Life in plastic: 4 ways you can work in the toy industry

Has all the hype around the Barbie movie inspired your inner toy inventor? Because there are plenty of ways you can establish a career in Australia’s toy industry.

A woman and a young girl in a toy store

If the Barbie movie’s upcoming release has proven anything this year, it’s that plenty of us are nostalgic for our childhoods. We’re taking Architectural Digest tours of Barbie’s house and signing up for glittery pink premiere parties (with adult beverages, of course). Because Mattel gave us a world to get lost in when we were kids, and we’re happy to go back there for a little while.

Not many people can say they have that kind of impact on others’ lives—but those who work in the toy industry can certainly try. And with companies like Mattel, LEGO, Playgro and Moose Toys all based here, it’s entirely possible to establish this kind of career in Australia.

So what jobs are actually out there? Whether you want to work on dolls, plush toys, boardgames or even action figures for adults—here’s where you can get started.

As a product designer

Product designers are the inventors who bring brand new toys to life. They follow trends in the toy industry to make sure they’re always coming up with fresh ideas, while keeping things like child development, safety standards, durability and manufacturing costs in mind. 

They spend a lot of their time developing new concepts using computer-aided design (CAD) software and building 3D prototypes. This involves plenty of creative problem-solving, because their designs can’t just appeal to kids—they need to appeal to the adults who will buy the toys, too!

You should consider this career if you’re good at:

  • Creativity and innovation
  • Drawing and model making
  • Presenting ideas
  • Accepting and acting on feedback

What qualification do you need to become a product designer?

If you want to work for a toy company, you’ll need a bachelor degree in an area like product design, graphic design, illustration or engineering to be considered for a role. 

That said, there are many independent toy designers who have achieved success without a degree. If you’ve seen a gap in the market and you’re keen to strike out on your own, you can upskill through a short course in design thinking, engineering design and innovation, or computer-aided design to get a handle on the essentials.   

As a packaging designer

Parents know all too well that isn’t just the toys that bring kids running. It’s also the packaging. Packaging designers are responsible for creating the colourful and dynamic boxes that catch your eye on a store shelf. 

In most cases packaging designers work off a brief given to them by a client or another team member. They then dive into an Adobe tool like Photoshop or Illustrator to mock up a concept that matches the brand’s overall identity. They commonly work for graphic design studios that are contracted by toy companies, but they also work within toy companies themselves. Packaging designers need a strong understanding of typography, colour, contrast and scale to succeed in their roles. 

You should consider this career if you’re good at:

  • Creativity and innovation
  • Illustration and visual design
  • Paying attention to details
  • Accepting and acting on feedback

What qualification do you need to become a packaging designer?

To work in packaging design, you’ll need a Diploma or a Bachelor of Graphic Design

Make sure your course gives you plenty of opportunities to build a portfolio of work, which is what employers value most. And try to get a design internship while you’re studying if you can. It doesn’t have to be with a toy company—it could be with any industry where you’ll learn more about children, like the arts, education or children’s publishing. 

As a marketer 

Designers aren’t the only creative brains in the toy industry. Once a product is ready to sell, it’s up to marketers to come up with a memorable campaign that will win the hearts and minds of kids all over the country.

Marketers tend to be data, brand and psychology experts all in one. They know how to connect with children and their parents through television, print and digital advertising, by delivering the right message at the right time. 

The most exciting thing about marketing is that you can specialise in whatever area interests you the most, like brand marketing, social media, event management or public relations. So, whether you want to collaborate with toy influencers, run toy fairs, or develop iconic commercials, there’s a role out there for you.   

You should consider this career if you’re good at:

  • Out-of-the-box thinking
  • Planning and organisation
  • Psychology
  • Research

What qualification do you need to become a marketer?

A Bachelor of Marketing will give you the generalist knowledge you need to understand audiences and manage campaigns. Alternatively, you could choose a specialised degree like a Bachelor of Social Media and Bachelor of Event Management if you have your eye on a particular role. 

As an early childhood specialist 

Did you know that toys are divided into two categories? They either imitate adult activities, or they support learning through letters, numbers, patterns and shapes. 

Toy companies often work with early childhood specialists to improve the educational value of these instructional toys. It can be an extremely rewarding way to work in the toy and games industry (in fact, it’s a path some former teachers take when making a career change). 

While it is a niche role, early childhood specialists typically find work in corporate toy brands' research departments, or as self-employed consultants. They observe how kids interact with toys and make suggestions on improvements. Some work with small toy brands that focus on minimising anxiety, depression and sensory overload in kids. 

You should consider this career if you’re good at:

  • Psychology
  • Building a rapport with children
  • Research and analysis
  • Communication and collaboration

What qualification do you need to become an early childhood specialist?

To work in this field, you’ll need a strong understanding of child development and the early childhood curriculum, which you will get through a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education. Some in the industry, like the founder of toy retailer The Sensory Specialist, have qualifications in children’s psychology

 

While those are just four of the ways you can make a start in the toy industry, there are plenty of other paths worth considering too—including buying, merchandising, and licensing. 

For more inspiration, check out the Toy Coach podcast (start with this episode), which explores how different toy creators have made it in the industry. It’s US-based, but full of motivating tips that can be applied in Australia. Who knows—with the knowledge you gain, you could invent the next big idea, igniting the imaginations of children everywhere. 

 

Want to explore all your toy industry study options? Browse online design, marketing, and early childhood development courses offered by universities from across Australia. 

 

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