on the type of product you wish to create.

For example, below are typically the steps involved in the manufacturing process for plastic, vinyl and resin figures:

Tech pack & Design boards > Sample Sculpt or 3D Prints > Pre-production Samples > Agreement on samples + further amendments > Final manufacturing process > Assembly > Final Details > Quality control > Packaging & shipping.

The process of developing a physical product is a lot longer than developing an app and digital products are only going to become more popular – a recent report indicates that the Mobile App economy could be worth $139 billion by 2021.

That’s not to say that you should consider developing digital products instead of physical products – physical products are nowhere near becoming redundant any time soon and are currently dwarfing digital product sales.

eCommerce B2C Global Sales Chart between 2015 and 2020

(Graph taken from SelfStartr)


In 2015, the global eCommerce sales for physical products was at $995 billion and is set to reach to $1.7 Trillion by 2020, so there is plenty of encouragement for toy inventors to be optimistic and committed to continue developing physical products.

Another Perspective on Physical Product Research & Development

Looking back at ‘the stages of developing plastic, vinyl and resin figures’, it’s worth pointing out that this example often resonates with larger companies, but it is not necessarily the standard for every toy inventor or brand to follow.

For that very reason, I wanted to gain a different perspective on how a other inventors and brands could take a different approach to developing a physical product. After all there lots of inventors out there who have experienced success following their product’s launch and are not big name brands….yet.

In this instance, I was fortunately able to reach out to Phil Carnock, the CMO at SwapBots, to learn a little more about SwapBots, their Kickstarter campaign and to discuss some of the considerations involved in their R&D process.

Demonstration of SwapBots

 I was very grateful for Phil taking the time to reply to my questions following their success in not only reaching but surpassing their target goal on Kickstarter this past month (April 2017).

Throughout our correspondence, it was fascinating to learn about the product research and development process from the standpoint of a smaller company. As we know, there are many companies across the world who have the budgets and resources available to them to research and develop a product effectively, but this is not often the case for everyone else.

Here’s what Phil had to say when asked about the considerations that his team took to ensure that SwapBots was developed effectively:

“Although making a physical product was all new for us, in an age of 3D printing it is possible to prototype a toy without a factory behind you! We went from using a maker-space to buying our own printer and finishing the print on the toys with a local bag manufacturer.”

Upon hearing this, I was enthused to learn that SwapBots explored a more cost-effective method to bring their ideas to fruition by 3D-printing their prototypes. It made sense too, they were able to effectively eliminate the middle man (the factory) by creating the designs and prototypes themselves and did not have to worry about the shipping costs for the prototype.

It is encouraging to see that companies like SwapBots are able to bring their ideas to fruition through alternative means such as crowdfunding, where this platform not only allows companies to identify backers, but also gain useful feedback about their idea or product.

If you are a toy developer or work for a toy brand, we sincerely hope that you found the information above useful, but if you have any questions in regards to the product research process that goes into learning about toys and developing good toys that kids will love, we would be more than happy to help and would love to hear your comments!




Toy Inventor and Designer Guide | Third Edition (2014)

1E. Anderson, S. Lin, D. Simester, and C. Tucker, “Harbingers of Failure,” Journal of Marketing Research 52, no. 5 (October 2015): 580-592.

How an Action Figure is Made

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