Gendered Shelves & Toy Segregation

The Atlantic: “Today, toys are more divided by gender stereotypes than they were 50 years ago, thanks to broader marketing shifts in the industry and worldwide … According to the sociologist Elizabeth Sweet, toy companies began intensifying their use of color-coded marketing and segregation of toys in the 1980s … Gender-based compartmentalization in stores and online is meant to help customers find what they’re looking for, but according to … Jess Day of the nonprofit Let Toys Be Toys, ‘it’s driven by a massive assumption about what a child might want’.”

“Let Toys Be Toys’s biggest target is segregation by aisle, because it reflects the infrastructure of toy companies, where separate divisions develop products for gendered shelves. The division ends up reinforcing gender stereotypes and making it more difficult for gender-neutral or gender-inclusive toys to find space in stores.”

“Still, many consumers seem happy to shop along gender lines, and gender-inclusive toys tend to be on the higher end of the market and target progressive parents with time and money to spend. But with the Internet encouraging greater awareness and enabling the production of countless new toys, a revolution within the industry could be on the horizon.”

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Humbug: The Truth & Other Lies

The New York Times: When P.T. Barnum, the great 19th-century impresario of public entertainment (and co-founder of the Barnum & Bailey Circus) popularized that word — ‘humbug’ — he was talking exactly about things like Sea-Monkeys. Most assume … that the word is synonymous with total nonsense and absolute fraud.”

“But that overgeneralization misses Barnum’s sly nuance. ‘Humbug’ is not a lie, the great promoter used to say: ‘No humbug is great without truth at bottom.’ It’s unfair to say that Barnum peddled pure fantasy. Great humbug simply took off from a small truth and used that to show people what they wanted to see. In his own way, P.T. Barnum was the greatest cognitive scientist of the 19th century. He understood that when you pit humbug against harsh cold reality, reality doesn’t stand a chance.”

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Fisher-Price Designs Chic Toys for Stylish Parents

“Mattel Inc. is bringing in designer Jonathan Adler as creative director for its Fisher-Price baby gear and infant toys, as it seeks to reverse a prolonged sales slump at the brand,” The Wall Street Journal reports. Mr. Adler, a ceramicist turned interior designer who has produced collections for Barneys New York and other retailers, has reached a three-year partnership with the company.”

“Mr. Adler has designed a premium priced collection of Fisher-Price baby furniture, gear and apparel that will start selling in September. His design influence also will be applied to everyday Fisher-Price products that will be widely available in early 2017, which will be priced in line with current Fisher-Price items. ‘Your kid’s stuff is going to be in your life and your living room all the time. It’s the landscape of your house … It needs to look chic,'” Mr. Adler said.

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Narrative Games: Changing Stories By Breaking Rules

“Two innovative recent board games—Pandemic Legacy and T.I.M.E. Stories—make narrative a central feature of their designs,” The Wall Street Journal reports. “Every play of a game unfolds differently; unlike in a book or movie, the ending isn’t set … From the players’ decisions evolves a narrative or story, with important choices, dramatic tension, surprises and turning points.”

“Pandemic Legacy is a new incarnation of the modern classic Pandemic, a cooperative game in which the players take on the roles of public-health workers and collaborate to vanquish a set of diseases that have spread across the globe.” After each game, players “open a factory-sealed envelope that reveals instructions on how to modify the game before their next play. The board, pieces, cards and even the rules themselves may change.”

In T.I.M.E. Stories, “players are time-traveling agents who have to enter alternate realities (such as 1920s Paris) and solve mysteries to save the world. Once your team wins, you can’t play again—that’s the end of the story.”

“Traditionally, a game is defined by its rules. If you don’t let pawns turn into queens, you aren’t playing chess, and if you make captures optional, you aren’t playing checkers. The success of Pandemic Legacy and T.I.M.E. Stories shows that this rule itself was made to be broken.”

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littleBits: Designing A Gender-Neutral Toy

C-Suite Strategies, a special supplement in The Wall Street Journal, featured an interview with Ayah Bdeir, founder of littleBits Electronics, makers of gender-neutral kits for building electronic toys — “snap-together electronic circuits, motors, lights and motors.”

“We want to help kids and adults understand the world around them further and reinvent it,” Ms. Bdeir, herself an engineer, says. In response to a question about how she creates gender-neutrality, especially in a category that is traditionally male-oriented, she responds:

“We are deliberately gender-neutral in the design of our product, packaging and communications, the colors we pick, the inventors we feature, the inventions we select [for publicity]. We promote creativity in art, in music, in design, not gendered hobbies. We market littleBits as a tool for invention, learning and play, as opposed to marketing it as a toy, which avoids placing it in either the pink or blue aisle.

The traditional association with robotics and vehicles is that they’re boys’ tools. So, we have bright colors that look like candy. There’s an extra effort to make the circuits look beautiful. And it turns out boys are not turned off. Anecdotally, our teachers tell us it’s close to 40% to 50% girls, which is unheard of in electronics.”

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Tsumiki: The Japanese Lego

Wired: “Unlike Lego bricks, which are plastic, Tsumiki pieces are made of Japanese cedar (and manufactured using wood certified by the Forest Stewardship). And unlike the brick-shaped Lego blocks, each Tsumiki block is shaped like an inverted “V.” Triangular notches in the legs let the Tsumiki blocks wedge together, making them versatile like Lego bricks, albeit not as sturdy; some of the assembly models shown in Kuma’s Tsumiki brochure look about as solid as a house of cards.”

“Kuma’s Tsumiki are triangular, for the strength that this shape provides. All told, these popsicle stick-like blocks are much more in line with the principles of contemporary Japanese architecture than their predecessors: They’re natural in material, spatially economical, and relentlessly simple. Perfect for inspiring Japan’s next generation of architects.”

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