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Innovation moves fast in educational design and, moreoften than not, winks to cultural and technological trends. It has been understood by Fisher Price, the toys and kid’s products company with a 85-years history behind, which few months ago launched a ‘communication challenge’ with the video ‘The future of parenting’, or rather the future of toy design in six key points.

Continuum, an innovation and design consultancy firm, has been entrusted with researching and visualizing data on change in the toy world and more generally of the role of the family in child development. The main reason for this operation was to identify possible future visions to provoke and stimulate the curiosity of ‘insiders’ and not. The research phase involved specialists in development, futurists, innovators as well as leaders in the field of design, technology and education science to have complete and verifiable opinions on the topic; all the interviews were then filtered and integrated with technological trends and cultural behaviors. By crossing these three areas, the project team mapped the future of toy design in six key points:

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  1. Dynamic simplicity, that is to amplify the use of everyday objects and activities through a natural interaction driven by the actor, whether the child or the parent. This means using the potential of technological development to have better user experiences focussed on few and essential products. These grow with the user thanks to the great possibilities of updating the software that controls them. In the video for example, dad measures the growth of her little girl thanks to a tree projected on the wall that keeps track of important events, and then disappears silently, as it appeared.
  2. Contextualized response. The gaming and learning experience changes and interacts with what happens at the specific moment of the game, assisted by reactive and integrated environments. The ludic-educational time is supported by responsive objects that stimulate interaction between parents and children. That is why the window of the house becomes, in the video, a large display where elements of the game integrate with outside environment.
  3. Keep it human. The development of the toy and tech experience must be able to reflect the human touch, the future smells of wood and has the heat of the felt, materials away from technological imagination. We could define this process as humanizing technology because it hides and disguises interacting with people spontaneously. The infant in the clip sleeps in a wooden crib, a model not far form those in the childrens’ shops, but that actually integrates innovative and connected technology.
  4. Imaginative immersion. The interface will no longer be just the screen, whether it’s a tablet or PC, but the whole living space will support game and learning. It changes the definition of space and the environment becomes an interface to incorporate technology into our life in a natural way. The Continuum team has displayed this key point in a scene where a little girl plays with a puppet (which she previously has created with a 3D printer, a somewhat obscured note on the whole) which activates a series of watercolor scenes around her, looking ‘analog’.
  5. No boundaries. The keyword is interaction between senses and devices, between physical and digital. Connected objects that ‘speak’ each other and adapt to each member of the family allow an endless and constantly evolving gaming experience. In the video a little girl plays with a 2.0 walker and collects’ digital numbers that appear on her way.
  6. Quantified self. There’s no future without data, and the last vision is focussed on collecting and interpreting extremely qualitative data. The challenge is to start from the analysis and interaction between different intuitions to design precious, qualitatively and emotionally valuable products to embrace humanity and not replace it. The mom in the video interacts with simple gestures with a wooden disc on the bedside table that projects icons about the condition of the baby sleeping in the next room.

‘The future of parenting’ is an interesting communication campaign that brings Fisher Price to an advanced level where, to stay competitive, the company doesn’t only develop a new technological toy or upgrade one’s success. This video demonstrates how the language that a company addresses to its consumers is vital to raise interest and curiosity about it. From this perspective the choice of an internationally known design studio definitely tells us also about how critical is to invest in design and communication for toy companies today.

After a few months, this research is not utopian and more ‘in the hand’ than we can imagine, especially seeing the speed of tech development. Watching the video comes to mind a variety of commercially-available products or prototypes that are waiting to enter the market, reflecting one or more points touched in the short film and in the research phase.

An example is the responsive table presented by IKEA at Fuorisalone in 2015, predicting how the kitchen habits would change in 2025, became reality long before that date. Marmoarredo company has recently marketed the Tulèr table, with integrated scale, wireless charging, retractable appliances etc…

Or Bearbot, a universal remote control for managing through natural gestures from TV to home light, from the air conditioning system to shades. Shaped like a bear it responds to controls through facial expressions.

Two months ago, last few examples, we talked about Yibu, a series of wooden but highly technological toys, as well as Max Motor Dreams, the cradle by Ford controlled by an app that simulates lights, sounds and vibrations of a car trip to ensure the best sleep for the baby.

The future of toy design in six key points shows how the main trend will be about humanizing the digital aspects, a spontaneous interaction against screening addiction or a family and ‘vintage’ aesthetic against a distant and space-like one. Ignoring fears related to a technology that controls instead of being controlled or digital dependence, the road is the right one if we interpret it as a toy development guideline based not on the single product packed on the shelf, but as a whole playful and educational experience, which involves a valuable product-system not only for the child but for the entire family environment.

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