Becoming a toy maker may seem like a far-fetched fantasy born of childhood dreams. However, the job of toy maker or toy designer is a viable career choice provided you have the talent and personal characteristics necessary for success. Pursuing this childhood dream as an adult requires developing your skills, attaining a proper education and exploring opportunities to employ your craft.
Characteristics of a Toy Maker
Not everyone has what it takes to be a toy maker. Imagination, creativity and a love of play are essential characteristics. If you have never thought of yourself as a grownup, regardless of your age, you have an advantage. Toy makers need to be able to think like children to make toys that kids will actually like. You also need artistic talent to sketch your concepts and an aptitude for mechanical engineering to make sure your toys function as designed.
Education and Training
A bachelor's degree in industrial design is a solid basis for a toy making career. According to "U.S. News and World Report," the top schools for an industrial design degree include the Rhode Island School of Design, the Art Center College of Design and Carnegie Mellon University. In addition, the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) offers a bachelor's degree in toy design that is endorsed by the Toy Industry Association. A design portfolio that showcases your drawing ability is required for admission to industrial design and toy design programs. During college, students have the opportunity to further expand their design portfolios with sketches and actual toys. Students in the FIT program develop toy designs from concept to prototype, creating CAD drawings and physical samples of their toys.
Working for a Toy Manufacturer
The FIT reports that annual toy sales top $24 billion in North America as of 2014. This means that talented toy makers with an appropriate educational background have excellent employment prospects because the industry is so robust. Landing an internship with a toy manufacturer while pursuing your degree can lead to an offer of permanent employment after you graduate. A strong portfolio of toy designs developed during college is key to being offered an internship or job. Top employers for toy designers are familiar names such as Hasbro, Mattel/Fisher Price and Lego. Companies associated with children's entertainment, such as Nickelodeon, Sesame Street and Disney, employ toy designers as well.
Working for Yourself
If you want to be your own boss and manufacture your own toys, there are several ways to make it pay. You can market your toys on established e-commerce sites such as eBay and Esty, or you can establish your own online store. Offline markets for your wares include craft fares, independent brick and mortar toy stores or your own shop. Starting small has been known to pay off big for toy makers. Mattel started in a garage in 1945. Similarly, Melissa and Doug Bernstein started their Melissa & Doug company in Doug's parents' garage in 1988.