Toy Tech: Color Keys—Strategic Design Choices (Part 1 of 2)



Design Class Demo: Rough color keys alongside the original sketch.


Color can make or break a toy line. With that said, it is important to invest time and energy into making strategic design decisions through marketing research and visual exploration. While most non-design professionals tend to think this sort of thing comes easy believing they have been gifted with a "natural knack” for color and, of course, cousin Merle is also a naturally gifted artistic genius, I can honestly say that in my travels along this long and winding road of industrial design there is simply no easy shortcut.

Mastering color theory comes from nothing short of hard work, study, persiration and personal commitment to maintaining high standards of craftsmanship. Years of experience should also be factored into the mix along with having great mentors in the industry to draw from. I would certainly not be where I am today without such mentors. All in all, once you develop such skills on a professional level, you can strategically apply color to strengthen brand identity and increase the odds of launching a successful retail line.

The heart of the issue is understanding and applying intelligent color solutions and strategies intrinsic to the color wheel, not just randomly picking a Pantone swatch here and there—but actually designing color into the individual toy and the over all product line as a cohesive whole. Exploring these seemingly endless combinations of color can be most effectively accomplished by working out a systematic approach toward the development of color keys to determine the very best combinations possible.

Regardless of your specific field of design, you can explore color choices and adjust the complexity of color keys to meet your industry needs—some requiring more information while others less. The film industry for example, needs to work out the detailed complexity of color temperature ramps based on the effects of several light sources. This makes it necessary to do several keys to establish the range of local hues alongside the emotional beat of the scene within the overall story arch.

Your projects may not demand such complexity but that doesn’t mean this process isn’t important to the development of a better product design. Employing the exploration of strategic color planning through multiple keys will allow you to make the most intelligent and deliberate creative decisions possible. Deliberate design strategies are key to transforming a good design into a great design. The more experience you have, the more deliberate you will be. 

Developing a road map of color across an entire toy line will not only help launch a successful campaign but also breathe personality and vibrant life into your hard fought creative ideas. Back in the day, my Disney mentor would always say every element in your design must be there for a specific reason and purpose. Work everything out and then have the intestinal fortitude to own it. Toys don't just happen—they are designed.


Toy Tech: Color Keys—Strategic Design Choices (Part 2 of 2)

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