Parents got an exclusive tour of the Mattel Design Center to see how My First Barbie, the new doll for preschoolers, is created and what the unprecedented toy means for the brand and families around the globe.
Since her debut nearly 64 years ago, Barbie has had her fair share of makeovers. The beloved doll has been a presidential nominee, astronaut, film director, and architect, among many other iterations. But she has never rocked a look that would make her even more accessible to preschoolers—until now. In early 2023, Mattel debuted the My First Barbie, geared toward kids as young as 3.
Parents recently had the opportunity to visit Mattel's design center to get an up close and personal glimpse at the behind-the-scenes process.
My First Barbie Is Perfectly Designed for Preschoolers
One of the most heartening aspects of the process is really the first step Mattel takes when designing a new doll. The company prides themselves on connecting with and staying in constant communication with parents to figure out how they can meet kids’ needs, explains Rachel Rasser, senior director of Mattel, Inc.
And in talking to parents, the brand began hearing more about ways in which they could address preschoolers’ needs specifically. “We started to hear more and more parents talk about their love for Barbie and questioning, ‘What’s the right age to introduce my child to Barbie?’” notes Lisa McKnight, EVP and global head of Barbie & Dolls Portfolio.
Parents also shared that younger kids were struggling to play with regular-sized Barbies, particularly when it comes to dressing and undressing them. “They just don’t have the fine motor skills yet,” acknowledges McKnight. “So we were thinking, ‘That’s interesting. Is there a way we could create a more bespoke line for preschoolers and modify the experience while still being true to the core play pattern of fashion play and hair play and what kids love about Barbie, the storytelling that unfolds?’”
The company got to work designing a doll that would align with the way preschoolers play. They determined that a larger, softer body, featuring more articulated arms and legs, would be preferable for smaller hands. The new My First Barbie is 13.5 inches tall versus a regular Barbie, which is 11.5 inches. She also has a larger waist and permanent undies.
Because preschoolers love to brush a doll’s hair, designers made her tresses extra long, and the accessories that you can buy for a My First Barbie are also larger—to match the doll size, of course, but also because they’re easier for preschoolers to grip. And they also sought to address an ongoing frustration most parents are intimately familiar with: thumbs that catch on clothing, especially long-sleeved dresses and tops. By ensuring My First Barbie’s fingers and thumbs are connected, kids get what McKnight calls “a friction-less experience.”
And speaking of clothing, all of the doll’s outfits are made with easy-to-attach Velcro that runs the entire length of the garment, so that no matter where a child sticks it, it’ll look polished and pulled together. “The team did a really wonderful job of tailoring everything for the dexterity that preschoolers have,” notes McKnight.
Of course aesthetics were also tailored to what younger children are drawn to. My First Barbie’s eyes are bigger, and her facial expressions are a bit more child-like, playful, softer. Her themed accessory packs—which feature gear for My First Barbie and friends to celebrate at a birthday party, go to school, or get ready for bed—are also representative of a preschooler’s day-to-day life. “It’s so important to reflect the world that this age group sees around them, and that is a lot of time at home,” points out McKnight. “It’s them learning about their routine and our dolls unlock storytelling opportunities for them—to imagine that they’re getting themselves undressed for school or they’re doing their personal care routine at bedtime.”
And despite her big makeover, parents and kids who are already familiar with Barbie will recognize the first four core dolls, as they are existing characters: Barbie “Malibu” Roberts, Barbie “Brooklyn” Roberts, Teresa, and Renee.
How a New Barbie Is Created
Before a Barbie hits the shelves, the masterminds behind the brand are swept up in a rush of brainstorming, innovation, and collaboration. Hosting our trip through Barbie HQ, Rasser and Kim Culmone, SVP, head of design for Barbie, Monster High and Mattel Creations at Mattel Inc. explained how an idea, like meeting the needs of preschoolers, morphs from discussion and imagination to an actual physical prototype.
The space, located in El Segundo, California, right near Los Angeles International Airport, is home to what is basically an artisan workshop, in which designers collaborate with artists who can take a concept and bring it to life. Drawings of My First Barbie are translated into a digital design that artists then “sculpt” with a haptic-feedback-based design tool. Then, the model can be created in a matter of hours with a 3D printer, after which artists can paint on Barbie’s makeup and “root” her hair.
From there, the dolls can be dressed just as a fashion model would be with a visit to the fabric room. Just like regular clothes, My First Barbie clothing designs start out as patterns that are then created from a vast array of shimmery, sparkly, or bright and bold material.
No doubt the My First Barbie prototype, which began development about a year ago, earned a round of applause at Barbie HQ. And after months of hard work, it’s now on shelves and available for purchase.
My First Barbie Expands the Barbie World for Younger Kids
Little ones who’ve played with My First Barbie have given the doll rave reviews, according to McKnight. “Not only do they love having the independence to dress and undress with the big velcro strips and they are able to pick up brushes and brush the hair themselves, but they’re enamored with the dolls, the attributes, the softness of the color palette, and the accessories,” she says.
What McKnight herself loves the most is that the doll is “truly My First Barbie.” She continues, “It’s an exciting expression of Barbie, but it’s giving preschoolers the same play experience that their older sibling might have with the brand and with the doll.”
In addition, the launch of the doll is accompanied by the first-ever Barbie content that’s been exclusively developed for preschool-aged kids, which will debut on January 31. You can tune into the My First Barbie animated special titled My First Barbie: Happy DreamDay, which tells the story of Barbie and friends getting ready for a fabulous surprise party, on the Barbie YouTube channel.
Much like the accessory packs that are available for purchase alongside My First Barbie, the content is geared toward themes that resonate with preschoolers: friendship, family, and everyday life lessons.
By listening to parents and kids and picking up on what’s happening in society and culture, Mattel continues to innovate. And thanks to that future-minded point of view, the latest iteration of the iconic doll is sure to unlock a whole new world of imaginative, empowering play for preschoolers.