Bladez Toyz’s George Leeson on designing creative kits for brands like Hot Wheels, Minecraft and Harry Potter
George, always great to catch up. To kick us off, how did you find yourself in toys? Was it always an area of design that appealed?
Hi Billy, thanks for taking the time to speak to me! Design is always something that I have enjoyed – it was Design & Technology at school that first sparked my interest in design. As you know, I studied at Brunel and my university placement year found me working at a gifting company where my interest and passion for toy design started. I loved working on licenced product and seeing my designs land on the shelves of such a wide range of outlets. Design is such a fast-paced industry and that absolutely fascinates me.
You’re a designer at Bladez Toyz. Is there a typical ‘day in the life’?
Every day working at Bladez Toyz is different, however most of my time is spent working on the development of new products. We are currently expanding our range of greyboard/cardboard toys that are sold flat packed, and then assembled as part of the play pattern. A large part of my day is spent designing and developing these die-cuts to make them both easy – and slightly challenging – to assemble, but also structurally sound.
I also spend a fair amount of my day 3D modelling, preparing these models to be rendered for use on packaging and marketing materials. When it comes to trade show time, I help with the designing of the stands, but also attend the shows to walk customers through the new product ranges. That’s something I really enjoy!
What is the ideation process like at Bladez?
Our design team works closely with the sales team to look for potential opportunities in the market where we can develop specific product. Often, we have brainstorming sessions from which concepts are drawn up, researched, further developed and then produced.
Can you recall the first product you worked on when you joined the company?
On my first day at Bladez I started working on a Harry Potter Snowy Great Hall Kit. The Great Hall was made from cardboard that was popped out of pre-cut sheets and then assembled. After assembly, a liquid would be painted onto the rooves, towers and trees in the scene. Overnight, a thin layer of crystal would appear, giving the illusion that it had snowed!
That was the first time I’d worked on a product of this kind and it was a massive learning curve. It also marked the first time I’d spoken with factories to prepare a design for mass production, considering their suggestions when reviewing pre-production samples. It was very surreal seeing the product on the shelves in my local supermarket!
Looks great. Back at London Toy Fair, you showed me the impressive Hot Wheels Mini Monster Trucks kits at Toy Fair. Talk me through the creative process behind these.
We wanted to design a series of Hot Wheels Mini Monster Trucks that were easy to build, could withstand small knocks and have interchangeable wheels and bodies so a child could customise their trucks. The body of the monster truck is made from a flat sheet of plastic which is folded and locked together to form the shape of the cabin.
One of the challenges faced during development was calculating the tolerances of the locking tabs and the design of the panels in order to maximise strength. The chassis of the truck is injection moulded on a sprue which is then snapped together. We went through multiple rounds of 3D printed prototypes to get the design perfect. The final product is very satisfying to build and the feedback received is very positive. We are very excited for these to launch this autumn.
What other recent launches from you and the team are you excited about this year?
That’s a difficult one as there are so many launches happening! I am excited about the launch of our Minecraft Arts and Crafts range. We have designed a series of cardboard kits to build a range of characters including Steve, Alex and Zombies. All have articulated arms that are assembled without the need for any glue.
What makes this project exciting is that the product and the packaging are all plastic free! This is a range that we are going to be expanding in the future with new characters. We are also developing our Batman RC range with a few new lines which, at the moment, look amazing!
George, before I let you go – last one! How do you fuel your creativity?
Exercise, open eyes, an inquisitive nature and lots of coffee! We have a great team at Bladez and we are constantly bouncing ideas off each other which really helps fuel my creativity. Often, I find myself coming up with solutions to problems or even brand-new ideas when I am mid-run or session – the difficult part is remembering them!
Thanks again George – let’s tie-in again soon.
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