BABY KEYS *quickie 3-hr project*

As parents of a 7 month old girl, my wife and I are enjoying the rediscovery that comes with sharing a baby’s first experiences with things, and how they react and soak in the world around them. One of the observations we have made (along with countless other parents) is how non-baby toys are usually more interesting to the baby than ‘official’ toys.

Most baby toys don’t offer the variety of sensory experiences that babies observe around the house. They are all plastic, and thus all have similar material properties like low temperature sensitivity, similar taste (not something we often thing of), sound, and similar tactile feel.

So, I decided to make some baby keys that fixed this problem. The proportions and sizes are friendly to baby-handling, with soft edges, but are made of steel like real keys. They offer the baby a unique experience that only metal can offer, and reinforce differences in material traits at an early age.

What do you guys think? Should I make this a portfolio 1-pager?

Are metal toys safe for babys? If they bite and knaw on the keys would it hurt them? Have you thought about safety? Just wondering…

it looks so much like keys that at first glance I thought it might be a re-imagining of stylish electronic key shapes - It might be helpful to show it in your baby’s hands somehow

Also, If you’re going to pitch it as a learning tool for textures & materials, why not more material & surface texture variety?

These questions could come up in the mind of a viewer… whether you include it might depend on what job your going for and skills you want to show

I’m a bit sceptic on this one. First of all I’ve seen baby toys offer more variety than you conclude with: they tend to be plastic/rubber/textile, soft (some filled with some kind of liquid), not soft, different sounds …

But my main problem with this one is the use of metal. Babies/small children like to put things in their mouth and suck and bit. I don’t think biting on metal objects will be good for the development the child’s teeth. Children also tend to have limited control of their arms/hands and it’s not uncommon to see children pick up objects with more force than intended, hitting themselves in the head with whatever they picked up (these rings might not be so heavy that would be any more troublesome than other toys).

Both the form and size (I must guess a bit on size as there’s no references in your pictures) look right to me though.

Sorry guys, I kind of framed a broader problem than this particular product addressed. The keys are only one idea. I meant for it to represent a series of products of different materials. I think lots of baby toys are too busy with the multiple materials. I wanted to focus on one material per toy.

I had considered safety, and I don’t think these would be more dangerous than other toys. Weight would be the same or slightly more than solid plastic keys. At any rate, I think negative experience with the materials would reinforce material properties. Metal is heavy and hard, and kids might learn that sooner than they would with plastic keys.

I let my daughter play with a metal wisk often, it’s her favorite toy! IMO, a child will hurt themselves no matter what, so I don’t see this product as worsening anything. =)

so what’s the broader question - should you make a one pager in your folio with this?

If you mean to do a series of interesting toys from what your experiencing with your new baby, I think it’s a great idea.

just be ready for questions like safety and good reasons for your design decision… like the one’s brought up. Might be interesting to look into baby developmental research too, being in your position and all

Thanks Travisimo. I don’t know how far I’ll take it, but at this point I might just frame it as a single execution that could be applied to to a range of toys (that I might get to in my free time). I actually re-examined my daughter’s plastic baby keys and they seemed as hard as metal. I think aside from binky-like chewbility, most toys aren’t that comfy for chewing, even though they may be coated with soft rubber. The keys would be some culinary grade stainless steel, so I don’t think that would be an issue.

Ill update this if I ever expand the project into other toy categories.

Having designed infant products for several years your cavalier attitude about safety is really distressing. You don’t have the choice to “think it is okay”. These have to pass CPSC, FDA and other safety requirements or you will be in big trouble. You need to use small parts gauges, choke gauges, hole size regulations, etc.

Never, never, never ignore safety regulations especially with user who is not able to make proper decisions for themselves.

Bad, bad designer (I am visually shaking my finger at you).

Thanks for the comment, Tim. I don’t feel that I have a cavalier attitude towards safety, although my comment might have come off as such. I’m as concerned as any parent about my daughter’s safety.

I don’t understand what regulations I have ignored. By design, the keys are large enough, and pose no choking hazard. I was hoping to get some feedback on the concept itself, rather than concerns about safety issues I have already considered. Have I missed anything? I really don’t think I have…

Maybe I should ask for parent perspectives instead of designer ones? The main reason I posted this project was to get feedback of parents beyond my extended family and friends. Sorry I didn’t make that clear in the OP.

Well from a parent perspective, and consumer, I would say, metal no way, end of story.

From the designer perspective, and moreover from the portfolio review perspective (you hinted at putting this in the folio earlier) you need to show how you got to the notion that you should design keys (research and conclusions), why you have chosen the types of shapes the keys are comprised of (trend and style research), and which of the others key shapes you didn’t like (concept iterations). And don’t show those sketches, re-draw them or make them small at the upper right hand corner of a matrix of progressively better and better sketches hashing out forms and ideas.

Then you need to show that you know at least several of the guidelines Tim was talking about and how you have attempted to design for them.

Those things are important because they are what a professional would do, so being a professional yourself, they should be no problem. :smiley:

Sketches - I agree.
Research - I have a page w/ baby keys and real keys. I will just explain my experience and what I noticed as a parent.
Iterations - Since I have lots of this stuff for other projects, I wanted to make this project concise. I already knew what I wanted going into it. Modernist. Basic elementary shapes: circle, square, triangle. Details that highlight the metal’s shininess.

As to the regulations: I based my sizes off of the existing baby keys that went through regulatory scrutiny to get on the market, so there should be no problem.

I still disagree on the metal though. How is culinary metal with soft, safe edges more dangerous than hard plastic with comparable weight?

This is more of a concept than something that will go on the market. I guess in a way, the concept is meant to illustrate precisely some of the irrational fears consumers have about baby products. They don’t all need to be plastic, goofy things with similar material properties. We can take the stuff babies really find interesting, and incorporate the same safety features to make them even better than what’s out there.

I feel like Chris Bangle arguing with a bunch of Engadget techies about the GINA, except my concept is much more viable. What gives? I hate it when designers ignore critiques, but I don’t really think I’m being unreasonable.

Frame it as “regular metal keys can be toxic to a baby” these jingle and are shiny and kid safe? Also, there are recs for letting babies chew on a cool spoon to soothe gums during teething.

eta: I didn’t quite realize how apt my avatar is.

Ooh, now we’re getting somewhere. Of course, it is in Fisher-Price’s self-interest to post this. I wonder what percent of car keys have brass in them?

Thanks for the good suggestion, cookies!

I think making the teething argument for my concept seems a little weak. I guess it could always be a secondary selling point.

EDIT: here’s another one:
So my stainless steel material choice looks like it had more benefits than I thought. Good to know.


Let me preface this by disclosing that I’m not a parent. With that being said, metal is a problem. It’s not about weight, its about hardness. On any standard scale (rockwell, brinnell etc…), a ferrous metal (maybe use something softer) is going to be quite a bit harder than the enamel of a child’s teeth and the “hard” plastics you reference. You can have the most lightweight ferrous alloy known to man - its still going to be an issue due to wear. I don’t know about the recommendations from fisher price, but that sounds kind of dangerous to me. If you are determined to use metal, at least think about some sort of overmolding for the parts that the kid may chew on or stick in their mouth (almost all of it). I would definitely not use stainless. Rubber/plastic is the way to go.

*Edit for fact check.

I say no way on the metal stuff. My kid will chew on anything for hours if you let him. The best thing I found was a red silicone spatula. He loved it, and when he was teething it soothed his gums. I can’t imagine letting him play with thick metal blocks. Really there is no comparison here to a wire whisk.

Think about how kids play with things, those metal keys will have some serious weight to them vs. plastic keys.

EDIT: Ditto to kwilson7. Metal is simply too hard, and will do too much damage to teeth.


Though I gave you a hard time on the regulations, I will come to your side on the metal. While I agree that from a parent’s point of view metal may be difficult, from a toxins point of view metal is at least as safe as artificial plastics mentioned. I got burned on the PVC issue, albeit 10 years after I designed products with it. I was told by the manufacturers and other scientists that it was okay and it has proven not to be.

The one thing that will be very important with the metal is the tumbling process to remove all sharp edges and flash. This will be a critical step with very specific QC requirements needed.

Back to the original point. One other thing you can’t do in infant products is base your safety criteria on something out in the market, especially in the teether area. This is an area where companies often buy off the shelf stuff from China, and often the safety criteria are not designed in and the product is later recalled. For infant products you have to do all the safety research and proof yourself. “You don’t want to kill babies.” It is a no win situation.

Wow, what a bunch a nannies.

Of course metal is OK. Obviously it shouldn’t be lead, but I certainly wouldn’t want any of my kids to be chewing on any PVC either. Silver is an antimicrobial. Stainless is pretty much inert, that is why it is used for flatware. There is no reason not to use them.

And hardness? Damaged enamel? They are baby teeth you know. They are designed to fall out. A chipped tooth won’t hurt my kids. It is nearly at the bottom of my worries.

Cameron - Nice design. There definately was thoughtfulness at the edges. Cutting would be my only concern.

Sorry to divert here but… So you don’t brush your kid’s teeth because they are temporary?

Nice strawman.

There is a 100% probability that without brushing there will be a cavity that causes pain to my kids. And don’t forget about starting good oral hygiene practices when they are young that they will carry on long after their baby teeth are gone.

Do you feed your kids with only a rubber spoon? Or have them wear helmets when they walk?

Ok, so it sounds like we’re on the same page here, but neither of us is articulating the point.

Yes, I feed my child with a metal spoon. And teaching him how to use that spoon is what leads him to use it properly in the future. You give your kid something to play with, to discover things when they are very young. You don’t hold their hand and say, “this is metal, so be careful” at 6 months, because they just don’t know any better. I’m saying you can avoid some problems by not having solid metal keys to play with (toxic issues between metal and plastic aside). I know kids are going to fall down, they’re going to get hurt, they’re going to get sick, and it’s 99% unavoidable. Speaking from my experience, my son chews on everything with a passion (supposedly I did, too) some kids don’t. So if you’re kid’s a biter, I would avoid those keys if I saw them in the store.