Less than two years after being hired as a product designer at Little Tikes, Ian Grout has designed a line of playsets called Keyhead City. The toys hit the shelves at Toys "R" Us and Kohls during the summer of 2006 and won a Preschool All Star award from Toy Wishes magazine.
Each of the ten play sets requires children to click a driver's head to pop out a key and then use it to "start up" his or her vehicle. The key also "unlocks" the set's play features. For example, allowing the child to pump the gas in the speed shop, fire the catapult in the fire station, or throw the criminal in jail. Vehicles are programmed to recognize the characters. They announce their driver's name (which all feature a playful use of the word "key") and their catch phrase. For example, the muscle car says, "I'm Keyth Van Diesel. Let's burn some rubber!"
"The idea for Keyhead City came from two places," explained Grout. "The first spark happened at the daycare on site at Little Tikes. We were watching preschoolers play with Hot Wheels and noticed they were jamming dust bunnies into the cars, through the window and into the interior. We asked them why they were doing it, and they answered 'So someone's driving.' And I thought, 'They're right, why don't preschool cars ever have any drivers?'
"The second component came from a focus test I was sitting in on for a role play product and the moms started talking about how kids love keys, playing with mom's, opening locks and fooling with the electronic key fobs, and I thought 'Why aren't toy cars started up with keys? They make vroom, vroom sounds but how do you really start them up?'
"So that led to Keyhead City where all the features in the toys are unlocked by keys, not just in the cars but throughout the entire world. In all the playsets, you have to use the keyheads to unlock the action. It's kind of a discovery/cause and effect thing."
Many of the lessons Grout learned as a student at CCS have guided him as an emerging designer in the toy industry.
"I use a lot of what I learned on a daily basis," said Grout. "My VisCom instructor, Jim Fleming, broke down rendering into terms that were simple enough for me to understand (the single, double and triple line weight technique, combined with the single light source, render the cube with dropped shadows). I use this every time I draw at work. Tom Roney taught us to always remember the consumer. I also appreciated those instructors, Clyde Foles, Patricia McCohnen, Russ Dunbar and Bill Robinson, who encouraged us to think different and try crazy ideas. They made design fun then, and it still is for me now."
- Graduation Year: 2004
- Employer: The Little Tikes Company
- Title: Product Designer
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