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What makes something so irresistibly cute that you need to touch, cuddle or play with it? Mosaic decided to find out from toy designers and cuteness experts Designbytouch.

For them, making a cute toy is about far more than giving it big eyes and covering it in fur. It relies on a deep understanding of the powerful human desire to care for anything that reminds us of babies and small children. This short film shows how, as a new toy starts to take shape, these skilled designers use the toy’s evolving character and motivations to shape its overall form. A transcript can be found below the video.

Transcript

Paul Boucher, Creative Director, Designbytouch: I like a lot of different cute toys, but I really like the cuteness of the proportions of this, it’s like a little pet animal. Like a puppy. They’ve injected a lot of character into what otherwise is quite a forbearing machine.

Cuteness comes through in character, I think, as much as anything else, so often the ultimate design is down to the proportions, but really the characterisation needs to work, and, I think with pre-school toys, you’ll often have a very… a very innocent character – or the attitude will be very innocent.

With adult toys and urban vinyl in particular, it’s often a juxtaposition of cute proportions with something that’s a bit edgy.

Mike Coombs, Designer, Designbytouch: You see a character or a design of something and you find it to be cute to you. Subconsciously, you’re drawing from your experiences of seeing young kids and babies and the kind of proportions that they have.

So, large heads to their body, large eyes, and just general sort of soft features – soft, rounded edges. When we see those qualities reflected back in toys and characters and stuff like that, we just want to cuddle them up and nurture them, and we sort of see a sense of vulnerability to them that makes us have that kind of ‘aaahhh’ feeling that you get when you see them.

Paul: We generally just research the character, and we’ll try and capture, what is it about this character that’s going to be fun – are they supposed to be cheeky, are they supposed to be innocent or a little bit naughty? And then we’ll bring in characterisations of their face – what kind of accessories are they going to wear, what colour palate are we going to use? And all of this works together, so we have to think about how it will work once the character is sort of crystallised.

Mike: We’ve gone through a design process recently where we’re designing a creature for boys, called Nocto. And he’s this small bat creature who is meant to have attitude and he’s sort of robotic and from the future – a lot of things that inherently aren’t very cute at all. And one of the design challenges of that was to bring those cute things into it and balance it, so you get this cool character with attitude, but also is something that the boys and girls would want to look after. You’re kind of thinking – how does this creature feel, how is he interacting with the child?

Paul: What you’re looking for is for the character to express itself through the toy and the proportions and the design. Proportionally, the head size and the body, you know, in relation to each other, can make something more cute, but you still have that certain something that has to all work in tandem, and just ticking boxes wouldn’t get you the final design, it all has to work together and really come together as one. 

Toy design makes a difference to children, so I think that toys change who we are as people, they help us to learn about ourselves and also the world around us. In that respect I find it very rewarding to know that the work that we help with, in 20 or 30 years somebody else will be inspired by characters they loved as a kid, and it will have helped shape them as a person. 

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