Children's Design Clichés & Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Children's Design Clichés & Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Carrie McBride
May 28, 2012

If you were an alien visiting from outer space perusing kids' stores you could only arrive at one conclusion: all human boys love trucks, robots, pirates and dinosaurs. And human girls love butterflies, flowers and fairies and princesses. And all children love owls.

It may be true that kids are drawn to certain themes and topics - animals especially, but I can't help wonder how much of it is a self-fulfilling prophesy: companies produce kids' goods with certain motifs over and over again because it's what they think will sell and parents buy them because...well, that's what's in the store.

I'm not suggesting any of these themes are bad (or the designs for that matter). They're just a bit tired. And I think parents want more options. I know I do.

I've seen some good examples of cliché themes made fresh. One of my favorite examples is Winter Water Factory's take on pirate bedding (above) for Land of Nod. Certainly a more sophisticated take on the motif which will also have more longevity in a kid's room. Another good example is Ferm Living's retro take on the train motif.

But it still feels like the same themes get recycled over and over again. Do kids really love elephants more than walruses? Would anyone buy bedding based on ancient Egypt? Take a look at the puzzles below. Can you guess which one is the poorest seller?

The puppies. They're all made by Innovative Kids and when I chatted with them at the most recent Toy Fair they told me that they try branching out, but farm animals, safari, abc's etc. are always the best sellers. Puppies aren't even "out of the box" and still developing this puzzle was considered a financial risk. So I can understand why, from a business perspective, companies stick to the tried and true but I suspect there's a pretty big disconnect between what they think we want and what we really want.

So what's a shopper to do?

As more parents join the DIY revolution, they are bypassing stores and making what they want: bedding, decor and even toys. Certainly one objective of many DIY parents is to save money, but I think just as many aren't happy with commercial options. More and more I see kid's rooms filled with patterns and textiles primarily marketed to adults. And more parents are utilizing services that allow you to customize your purchases. Amy Bethune, for example, filled her son Graham's room with fabrics she designed herself and had printed at Spoonflower.

Another strategy is to not shop in the kids' section, at least when it comes to decor. There are plenty of patterns and motifs intended for adults that kids will also love. Finally, shop indie. For sure, smaller shops and independent designers take bigger design risks. Which is ironic since they have, in a sense, more to lose (or, less to fall back on at least).

These are just some of my thoughts and I'd love to hear yours. What do you think - am I off base? I'd especially love to hear from people in the industry since the consumer perspective is just one side of the coin.

(Images: 1 (collage): truck rug, princess bedding, robot pillow, robot pillow, bee pillow, flower pillow, butterfly curtains, pirate rug, firetruck lamp, owl rug, dinosaur bedding) 2. Land of Nod/Ferm Living 3. Carrie McBride 4. Amy Bethune)

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