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Play Lab: How Fisher Price Develops Toys That Kids Love

TLL Editor in Chief
Play and entertainment giant Mattel is marking a 60-year anniversary by unveiling the secrets behind the success of its acclaimed Fisher-Price division.
And while the topic is not exactly what the Licensing Letter typically covers, we were fascinated by the process Fisher-Price uses to develop toys that young kids love.
To sum it up in a single sentence, it appears Fisher-Price brings in the world’s most knowledgeable consultants on children’s play, that being the children themselves!
According to Mattel, Early Childhood Development experts at the recently renovated Fisher-Price Play Lab have been collaborating with tiny toy testers for more than 60 years to create the best play possible.
“To commemorate 60 years of thoughtful toys and products for children, the Fisher-Price Play Lab is unveiling not only a new look after undergoing recent on-site renovations, but brand-new products and a new ad campaign that offers a behind-the-scenes look at the journey of a toy from concept to reality,” Mattel revealed.

A decades old photo of children and behavioral experts working together at the Fisher Price Play Lab, to develop better toys for kids.

About the Fisher-Price Play Lab

As the first kid-led testing facility in the industry, Mattel says the Fisher-Price Play Lab has always been at the forefront of toy development. It does so by combining young children with toy developers and developmental experts to find out what kids find is the most fun.

Early Childhood Development experts observe children ages newborn to eight-years-old to help create, evaluate and improve upon more than 450 toys annually, a Mattel expert explained.

“The Play Lab is at the heart of Fisher-Price because it’s where the magic starts and where we glean insights directly from kids to make sure our toys and products continue to evolve to suit their needs,” says Deborah Weber, Ph.D., the Senior Director of Early Childhood Development Research at Fisher-Price. “As we believe that no detail is too small when it comes to play, the lab’s role is to create a fun and enriching experience for families around the world.”

Weber’s team is on the cutting edge of purposeful play, toys, media, and parenting trends, and works in lockstep with designers, engineers, musicians, content producers and more to evaluate every detail of every toy. Essentially, this ensures that the opinions of children are baked in to every toy Fisher-Price designs.

Fisher-Price Play Lab Technology and Innovation

Mattel says recent on-site renovations throughout the Fisher-Price Play Lab have resulted in the integration of more research tools, technology and software, which have enhanced the play experience for “tiny testers” to lead the way for improved play innovations. Harnessing state-of-the-art technology allows Fisher-Price experts to better observe patterns and experience toys through the eyes of children.

Some of the new technologies include:

  • Eye-tracking: The technology has proven imperative to help capture feedback from testers who can’t yet articulate feedback in their own words. Using a specialized cap and live capture software, teams can record and analyze the synchronized eye movements and scene images and audio. The technology and subsequent data allow the Fisher-Price Play Lab to literally see a toy through the eyes of a child.
  • Viso: The lab as a state-of-the art audio visual recording tool with new microphones and camera systems that focus on very minute details, with event annotations and immediate playback and high-quality video in perfect sync.
  • Baby FaceReader™ Emotional Analysis: A tool that automatically measures facial expressions in infants ranging from 6-24 months. This is the first and only tool to automatically measure emotions of infants and detect facial expressions to help address questions in development psychology.
  • Observer XT Software: Annotates play in a quantitative way and visualizes it on a timeline. This allows experts to easily integrate, synchronize and visualize multiple data streams to answer research questions by discovering play patterns, outliers, deviations, or anomalies.

These new technologies have helped Fisher-Price develop new “Play Lab Approved Products” and release them into the marketplace with a greater chance of success. The technology is essentially the newest tool enabling the development of more thoughtful toys that aim to further language development, causal learning, cognition, and education within each child who plays with a Fisher-Price toy.

Some examples of those new toys include:

  • Meditation Mouse: Built with three calming modes, the Mouse was crafted by observing families with children ages 2-5 years old on-site and in-homes engaging in meditation and mindful exercises. Research indicated that the length, cadence and speed of the meditation exercises needed to be adjusted to optimize for children.
  • Linkimals Toys: Studying how children interact with linked toys using Eye Tracking and Observer XT technologies, the Fisher-Price Play Lab developed two key findings: that linked toys offer a new and different way to help children learn through play and that connected toys help kids and caregivers play together. Therefore, Linkimals Technology allow each toy to recognize when others are nearby, immersing children in synchronized music and colorful light shows.
  • Fisher-Price Classics: The Play Lab consistently revisits toys to evolve and elevate its products, including the classic Rock-A-Stack toy, the fan-favorite Batbot, and the 77-year-old Thomas & Friends brand. The team expanded the classic Rock-A-Stack toy to grow in size which enabled play with this classic toy to become a gross motor experience. The team observed children trying to make BatBot fly, so the design team added wheels that enabled the toy to tilt forward and soar around the room. The Thomas & Friends line has evolved numerous times over the years, and most recently with a more expressive face to appeal to kids of all ages.

As part of its celebration of Fisher-Price, the company created a new web page to show how the Play Lab works, including a short one-minute video that invites viewers into a behind-the-scenes look at what happens at Fisher Price.

The spot is set to run across various digital platforms, along with social extensions. Using stop motion, the ad showcases a Giant Rock-A-Stack toy touring a new Fisher-Price employee around the Play Lab, introducing her to all the toys that have been inspired by the real experts of the Play Lab – kids.

If you’d like to learn more about how Fisher-Price develops their award-winning toys, click this link: