There has been so much in the news recently about manufacturing of toys and other goods in China that now have to be recalled because of dangers they pose to children and other purchasers. I’ve been following it for a couple of reasons, one I have kids and secondly because at Ponoko we have a big interest in manufacturing, product design and the changes we think will happen in the future. There a few different arguments that have come out of reporting on each and in my opinion they seem to fall into the following:
- The Chinese suppliers have cut corners and made mistakes and it’s their fault. Often this is simplified into: Chinese manufacturers are bad.
- The importers and companies who’s name is the brand on the product have failed to test properly and that’s caused the problems. Often simiplified into: Importers and companies who use Chinese manufacturers are bad.
Interestingly this article on CNN has referenced a study from the University of Manitoba that shows that over the last two decades 77% of all product recalls have been due to design faults. Only 10% of faults have come from manufacturing issues such as lead paint.
Now while this doesn’t mean that all is perfect on the manufacturing front it does show that design flaws in toy manufacturing are a hidden but actually larger problem. And that often these design flaws are hidden in a way similar to the problems with lead paint. After all you can’t tell a paint has lead in it from looking at it, and you also can’t tell if a toy’s design means a small piece will easily break off or fall out and be a risk for choking your child.
It seems that it’s somewhat easy to blame Chinese manufacturers for these problems when the more serious issue is with the design of the products. At the moment Toy Designers seem to be a pretty anonymous group. They are employees at large multi-national toy companies in many cases. But I think that there is a huge opportunity for Toy Designers who confident in their ability to design child-safe toys to really embrace and promote that as part of their personal brand. The first Toy Designer who promotes their focus on that has a huge opportunity to differentiate themselves and their toys, especially in the eyes of parents.