We have collected together 28 amazing examples of the scene across a variety of disciplines in order to share some of our favourites.
Step into any creative studio, and there's a high chance that you'll see a sea of small, brightly coloured plastic faces beaming back at you. In a world where digital is the focus for so many, the physical appeal of designer toys have led to them adorning desks far and wide.
Designer toys, or 'art toys', have been growing steadily in popularity since their emergence in the 1990s. Pieces range from mainstream, mass-appeal productions through to more bespoke, items often limited in number.
Artists frequently release original designs, but DIY figures are also available, giving consumers the ability to customise their own one-off pieces. The practice of artists collaborating is commonplace, with many producing joint output, or individuals starting with another artist's existing pieces and taking them to a whole new level.
Whilst 'urban vinyl' is a term often used synonymously with designer toys, their production may involve materials including vinyl, resin, plush, or even wood or metal. Maybe one of them will be joining your desk soon!
01. Sugar For All
Typography and lettering can make all the difference when it comes to product design. However, making it the main focus of a product will catch the eye of almost any designer. This latest toy from Sugar For All will have creatives and typographers in a spin.
The two spinners are part of the series 'Wooden Objects with Lettering', enabling this hand-made illusion to hark back to a time of no technology and good old fashioned, simple toys. Crowned by the typographic influence of black letter, it's a gorgeous design all round.
Price: Sold out
Panda Otaku is a long term collaborative project between TADO and fellow Sheffielder and wood-carving magician Nick Hunter and 'Piggle' is the latest, adorable offering. "Obsessive, tenacious and determined. Piggle loves to play games and is merciless in her quest for winning and prizes.
"She is the daughter of infamous takeaway owner Ma Pig and a multi-disciplined otaku," they explain.Piggle comes complete with an intricately laser-engraved birchwood box, magnetic gameboy accessory and miniature tote bag.
Price: Sold out
Created by Mark Simmons, Ben Johnston and AJ Jospeh, this is a 3D printed toy we'd love to get our hands on. "We collaborated with Adobe on this 3D printed, customizable and collectable toy to demonstrate the 3D capabilities of Photoshop. The goal here was to showcase some of Photoshop's new features – in particular, 3d creation, painting and mapping full-colour textures," they explain.
"Crucially, we had to showcase the ability to either print locally on a desktop Makerbot or send the project directly to Shapeways to be printed in full colour out of a range of different materials. The final design consisted of a base body, with a massive, oversized head that could be fitted with a variety of masks, and open hands behind the back to hold different accessories."
Designer Sebastian Burga created this variety of different animal designs, which include an alligator, giraffe, gorilla, bear and hen. "Minimals are an adorable line of modular animals characterised by the use of a primary color palette and geometric shapes," says Burga.
"They're set out to expose the essence of toyness through eliminating all non-essential forms, features and concepts. Together, they create a pantone of colours, animals, clothes, styles and archetypes, encouraging people to find themselves between them."
Burga made numerous iterations of each character using 3D software Blender before transforming them into two physical products; small collectible toys and larger, decorative pieces.
- Price: Currently not on sale
Design by Gavin Strange, Shirley Creamhorn & Shithawk were created in collaboration with Columbian sculptor Alex Avelino. Strange explains: "When I was a junior designer in Leicester, I got given a silly name of 'Shirley Creamhorn' by my designer friend Andy Rudkin, who would order me rubbish stationary samples with 'Shirley Creamhorn' engraved on the side. Over the years I picked this up and used it as an alter-ego name for a bit of fun."
After Strange designed the characters, Avelino then sculpted the toy by hand before it was handed to a toy company in China that produced the mould and 500 plastic injection copies.
- Price: £35
06. Panda Otaku
Panda Otaku is a new long-term narrative project by TADO that will follow the adventures and misadventures of Jerry; take-away delivery driver, social recluse, and obsessive otaku.
The first release in the series is the Panda Otaku Vol.1 'Au Naturel' edition - a gorgeous 6.5in tall, hand-carved solid wood panda that comes with two cameras (lucky dip of Polaroid, Leica, Rolleiflex or SLR versions), as well as a miniature 'gentlemens comic/magazine'.
- Price: Sold out
Artist Amanda Visell designed this brilliant Wooden Donkey Dunny for Kidrobot in 2009. The adorable character features buck-teeth, branch fingers and accessories including an axe and stump. There's also a small heart-shaped carving marking the Kidrobot and Amanda Visell relationship on the Dunny's left foot. With just 1500 made, this awesome design is a highly sought-after piece in the world of vinyl toys.
- Price: Sold out
08. Astro Boy
It's easy to see why this design toy of Astro Boy by KAWS & Original Fake has made it onto the list for 'toy of the year' for the Designer Toy awards. Simple, innventive and eye-catching, it's Astro Boy as you've never seen him before. We love!
- Price: Sold out
Barry Williams' Octo project marks his first full production piece, which is currently being funded by Kickstarter. Having exceeded his initial goal, Octo looks set to be successfully released into the wild in the form of resin figures, which can be made to order depending on the amount pledged. With plans already being made for other characters in the Octo world, Williams looks to be one to watch in 2012 for the designer toy world.
- Price: From donations of $15
Standing at 5 foot tall and costing a mere $6500, this piece is probably not one for the casual designer art fan! With only 6 units produced globally, Kid Dragon is an example of where art toy principles can be taken to extremes of exclusivity. Created using fibreglass, and painted using detailed gradients, Kid Dragon is from the mind of Sam Flores and has been created by The Loyal Subjects for Kidrobot.
- Price: $6500
Following on from his successful Lunartik in a Cup of Tea collection, Matt JOnes has returned with his latest creation, The Art of Tea. Like many, JOnes includes tea as a crucial part of his creative process, and this helps to feed back into his output, whether it is in his toys, or sometimes through the meeting of drink and paintbrush as illustrated in this piece. For this latest release only 18 pieces have been formed, using plastic, resin, and acrylic paint.
- Price: £49
During a period of injury Ryan Christensen formulated the concept of Steelplant, started sketching, and eventually produced his flagship product Desktop Dumpsters out of recycled steel. Each hand-painted model is unique, and purchasers are actively encouraged to experiment with their dumpsters, including sanding off old paint, or introducing deliberate rust.
- Price: $100 blank, $250 hand-painted
Due to be released on the 31st May 2012, HX Studio's D.O.G is a limited series of custom pieces, with DIY figures and special versions also available. Made out of resin, with some figures featuring an additional dog house, these pieces look set to spawn another generation of DIY evolutions.
- Price: From $6.50
14. Blox - Uglydoll
One of the most popular and longstanding designer toy releases, David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim's Uglydolls have taken a new, flatter form in their Blox incarnation. Featuring well known and loved existing characters such as Icebat, Ox and Wage, the Uglydolls are sure to gain a few more fans before the release of their upcoming animated feature film, which is currently in development.
- Price: $18.99
Minecraft, the independent video game by Mojang, has proven to be a huge success story since its initial release in 2009. Now available on a multitude of platforms including PC, Android, iOS and Xbox 360, this addictive sandbox has captured the imagination of many... some on work time. Instead of practicing your window minimisation routine for when the boss walks over, this vinyl toy can help remind you of the thrill of discovering a diamond block and the fear of the first sighting of a Creeper at night. Just keep an eye on it. There's no guarantee your desk and belongings will be intact if you turn your back.
- Price: $29.99
Originally released for the Autumn/Winter 2011 season, Kidrobot's collaboration with Swatch ensures that those who can't be without their urban vinyl can now carry it with them. Consisting of a watch and a matching Dunny figure, artists including Joe Ledbetter, Frank Kozik, Tara McPherson and MAD have all contributed their unique spin to a fashion classic.
- Price: From £44.50
We know, we know, sadly this one is a bit of a tease. The Instagram Mascot by Shinbone Creative isn't actually for sale at present as it's currently just a concept and design. Judging by the levels of interest on social sites such as Pinterest, and Instagram's huge fanbase, we think this could be a huge hit. Consider a full release, Shinbone?
- Price: Not for sale (yet!)
Alison Perez has recently released her first mass-produced figure in the form of the DIY Zukie. After working on other custom pieces from the Zukie family including sculptures in themed environments and characters made from plush, the move to mass production heralds a bright future for this cutesy character. Perez's 4" DIY option is made from vinyl and also comes with a customisable box.
- Price: $9.95 for a D.I.Y. version
Designed by Incubot Productions and sold through the CustomUSB web store, these robotic creations blur the lines between art toys and functional devices. Available in both 8GB and 16GB forms, both the capacity and the model of outer casing can be chosen when ordering. You're certain to have a talking point on your hands next time anyone asks if there's a spare flash drive available!
- Price: From $49.95
This beautiful piece, inspired by Hokusai's classic "The Great Wave off Kanagawa", may appear to be a simple nautical sculpture at first glance. However, look more closely and you'll realise that the crest of the wave is formed of numerous white rabbits, with the piece following on from Kozyndan's previous Seasons of the Bunny print series.
- Price: $70
Originally designed by artist Kronk and produced in a limited run especially for his wedding, the project was picked up by Kidrobot and the Lovebirds have now become publicly available. Keeping the same vinyl form and moulding as the originals, four colour versions are available, either to live alone, or to cozy up when kept together as a symmetrical pair.
- Price: From $19.95
22. POP! - Funko
One of the most accessible and wide-reaching ranges available at present is that of POP! Crossing into territory already mentioned in this article with their Uglydoll range, or tapping into interest areas such as NBA, The Beatles, Star Wars and superheroes, POP! is likely to have something to catch everyone's eye. With a great uniform style that makes displaying them together easy, the range is very addictive. Don't say we didn't warn you.
- Price: From £5
As with many of Ledbetter's sets, Pico & Wilshire features two interacting individual figures with multiple points of articulation. Limited to just 415 pieces, and made out of painted wood, Ledbetter's trademark style and colouring makes this couple instantly recognisable. With Wilshire the mammoth standing at 12" tall this is a great impact piece with bags of character.
- Price: $160
oddFAUNA spans a world of creations produced by Emma SanCartier out of The Beast Parlour in San Francisco. Spanning small individual beasties and creatures in intricate display surrounds, each of the existing oddFAUNA collection is hand cast and hand painted. Purchasers are able to select the character of their choice when buying a den set. OVOK is set to be released on the 17th June after meeting his target on Kickstarter, and will be available in white resin as well as in a hand painted version.
- Price: From $29
Harking back to an era now living on only in the distant memory of many geeks, this piece by Squid Kids Ink is made from solid resin and is available in four colourways. Prime for customisation, the A-Drives are part of a wider "So Analog" family, aimed at making figures out of technical items that were once commonplace. A-Drive is joined by cousins 10-Doh! and B-Side, with 10-Doh!'s also available in a limited gold version.
- Price: $25
Originating as a character created by Camilla d'Errico in her Tanpopo book series, Kuro evolved first into a plush toy of varying sizes, and later into vinyl figures produced by Inner Sanctum. Kuro is available in DIY white, standard, and blue glow in the dark versions, and stands at 6" tall.
- Price: From $25
Designed by Simone Legno, the latest edition to Tokidoki's popular Cactus Friends series maintains the established look, with a slightly tougher twist than usual. Available in a red and an exclusive blue version, the Cactus Rockers are 6" tall vinyl figures. As an additional touch, the figures come packaged in a box designed for an amplifier.
- Price: $39.95
An example of the incredible craftsmanship that individuals can apply to DIY figures, Mitchell's creation was inspired by Final Fantasy. Kupan the Moogle was adapted using sculpy, wire, craft pompoms, acrylic and oil paints on one of Kidrobot's blank Trikky figures, and is currently only available as a one-off piece through Etsy.
- Price: $70
Words: Sally Jenkinson
And that's it for now! Which one of these stunning toys is your favourite? Have you seen any great design toys recently? Let us know in the comments box below!