Students Design for Fun in Toy Product Design’s PLAYsentations

April 30, 2018

Now in its seventh year at the University of Minnesota, the College of Design’s Toy Product Design class is known for its playful atmosphere and rigorous pace.

Students in the class have one semester to ideate, prototype, and produce an original toy design, which is then displayed during the annual event, PLAYsentations. 

“My team created a product called the Vortexer,” said Jinglun Li (Product Design). “It is a device that utilizes magnetism to create vortexes in liquid. It works with different types of cups and bottles.”

Li’s team, the Amber Team, went through several rounds of brainstorming before selecting their final design from over 150 ideas. Once their idea was chosen, the team worked together to prototype and build the final product, “The outer shell of the Vortexer was made with 3D printing and the interior circuit is designed by our team engineers. The shape maximized the use of space, which makes it ideal for transportation, storage, and use.”

Jacqueline Warehime’s (Product Design) Coral Team took the assignment in a different direction and focused on creating a toy consumers can use with their meals. “Our team’s concept is called Toasty Text, which are stamps you can use to create messages, words, or designs on your toast,” she explained. “The idea we started with was a panini press with metal letters you could arrange to toast messages into sandwiches. We also had an iteration involving metal letters and a toaster. After short-circuiting the toaster, shocking ourselves, and violating numerous safety codes, we scrapped the heat elements and simplified our product to what it is now. It’s been rewarding to see our idea develop, and to see kids interact with it during playtesting.”

Although the class is housed within the Product Design program students learn about a wide variety of subjects during the semester. They are taught about creative thinking, idea generation, graphic design, engineering, physical prototyping, and more. “The things we learned in this class are extremely broad, from types of plastic to ways of production, from basic physic principles to design aesthetics of posters. It is also a hands-on class. Everyone is required to enter the wood and metal shop to work on the prototypes, which is different from the regular lecture-based classes,” added Li.

For both Li and Warehime the course has also been an opportunity to work with students from different disciplines and backgrounds. “It was really fun to have people who are good at various things on the same team. It is amazing to see how many different ways of thinking and creating there are,” explained Li. “This class is a great way to experience working with students from different academic backgrounds, which is something you won’t get from most courses,” agreed Warehime.

Toy Product Design’s PLAYsentations is on Wednesday, May 2 at 6:00 PM.

Ten years since it launched and one name change later, Toy Product Design (now Product Innovation Lab or iLab) remains one of product design's most popular courses.

If there is one thing students in Toy Product Design know, it’s how to play hard and work even harder. All semester long, they’ve been creating the next big thing in toy design and on May 3rd all of that hard work will pay off when they present their final products at PLAYsentations.

On Friday, May 11 the inaugural class of product design seniors will present their capstone projects. This first class of students is the result of seven years of hard work by College of Design faculty and staff, in particular, Associate Professor Barry Kudrowitz who is head of the Product Design program. Kudrowitz reflects on the journey the program has taken in this interview.