A Research Project on Hybrid Experiences

Designer toys

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Designer toys 3cTo an extent, toy design and production has been liberated from the hands of big companies and in to the laps of artists and designers, as anyone can commission a batch of few hundred toys from China. 

Made of variety of materials, such as ABS plastic and vinyl, designer toys are often produced in limited editions typically from as few as 10 or as many as 2000 pieces. Besides having backgrounds in graphic design, illustration or self-described low brow art, many of the designers have connections to graffiti art, a feature evident in the mash-up aesthetic of the scene.

Designer toys first appeared in the 1990s and are a continuing niche success, gaining more attention as high profile trade conventions such as Comic Con have chosen to expand to include toys also. Having an “adult feel” to them designer toys often birth online communities of adult collectors who exchange toy related information, pictures, etc. Sub-categories of designer toys include urban vinyl, designer plush, and designer consumer electronics.

Despite the importance of China the creative epicenter of designer toy world has moved from Far East to the west, in the Americas, Europe, and even South-Africa. As people buy stock toys, repaint them, and sell them online, many times for thousands of dollars, the line between consumer and artist is blurred to the point the two are often indistinguishable.


Author: Heikki Tyni

Heikki Tyni is a researcher at Tampere University Game Research Lab. His work concentrates on the game industry, and specifically on game production studies.

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