Plush, Plastics, And Playfulness: An Interview With Toy Designer Louise White

Louise White is an award-winning toy and game designer who is also the founder of Me First! Designs Inc., which launched in 1998. Louise earned a degree in design from Pratt Institute and has designed an array of playthings in mediums ranging from plastic to fabric. Her toys are designed for both boys and girls ranging in age from infant to preteen. Louise’s inventions have been sold by ALEX Brands, Ohio Art, International Playthings, Toys R Us, and many more. Louise has won the Oppenheim Best Toy award, the Dr. Toy Best Toy award, and the iParenting Media award, among others. In 2015, Louise partnered with a startup company, Dibzy, and has many projects forthcoming with them. Recently, she discussed her career and her aspirations for the future.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get inspired to design toys?

Louise White (LW): My parents collect antique toys and I’ve always been fascinated with how things function. These toys are very simple yet provide hours of entertainment to little kids. Today kids are overloaded with way too much media and technology. I love putting a modern twist on classic toys. Sometimes it’s all about the basics.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How many toys have you invented? Which are your favorites and why?

LW: I’ve invented and designed so many toys in my eighteen-plus years as a toy designer that I really can’t keep track. My favorite toy has been “Lil’ Shopper’s” by Early Years since it is simple, sweet, and has been on the market since 2005. I love reading the comments on Amazon and I get joy when I see a baby playing with a toy I created.

MM: Do you prefer to design for a specific gender or age range?

LW: I’ve designed toys and accessories for baby through pre-school for most of my career. I’ve recently started designing and inventing for older children through tween. I love getting my three kids involved and asking their opinions. I’ve also received a few ideas from them as they are at the ages that I am targeting. In fact, I have two inventions that I am pitching that are collaborations with my 14-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son. Truthfully, I love inventing and coming up with solutions for everyday problems or needs so age and gender are irrelevant.

"Barber in the Bath" by Louise White.

MM: You recently partnered with Dibzy. How did that come about? What’s your ultimate goal in working with them?

LW: Dibzy’s founders are veterans in the industry. I’ve freelanced for Shelly Delice over the years and was approached by Jenny Faw, a founder of Dibzy, to freelance at a company she was working at a few years ago. One day I noticed on LinkedIn that Jenny changed jobs and asked her about it. The rest is history. I collaborated with Dibzy on several concepts and they pitched them to various manufacturers. They have become great friends of mine in addition to partners. It is nice to have more opinions when I create an invention and together we bring the concepts to the next level. It is also nice as a freelancer to not have to handle everything from concept to sale. Having someone else deal with the financials is amazing! This way I can focus more on the invention and designing which is my true love.

MM: You have toys sold by ALEX Brands. How did you come to work with them?

LW: I’ve worked with ALEX Toys in the past and I licensed an award-winning toy called “Sprinkle ‘N Spout.” Last year, Dibzy and I pitched some concepts and we licensed a toy to ALEX that is near and dear to my heart. I am a problem solver – that is my strength. My son, who is now 10, used to freak out when he got his hair cut as a toddler. He got clipped by a frustrated hairdresser at the age of 2 and it was impossible to get him to calm down and sit in the chair for a haircut after that. I created a toy addressing this issue called “Barber in the Tub” which was sold under ALEX Brands. It is a wind up plastic bath toy set with a vibrating “clipper” that helps little kids get used to the sensation and feeling of being in the barber’s chair while in the non-threatening safety of their home. The toddler would get used to the feeling that they no longer would fear the clipper. I wish I would have had this toy back then but at least this toy will help kids in the future. I also think this would be perfect for kids that have sensory issues. My parents have a special education school and I am very aware of these types of issues.

MM: What’s the best part of being a toy designer?

LW: The best part of being a toy designer is that I never have to grow up. I have become an observer of life and of my kids play patterns. I am the person that has an idea but actually does something about it! Creating toys gives me energy. The best part is seeing a child play and love something you created. I also love that my kids see firsthand that I work hard and one day they too could create for a living if they choose to.

Louise White's favorite toy is called "Lil Shoppers".

MM: What advice can you offer to aspiring designers?

LW: My best advice is NEVER GIVE UP. I know it is such a cliché but it is true. I started right out of school working in-house for a plush company yet have been freelancing for most of my career. It is how I work best and it keeps me grounded. I love the various challenges that the mixture of all types of projects bring. I never get bored and am always excited for what each day brings me. I found what works for me. Others work better in a 9-5 setting. I would tell future designers to find what works for you and stick it out. You will find the balance and the love once you find the formula for what works best for you. I went to Pratt Institute and studied Industrial Design. I love product design but kept putting little faces on everything. Being a toy designer just made sense to me and I am so happy every day that I can do what I love.

MM: What’s next for you?

LW: I have so many ideas and I wish I had the time to develop each concept. I have been focusing lately on games and tween products but baby/pre-school toys are my passion. I want to branch out more and challenge myself. My current goal is to sell my two inventions inspired by my kids so that I could show them that if they can dream it, it can become a reality. Yes, I am creating future inventors and designers!

MM: Is there anything else you would like to mention?

LW: I went to Toy Fair in February and it felt different. There was an excitement that I haven’t felt for years. People are optimistic about the economy which translates to sales. For an inventor, this is prime time to get your ideas out. I can’t wait to see all the seeds I’ve been planting grow. Now is the time.

To learn more about Louise White, visit her official website, LinkedIn, and the Dibzy website.

[Featured Image by Louise White]