“If creativity’s easy, you aren’t doing it right!”: Moose Toys’ David Emblin on the advice he’d give inventors, parents – and his younger self

David Emblin, Moose Toys
With a range of toys that includes Team Gem, Foam Alive and Scruff-a-Luvs, the Moose Toys team is a phenomenal factory of fun…

We spoke to the firm’s Senior Product Designer, David Emblin to hear why comfort is his creative Kryptonite.

David Emblin, Moose Toys
Hi! We’ve been reading up on you, Mr. Emblin: Furniture. Tools. Clothes… You’ve designed it all! Why so much focus on toys and games?

Yes, I’ve had a really varied career, working in furniture and product design initially. I wasn’t looking for a career change but when a job at Moose came up I thought I’d see what it was all about. I attended an interview and the moment I set foot in the building, I completely fell in love with it…

What was the appeal, specifically?
There were so many fun, engaging and enthusiastic people buzzing about; I said to myself: “I have to be a part of this”. Toy is such a great industry to be in and the culture at Moose is phenomenal. People always ask me, “Is it as fun as it sounds?” – I try not to sound too smug, because the answer is always yes!

In what way do your ‘other-industry’ disciplines influence your creativity?
Whichever discipline of design you work in, being creative, analytical and iterative still applies. My approach has always been playful and I’ve always had fun with my work – take the Hammock Jacket (pictured below) and Stile Stool, for instance… So when I started working in toy it felt like I’d arrived at the right place.

David Emblin, Moose Toys
So you bring quite a bit to the table… Which of the products you’ve worked on has been most challenging, though?

It’s hard to pick one, there are always challenges! Team Gem has been particularly challenging I guess. It’s a gymnastic action figure for girls, and the range includes a vault that launches a figure 360 degrees through the air and lets it land. It took a bit of inspiration for the mechanism, and then a great deal of iteration of the design until a reliable-yet-exciting ‘WOW’ moment was created.

To clarify: a figure of a gymnast flips off a vault, rotates and lands on its feet?
Yes! We wanted to balance skill and consistency – it needed to feel like an achievement without being too easy or frustrating. So the design team went through hours of testing and tweaking so the kids don’t have to… All this is without mentioning the endeavour to deliver the product on time and on cost.

David Emblin, Moose Toys
Wow. Sounds like you’re very proud of it?

Yes; that project is very close to my heart. It launched recently; it’s been really well received. We had such a great time developing it so even though it was fraught with challenges, we’re so happy with the end result… There’s a gap in the market for it, and as a father of two young girls I love the message of Team Gem; it’s aspirational: they have skills and attitude… GO Team Gem!

Some first-time inventors think that toys and games are easy to develop. Are they? Is one easier than the other?
I love this question… If it’s easy, you aren’t doing it right! As an example, take two great games that I absolutely love – Dropmix and Dobble… On the face of it, they’re both ‘card games’ but they’re completely different in terms of technicality… I certainly don’t think one is easier than the other to develop.

Like any product, toys and games need a great story, a reason to exist, and often involve tricky technological development too. All this needs to be realised in an extremely creative way, on time and on cost. While there’s nothing easy about that, the experience is ultimately great fun and hugely rewarding, especially when the goal is to make kids and families happy.

You’ve twice mentioned the very-real limitations of time and cost… How much of your creativity is about inspiration, and how much is really perspiration?
I think designers are constantly looking for inspiration. We’re looking at trends and technology; how our kids play, how we used to play as kids and the world around us… We’re looking to find something that sparks the next big idea. There’s so much perspiration in getting an idea from sketch to shelf and so many talented people who sweat to get it there.

David Emblin, Moose Toys
We’re curious, then: what slows you down? What’s your creative Kryptonite?

Feeling too comfortable. My friend and colleague James Austin-Smith runs fantastic brainstorms, often inviting amazing facilitators to help workshop future toys. It actually hurts by the end of the session having to bend and twist your brain to think differently. Being forced out of your comfort zone is where new and interesting ideas often lie. It makes you realise the importance of thinking differently to help create great toys, memorable play experiences and enormous value to the business.

You mention James: earlier this year, he took part in a Toy Room 101 panel, consigning “Inept Reviews” to oblivion! What industry pet hate would you banish?
I’d banish the hate! I don’t enjoy the upsurge in industry backbiting that goes on via social media, and wish we could have a bit more respect and professional courtesy for each other. Certain personalities relish an opportunity to air grievances across Linkedin and Twitter. It’s a brash, Trump-esque braggadocio that makes me cringe; there’s so much great work being done and so much to celebrate – can’t we all just get along?

Oh, that’s good! We should get you on a panel; that’s a great subject. Alright… If you could give all new inventors one piece of advice, what would it be?
Dr. Suess said: “Children want the same things we want. To laugh, to be challenged, to be entertained and delighted.” Mine your own childhood experiences for the things that brought you joy. Toys might have changed along the way but the basics of play are much the same. If I have one piece of advice for new parents, I’d say, “Buy all his books: bedtime reading will never be a chore”.

It will never be a chore; it will never be a bore! And if you were able to talk to the Falmouth University student-version of yourself, what advice would you give him?
Keep in touch with the people you meet. I had such a blast at Falmouth Uni; it’s a fantastic place. I learnt so much from brilliant tutors, plus I met lifelong friends, and my wife… Life gets in the way, though, and you can all too easily lose touch with great friends and potential collaborators. Try not to!

Also, be the last one at the house party and the first one at lectures – ‘work hard – play hard’ is what university’s all about.

Noted! Finally, what question do you wish we’d asked? How would you have answered?
Have you ever been onstage at the Royal Albert Hall? Have you ever been peed on by a tiger? Has Archbishop Desmond Tutu ever bought you an ice cream? There are so many, maybe we can save them for the next Mojoevent…

Totally up for that… We might mix it up a little: ask if you’ve ever been peed on by Archbishop Desmond Tutu… Feels like a story! Thanks David.

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