Blog Post: ToyLabs Open Innovation and Cocreation Integrated Methodology

ToyLabs Open Innovation and Co-Creation Methodology

The ToyLabs Open Innovation and Co-creation Methodology refers to a complete methodological approach developed under the scope of the project’s concept and objectives. The methodology describes all the steps, the interconnections and the flow of information and actions for adopting in practice an open innovation model in the toys’ creation process with the active involvement of multiple stakeholders. Without eliminating other roles, the main stakeholders to which ToyLabs - as a project - and the Open Innovation and Co-creation methodology - as an approach – focuses are:

  • Toy Manufacturers
  • Fabrication Laboratories (FabLabs)
  • Safety Experts/ Environmental Experts
  • Childhood Experts
  • Market Experts & Representatives (B2B customers & End customers)

In addition to those stakeholders, the methodology also refers to the role of “Product Owner”, which can be any member of the ToyLabs network who has an idea for a new toy and wishes to invest on it. Usually the role of the product owner belongs to a toy manufacturing organization, however there are cases that a FabLab, a Safety Expert or even a childhood expert may have an idea for a new toy and through ToyLabs may try to collaborate with a manufacturer in order to bring this idea to life and to the market. In this case the Product Owner role is being assigned to the originator of the idea, while the manufacturer supports the implementation of the product on the basis of specific contractual agreement made between the product owner and the manufacturer, clarifying the roles and the rights of each party.

ToyLabs approach introduces a totally new view as far as it concerns product development in the toy industry

The phases of the ToyLabs Open Innovation and Co-creation methodology, the flow and the interconnections among the phases are presented in the figure above.

ToyLabs approach introduces a totally new view as far as it concerns product development in the toy industry. It needs to be mentioned, additionally, that with a few modifications the approach could be probably applied in other Creative Industries as well.

Immersion

The immersion phase stands at the beginning of the creation of any new product, especially of those belonging in the creative industries domains. Immersion refers to understanding potential market needs and get inspired to create a new product or an improved version of an existing one. In the toy industry domain, this phase does not include designing a new toy – sometimes not even drafting it – but getting inspired about the main characteristics, appearance and features that could lead to a new toy (or to a new/ improved version of a toy).

Concept Definition

The concept definition phase of the ToyLabs methodology consists of the required actions for setting up the development of a new toy. Specifically, concept definition begins from deciding and writing down the main characteristics of the product under consideration and finishes with the conceptual design of the toy. The main scope of the ToyLabs approach regarding this phase is to find partners for supporting the realisation of the idea leading not only to the conceptual design of the new product but also to an initial feasibility assessment. In case the owner of the idea (and of the product to be developed) is a toy manufacturer, the concept definition and the immersion phases could be considered as one phase consisting of two activities. On the other hand, for the case that the idea owner doesn’t have the all or some of the competences of a toy manufacturer, (e.g. product design skills, feasibility assessment skills, engineering skills etc) the concept definition phase includes the process of finding the most appropriate manufacturer and creating a partnership between the idea owner and the manufacturer.

Design

The design phase includes the development of the detailed design of the new product, including details about materials, engineering and required processing. ToyLabs proposes an enhanced iterative design approach based on collaboration with external parties who belong in the ToyLabs network. Specifically, ToyLabs considers that the initial product design is shared with one or more FabLabs as well as with safety experts to provide feedback and recommendations on the design.

The collaborative design approach of ToyLabs considers that for each new product several collaborators (normally one or more FabLab(s) and a safety expert) have to be selected at this stage by the product owner/ manufacturer.

Prototyping

The scope of prototyping is the product under design to become tangible in order to be assessed by pilot end-users and to get the initial feeling of how the final product will look like and operate. In other words, prototypes are created to simulate the final solution in a way that an end-user can interact with them, and to evaluate them which can be considered as early testing of the actual final product. Prototyping is not, of course a one-off process, but an iterative one: the first prototypes are usually cheap and simple, and tend to evolve into more complex and detailed solutions.

Pre-production / Pre-series manufacturing

The scope of the phase is setting up the whole production/ manufacturing process and producing the first series of the product to be used both for assessing it (from a functional and operational scope and from a toy safety point of view) and for getting feedback from market experts in order to build the product’s marketing strategy.

All the next steps of the ToyLabs methodology refer to the different types of testing and assessment of the final product, based on the pre-series manufacturing performed.

As far as it concerns this phase, ToyLabs enhances specific parts of the usual process followed by most companies. From the development and assessment of the different prototypes, performed in the previous phase, alternative customised/ localised versions of the same product may have been decided, so the pre-production and pre-series manufacturing of each alternative version of the final product has to be planned.

Operational Assessment

The operational assessment is the first step of the ToyLabs product verification and validation process which refers to the actual final product before it gets distributed to the market. The scope is to verify that the product operates fully as described during its detailed design and fulfils all the functional requirements defined.

In case any inconsistency is identified during this phase (e.g. an operational characteristic which has been described doesn’t exist), it needs to be examined whether the prototype on which the final item has been based also had the same issue. If this is the case then the entire process gets back to the Prototyping phase in order to further improve and afterwards re-assess the prototype, while a new pre-series manufacturing based on the amended model has to be implemented.

On the other hand, if the issue does not appear on the developed prototype, then the setup of the production should be examined (from material selection and mould development up to parts assembly), in order to identify and fix the issue before proceeding to the next phases.

Safety & Environmental Impact Assessment

The safety and environmental impact assessment refers to the actual validation of the final toy on the basis of International and EU safety and environmental standards. While, during the whole ToyLabs process, consultation and feedback is being provided by safety and environmental experts in several phases of the process, in the present phase all the tests required take place so to confirm that the product has all the safety characteristics in order to get certified based on existing safety standards. As far as it concerns environmental impact assessment, this includes on one hand validating that the product itself including the materials used and the production method applied are in compliance with environmental standards and rules and on the other hand the estimation of the environmental impact of the production process and of the product itself, which is of high value for toy-companies which rely on ‘green’ strategies and environmental-friendly approaches, also promoting this through their marketing strategy.

Experts/ End Users Assessment

The ToyLabs open innovation and co-creation methodology involves experts of the childhood domain early in the process, in order the products to be conceptualised, designed and tested according to the end-user requirements, the market needs and the insights provided by a wide spectrum of childhood professionals. The assessment performed at this stage has as a main scope to collect feedback on the actual final product by:

  • Childhood experts, examining the toy from an educational and/or psychological impact view
  • End users, testing the toy and providing feedback about its main advantages and disadvantages
  • Toy market experts (distributors, wholesalers etc) to provide feedback regarding marketing issues like packaging, product appearance and promotion

Commercialisation

The ToyLabs methodological approach refers to the development of a toy from its inception to its creation and the setup of its production. The commercialisation process mostly refers to the marketing and sales operations which are not covered by the ToyLabs lifecycle. The scope of the ToyLabs process however is to provide to the marketing experts the results of multiple types of evaluation of the product, regarding safety, environmental impact, educational value, main advantages etc, in order this information to be combined and taken into account for building the product’s marketing strategy. For ToyLabs what is crucial at this phase is to setup a mechanism for collecting feedback from end-users/ customers in a well-structured way. The feedback collected will be taken into account not for the product itself (as it’s already in the market) but during the immersion and conceptualisation phases either for any toy belonging in the same category or for developing an updated/ enhanced version of an existing toy, taking into account the good and the bad feedback reports of the version already in the market.