Brendan Boyle: Playing With Purpose [Entire Talk] | Summary and Q&A

February 1, 2017
Stanford eCorner
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Brendan Boyle: Playing With Purpose [Entire Talk]

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This video features a conversation with Brendan Boyle, a toy inventor and teacher at the d.School. He discusses the challenges and joys of designing toys and shares insights into the process of bringing ideas to the market. Boyle also highlights the importance of play in innovation and the role of toys in foreshadowing future technology. He also talks about the relationship between toy inventors and manufacturers, the power of brainstorming, and the impact of space and culture on creativity.

Questions & Answers

Q: Is working as a toy inventor fun or hard work?

Being a toy inventor requires a lot of effort, but it is creatively satisfying and enjoyable. It's not just about having fun; it's about being deeply engaged and losing yourself in the process.

Q: What is the process of turning toy ideas into products?

The process involves developing ideas, prototyping them, and pitching them to toy manufacturers. The Toy Lab team at IDEO works on multiple ideas, but only a few make it to the market. Ideas go through various stages of refinement and iteration.

Q: What is the success rate of toy ideas?

The success rate is relatively low. Out of thousands of ideas, only a few end up being sold and making money. However, every idea is considered valuable, and some may be revisited or reworked in the future.

Q: How long does it take to go from idea to product?

The process usually takes about a year, but it can vary depending on the complexity of the idea and other factors. Additionally, the Toy Lab has a vault of ideas that have been developed over the years, which can be revisited and potentially sold later.

Q: How does the brainstorming process work?

Brainstorming at IDEO involves gathering insights and observations, generating lists of ideas, sharing and building on those ideas as a team. It's about divergent thinking, going wide with ideas, being open to ridiculous ones, and allowing the team to collaborate and innovate together.

Q: How do you manage a group of creative people?

The key is to create a culture of trust and collaboration. It's important to foster a safe and supportive environment where everyone's ideas are valued. The team includes individuals with different skills and backgrounds, but the common thread is a passion for innovation and a willingness to learn from each other.

Q: How do toys anticipate future technology?

Toys often incorporate technology that later becomes part of our daily lives. The toy industry is quick to adopt new technologies, and many innovations find their way into toys first. Toys can serve as a foreshadowing of what is to come in terms of technological advancements.

Q: What is the role of space in creativity and innovation?

The physical workspace can greatly influence the way people think and behave. IDEO creates spaces that promote collaboration, provide tools and materials for prototyping, and facilitate different types of play. The design of the space is based on the needs of the individuals and the projects they are working on.

Q: How do you balance play and educational goals in toy design?

Toy manufacturers and inventors strive to find a balance between fun and educational value. Toys can foster non-cognitive skills, encourage creativity, and promote learning, while still being engaging and enjoyable for children.

Q: How do you deal with being stuck creatively?

Taking a break, going for a walk, or engaging in physical activity can help get unstuck. Movement and physical exercise can stimulate creativity and help generate new ideas.

Q: How do you navigate the relationship between toy inventors and manufacturers?

It is a long-term relationship based on trust and collaboration. Toy inventors pitch their ideas to manufacturers who then publish the inventions. The manufacturers are looking for innovative ideas and often rely on external inventors for fresh perspectives. There are intellectual property considerations, but the focus is on building partnerships and ensuring mutual success.


The process of designing toys requires effort, creativity, and resilience. It involves generating a multitude of ideas, prototyping them, and navigating the toy market. Success in toy design comes from finding the right balance between playfulness and educational value. Brainstorming is a valuable tool for generating ideas, but it requires practice and a supportive team environment. The physical space and culture of an organization play important roles in fostering creativity and innovation. Space should be designed to support collaboration, provide the necessary tools, and encourage both individual and team play. Finally, taking breaks, staying physically active, and maintaining a learning mindset are essential for overcoming creative blocks and fostering innovation.

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