Lily Van

Design Thesis Blog

Blog #6: Problem Definition

The Problem:

Toys don’t sell anymore. Kid’s no longer play with toys. As a result, this effects how children learn and develop motor skills. This impacts the toy industry as well, as many small businesses end up closing, and companies then have to strive to compete in the digital marketplace.

The digital forefront is growing so quickly. With that growth, children receive smart devices as young ages, enabling them to educate themselves with tech more fluently and rapidly, but losing out on the significance of experienced and active engagement.

We can see examples of this shift in play even in our regular pop culture. This clip from Wreck-It-Ralph 2 demonstrates how a child can distract themselves using an ipad, while engaging in apps that keep their attention span held.

On top of this, media engagement with children through platforms like YouTube have spiked dramatically. If you go to YouTube Kids specifically, children are being fed an exact formula and algorithm for what they should be watching. There isn’t an active act of children being able to seek out what they like. The feed is entirely streamlined, with the views for videos shooting up all the way into the 20 million zone, getting repeated watches.

The constraints for something like this is that toys are too broad. Could the lack of sales be as a result of poor branding? Is it a problem with specific products (ex. dolls vs cars?) or are we seeing this trend across toys as a whole?

A problem like this is important to me as someone who has 5 younger siblings. Each of them within a different generation of motor skill learning. I’ve been able to watch this shift in play through the years, and have found it disheartening to see how products have shifted to having been about imagination and fun, to cash grab items like blind boxes and surprise packages.

Has the way we play with items and engage with physical products changed because of our social structure? Is there a shift in what parents will purchase for their kids as a result of a change of priorities? Is it a result of an overly saturated market?

I don’t think a solution to this issue lies in creating toys that incorporate technology. There have been many brands that have tried this and done so unsuccessfully. It just creates too many hurdles for users to try to incorporate both the physical object as well as the digital aspect. Though there have been successes in this, many of those brands are only able to do so because of pre-existing nostalgia that stems from physical toys that have created a foundation for their digital platforms.


Corbyn, Zoë. “The Future of Smart Toys and the Battle for Digital Children.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 22 Sept. 2016,

  • This article is a great example of how parents fear the growing tech industry, and how toys have to now evolve into digital items into engaging kids. When it comes to toys, parents are going to be the ones making the overall decisive decisions on final purchases. But what happens when the tech industry is growing and you don’t want your child to be at a disadvantage? It’s interesting to see the opinions of parents as the way children play changes so rapidly.

“Why Are Physical Educational Toys Better for Young Children.” Spielgaben, 21 Nov. 2015,

  • Understanding the science behind why certain methods of learning are effective, especially through physical toys, will give a good basis for researching further into what kinds of things should be implemented to create a more successful product.

“The Top Toys Parents Loved as Children That Their Kids Still Play With.” Digitalhub, 9 Sept. 2019,

Lily Van