Bean’s Sally Jacobs on why being a big kid at heart helps to fuel ideation

Sally Jacobs, Bean
A much-loved figure in the toy and game inventor community, Sally Jacobs has launched an exciting new venture this year in the form of Bean, a brand new invention hub.

As well as being one of the industry’s freshest sources for toy and game concepts, Bean is also on hand to provide expert consultancy services, with clients sure to benefit from Jacobs’ vast experience in the industry having previously been a Lead Designer at Hasbro, as well as Innovation Manager at Ooba Games.

We caught up with her to find out more about Bean, her beginnings in the industry and how she fuels her creativity.

Sally Jacobs, Bean
Hi Sally, so to kick us off, how did you get started in the world of toy and game design?

Well, my Dad is an antiques dealer, dealing in antique toys and trains, so growing up I was surrounded by tin plate clock work toys, mechanical money boxes and Meccano; I was fascinated by them.

I then went on to do a degree in product design at Sheffield Hallam University and by my second year; I was getting very uninspired with designing knives and toasters. I went to see my lecturer and he asked me if I had considered designing toys. That is the moment that completely changed the course of my career; I bizarrely had never thought there was such a thing as a toy designer.

And that changed your approach to the product design course?
Absolutely. From that day forward all my projects were toys and games. From then, I answered an ad in Design Week for a freelance designer at LEGO. I got the job and ended up working on the LEGO Scala range while doing an MA at Birmingham University.

Sally Jacobs, Bean
I loved the LEGO work as I was given complete creative freedom and could let me imagination run wild. However as a child, my favourite toy was My Little Pony and therefore I set my sights on a more permanent role at Hasbro.

I managed to track down Richard Heayes at the Hasbro Design Centre and persuaded him to come and see me at the New Designers Exhibition in London. Richard offered me a six-week work placement as part of my MA and I was in at Hasbro designing Play-Doh and Playskool; it was like a dream come true!

Brilliant. And we assume the placement went well?
Well, my six-week placement turned into 13 years at Hasbro working on Play-Doh, Playskool, Micro Machines and even My Little Pony! I worked with some amazingly talented people and those years at Hasbro gave me an invaluable experience into the world of toys and games.

Sally Jacobs, Bean
Amazing! And now onto Bean, your exciting new design and invention studio. What should folks know about Bean and what you can offer toy firms?

I actually started Bean up in 2009 and ran it for five years before working at OOBA. Bean was initially a concept development consultancy and I worked on some fab projects with a variety of toy companies mainly in Girls and Creative Play. Max Ford offered me a job working for OOBA and I decided that stability for the family would be a good move. After nearly six years working at OOBA, I have decided to re-launch Bean, however this time around I am going to focus on the inventing side of the business.

During my time at OOBA, I learned an enormous amount about the invention side of toys and games market. I also discovered a love for the games business and everything to do with games! I am excited to get back into drawing and making things and bringing my ideas to life, but that is not to say that I would turn down the opportunity to work on consultancy projects along the way!

I work from a little office pod in my garden and it can be lonely, so I am keen to collaborate with other inventors on ideas and have some fun! I have already been on the road brainstorming with colleagues and it has been fun and rewarding. I am excited to do more!

Sally Jacobs, Bean
You’ve created a raft of great toys and games over the years, but do you think there’s a trait that all of your creations share?

I have worked on such a wide range of toys from girls, creative play, boys, vehicles and games that it’s hard to say.

I really loved playing as a kid (I still do); building stories around my toys and letting my imagination run wild. I would say that my concepts tend to really focus on the consumer and the stories that the toys and games inspire in children.

I like my concepts to spark the imagination. I always design my toy and game concepts to have lots of play value that children are not going to get bored with quickly and my concepts also tend to be fun with a big element of cuteness!

Since your days at Hasbro to now, has your approach to design changed much over the years?
Yes I would say it has, and having children has been a big factor in this. Having watched my children and their friends play inspires me to think differently and to really focus my design work on the experience they get out of playing with toys and games.

I have been in the industry a long time and over this time, the market and consumer have changed and so I have had to change my design thinking with this. We have seen children spending more and more time on screens and I believe it is now so much more important to design toys and games that keep children’s imaginations alive and keep them playing!

So would you say that screens rivalling toys in the battle for children’s attention has been the biggest change to hit the industry over the last few decades?
Well, another things is that many of the price points for toys and games have remained the same since I started in the industry. This means inventors still have to hit the same cost targets, despite the cost for materials and manufacturing rising with inflation. It’s a huge challenge as an inventor to deliver magic while hitting low manufacturing targets.

Absolutely. And on creating magic, what do you do to help fuel your creativity?
By trying to stay young in my head, having fun and playing! Watching my children play and grow also inspires me. In my head I am still a child; I love kids films, playing games and making things.

Meeting up with people and being social is a major influence in my creativity, and not necessarily with people from the industry; friends, colleagues or other mums might share an experience that sparks an idea.

I’d also say getting away from my desk and being out and active are also major factors in keeping creative. Ideas come to you in the weirdest places, so it is important for me to keep exploring, experimenting and adventuring.

Great stuff. Thank you so much for this. And I should add, if you’d like to reach out to Sally, you can do at sallyjacobs@beantoy.co.uk.

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