Some design tips

Knowing how things are made is important for both product manager and designer; it could mean different quality and cost. Take a look at the two female body designs on the right for example; you may say the breast shape of body A looks more natural than that of body B. We agree, but the design of body B is not without a reason: it avoids the recess area of the breast which forms an undercut in body A. This slight alternation actually makes a big difference in terms of manufacturing and materials used therefore cost. Action figure body is usually made of ABS, a rigid plastic, so any undercut would prevent the casting from pulling out of the molds.

Can design of body A be achieved? Yes, but in a more complicated and usually more costly way. Following discussions may help you gain more knowledge about issues like that.

About product design

  • Product idea should come from client. Dora doll may look ugly at first, but they are one of the most sellable plush toys out there. Why? Young children love it and that's what matters! Some marketers seem not realizing that they are actually the ones who know what would sell and what wouldn't, so instead of relying on designer or factory, they are in the best position of coming up with product ideas. We encourage clients to pay more attention to this common sense. 
  • It's worthy to spend a little more on designing. We have worked with clients who are artists themselves and those who have very good product ideas but care less about graphics. The outcomes can be very different: while production usually goes well with the former, we often ended up altering products in the middle of production with the latter. When it comes to actual design, having a good designer draw out your idea in graphic is usually worthy; so called "a picture is worth a thousand words".

    Another important point of having someone to draw out your design is that designers are artists, who can add aesthetic value to your product. In fact, if you know how much Mattel or Hasbro spend on developing a toy, you would agree that it is worth to spend a little more time and money in presenting your design. 

About cost elementsNFL robot

Does quality always come with a price? Not necessary; true is, a good design sometimes helps reduce cost. The NFL Robot on the right is a pretty good design, right? Aesthetics-wide, yes; but when we had a chance to look at it, we discovered a few issues. The whole thing is made of solid PVC plastic which weighes 600 grams (1.3 lbs); in addition, PVC is a thermoplastics plastic which becomes softening under heat. That means if you expose it outside in the summer, the joints may not hold well. So on one hand, the excessive weight would not only make it less playable, but also consumes more material, which means more cost; on the other hand, it poises safety issues.

More discussions about some cost elements are as follows.

  • Type. Action figure that requires articulations and mixed materials is usually more expensive than simple figurine or bobble head; collectible item is usually more costly than giveaway toy. Keep in mind, it's not always true that complicated item is more valuable; for example, collectors may prefer a stand-still statue than a playable toy, so it all depends on the market you are targeting.

  • Size. Dimensions of the product and its accessories (if any) determine consumption of materials. The larger in size, in general, the more material consumed and more powerful equipment may be required, therefore more costly.

    To help reducing cost, some of the techniques can be considered, including hollowing the parts, removing unnecessary materials (see this example), and using a appropriate manufacturing method.

    In the case a product is designed hollow inside, by the way, size may be a key for some manufacturing methods. For example, fiber can be added to strengthen large resin statues but not small pieces. In roto-casting, on the other hand, cavity is required in order for the casting pieces to be pulled out from mold.

  • Complexity of design. The more detailed, the more effort and time it would take for production therefore more expensive; for example, a silicone mold can usually last 200 castings, but to ensure accuracy, we may limit it to 50 pieces. In prototyping, on the other hand, it is time for the sculptor to spend on a sculpt matters the most, besides the size; that's why an 1.5" sculpt costs more than something like 6" tall.

  • Colors. Colors can affect production costs dramatically. For example, transient color is difficult to achieve; fragmental color patterns require more paint molds and operations; multiple painting operations would cause problems like misalignment, spread, stains, and so on.

  • Functionality. Functionality addes cost. An articulated action figure would require not only designing the mechanism, but also additional steps of making it; doll with sound usually requires programming a microchip, on top of the sound device (e.g., record-able or just replay-able, duration), batteries and case, switch, wiring, etc.

  • Material. As far as crafted toys are concerned, popular materials include resin (poly-resin, poly-stone, polyurethane), plastic (PVC vinyl, ABS, rubber), metal (pewter, bronze), fabric, and wood. Which application is depending on quality, cost, and functionality. For example, while resin is normally perceived as more valuable due to its fine details and hand-crafted nature, it is rigid and fragile so not feasible for articulated figures; plastic, on the other hand, requires expensive molds and machining so is not as feasible for small runs.

    As far as cost is concerned, metal and wood are usually more expensive than plastic and resin, while consumption is the most important cost-factor.

  • Packaging. Packaging serves for both protection and decoration; while protection is necessary (e.g., Styrofoam for resin product), decoration may be the beauty in beholder's eyes. For the decoration part, color box with window is most expensive, then color box without window, blister with color backing, and white box, in general.

  • Production quantity. Quantity is very important, if not the most important, cost element in production. Considering, for example, Customs charges for processing export and import, which range from $400-1,000 for each shipment. Let say we compare two shipments, one 1,000 pieces, the other 100,000 pieces; we would have $0.40-1.0 apiece for 1000-piece run, and $0.004-0.01 apiece for 100,000-piece run. In addition to Customs processing charges, of course, there are other fixed costs, including setups, tooling, supplier's quantity discount, test run wastes, failure rate, as well as factory overheads. As you can see, minimum quantity is not just a production requirement, it is also important way of control cost.

    Note also, production quantity can be limited by material; for example, while resin products can be in lower number, plastic production requires higher quantity due to the expensive molds and machine it would use.

  • Market target. Collectibles are more expensive than giveaway toys; specialities are more to arrange than do general items. 

  • Manufacturing method. Here are some discussions about different manufacturing methods if you are interested. 

  • Safety. Since the Mattel's product recalls in 2008, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has tightened up its regulations on consumer products especially children products, which are actually mandatory for tests for toxic elements, Phthalates, Small-parts, among others.

    Safety compliance can add to product cost, for example, lab testing; but may save you from harm in the long run.

    Toxic elements usually result from paints, while Phthalates from low grade additives in plastic and other materials; so a general rule is to minimize the use of paints and low grade materials. Small-parts, on the other hand, are usually the result of moveable function, so for product for small children, you probably shouldn't think too much about functional.