Design your future in toys

Rich Heayes
We all appreciate a helping hand when we are starting something new. Even if we have all the skills needed, individuals and companies alike need advice and support to realise their full potential. So if you are a creative mind wanting to break into toys and games where do you start?

My ‘break’ into toys came whilst studying industrial design. I designed a piece of sports equipment that, as it turned out, was really a big toy, I just hadn’t realised it at the time. It won a design for plastics competition which led to a short placement with BASF in Germany. However, toy design was not really on my radar and my first design job had me designing electronic gadgets, semi-industrial appliances, lighting and plastic homeware – you know, the normal industrial design fare.

I then won a place on a government sponsored scheme to get young designers into industry. It was a good scheme for the designers, who got jobs at leading UK businesses, and it was good for the businesses as the government paid 50 per cent of your salary. In fact the company I worked for had no UK design team so I promoted myself to head of department!

After a couple of years, I changed jobs to work for a premium giftware manufacture and it was here my love of designing for play really started. That then bounced me into Hasbro where I honed my craft over 17 years across their toy and game portfolio and to today, where I run my own toy inventing business.

Competitions are still a great way to get noticed. There are many competitions run by all types of companies looking at play. ‘Play’ in general has become a lot more sexy because younger generations are settling down later and so having much more free time on their hands. We are also playing much more than we ever did, due to apps, smartphones and consoles. Plus, there’s the rise of university students getting involved in play (they’re responsible for a significant part of the regained popularity in board games).

Hasbro and Mattel now have channels for new inventors to share ideas with them. Look out for opportunities with electronics companies like Philips and Samsung, food companies like McDonald’s, plus lifestyle and healthcare firms. And keep a lookout on Mojo Nation for up and coming opportunities.

However the reality is although the U.K toy business is still strong, most of the development is taking place outside of the UK. 95% of my work is for companies outside the UK so the hard reality is you often need to travel these days to get a break. There are design opportunities in licensing as this tends to be more regional and Hasbro, Mattel and Lego have UK based staff in this area.

If you’re serious about toys the best single experience that won’t cost much I believe is to head over Nuremberg Toy Fair in early February. It’s a great opportunity to network and get a perspective on the breadth of this industry. You can easily spend three days walking the halls and listening to keynote presentations.

In my experience, trade bodies can be a good source of information if you ask the right questions, but don’t look to them for much more than that. The world is at the end of a keyboard so sign yourself on professional networks, find local groups to join and subscribe to leading industry publications. Check out toy company websites and build a portfolio of ‘ideas’ not just flash visuals. If you can, hook up with local schools to ask kids what they like to play with and share your ideas with them.

From there try to find your design style. Maybe you’re into character design, mechanisms and gadgets, gaming or pre-school learning.

Whatever it is, you’ll face stiff competition, so you need to work hard and stand out, but as a creative it’s up to you to design your future in play.

Richard Heayes is founder of Heayes Design. He can be contacted on Richard@heayesdesign.com.

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