Designing for Kids, Designing for Dogs
Designing products for dogs and kids is rather complicated. The design itself is a negotiation of both the user and the customer.
For example, the iconic "bone" shape that you see everywhere isn't designed solely for the dog. Whether it looks like a real bone or a cartoon bone, the dog doesn't care all that much. It's mostly for the people that's buying it. The most important factor as far as the dog is concerned, is the material choice and durability of the toy. Everything else is probably more so for the owners.
A good example of a great toy for dogs is the Bad Cuz Dog Toy by JW Pet Company. It is one of the more durable rubber toys out there. Sure, the designer could've simply made do with a simple ball made from the same material, but that's not gonna drive up the sales. The designer and the company made a great decision to incorporate something fun and quirky into the toy to get owners interested. They added two small horns and a pair of feet. Sure enough, looking at the dog blogs all over the web, the owners seem to be very pleased with it.
The same goes for designing for young kids and infants. I don't think that the kids are naturally inclined to like one style of a design over another from the get go. I think children's preference for design is environmentally based, and is directly influenced by the wants of their guardians. As such, products designed for the kids are often the negotiations of both parties. In the end, the user isn't actually the real user but a fake one:
An imaginary user.
The imaginary user is not quite the user parents or owners know of their kids and dogs respectively, but what they imagine them to be. This is an important distinction, because the kids and dogs do have their preference regarding products, but they cannot voice their opinions adequately. Thus, the guardians and owners are the ones that decide what sort of person/animal they are when buying a product. It's a negotiation of what the ones with power wants, and what they think the opposite party wants.
Negotiating designs between the user and the customer is difficult, because not only is the designer having to design a product for the user, but they have to design it from a marketing perspective.
I predict that after a while, the imaginary user will eventually become the user as the consumer sees fit, therefore, the early design preference for users is dictated by the type of stuff the consumer purchases.
So the best way to design products for the imaginary user is to design something the consumer think the user wants. Negotiate the design. Make it not-so-kitsch but not too high-concept. Corny and not too corny. It's a balance, really.