The storytellers







Gina Manola is an inventor and the owner of CALICO,, an award-winning, design studio offering product development, design, branding, and marketing to companies in the toy, game, gift and educational markets. Gina has developed successful toy, game and gift products for the specialty and mass markets and her work has been honored by “100 Best Children’s Products” and “10 Best Socially Responsible Products.” 


As a designer and packager of toys and games, I often think about how they influence a child’s imagination. Like the opening scene in a book or movie, toys and their packaging establish a narrative that can signal what kind of play a child might experience.

 So what kinds of narratives are we establishing? It depends on the toy or game and some are more loaded than others. Thankfully, there are a variety of options to choose from. I'm a firm believer that the toys and games we give our children communicate to them what we value, and in turn, what we hope they will value. I wrote a bit about this in a previous post titled, "The Fashion Action Doll.”

Some narratives are open-ended, some are layered, and others have specific narratives built in. All have value to children and their development. There are lots of great stories being told, and arguably, some stories we might want to rewrite. As developers of products for children, we simply need to be aware and judge for ourselves which narratives merit handing down from generation to generation. 

What communicates these narratives? In a word, everything in and on the box, i.e., the gender of the children pictured at play on the packaging, the product, its name and marketing copy, packaging graphics and objects depicted.

Consider these packages of a similar construction toy by three different manufacturers. Of the three packages, one has a product name that implies something specific, while the other two have names with no immediate association. Two of the packages show the product as an active environment. Upon seeing these three, do you prefer one package above the others? What story did the packaging inspire you to tell yourself?





Here are three more products to consider.




Obviously, establishing a narrative was a key marketing strategy in the development of each of these products. So which story speaks to you? Now imagine you're telling that story to a child.

One of the great challenges as a packaging designer and inventor is to tell a compelling story—one that honors the imagination and dreams of that child. We need to tell stories they want to hear again and again while at the same time creating plenty of space for them to write own story.


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