After 16 years as Fiesta Crafts’ product development manager, last year saw Valeria Miglioli leave the firm to launch her own toy design consultancy, Pumpkin Projects.
With an ethos to design toys that ‘enrich, stimulate, educate and solve problems’, we caught up with Miglioli to learn more about her history in the design space, and what companies can expect from Pumpkin Projects.
Hi Valeria. So first off, how did you first get involved in the world of toy design?
During my degree course in Industrial Design in Italy, whilst everyone around me was designing sofas and lamps I realised I needed something more exciting, more creatively challenging and most of all, more meaningful.
I started by designing products for children – furniture, accessories, and then my first toy; from then on I decided that this was the path I wanted to take.
For my thesis, I undertook extensive research into play. I researched children’s way of playing in local pre-schools, read an enormous amount of books and discussed possibilities with education professionals. All of this lead to the design and development of a full size, modular and multisensory, outdoor playground with an Italian manufacturer.
Following my degree, I moved to London where I had the amazing opportunity to work on a few projects with NPD Partnership, learning from the inspirational Mr Ford. As well as designing toys, I also had the opportunity of pitching to Hasbro. I feel so fortunate to have had such a fantastic opportunity and it cemented my passion for designing for children.
So how does Fiesta Crafts enter the picture?
Soon after I was contacted by Fiesta; they had not worked with a in-house designer before and after a short time freelancing, I was offered a permanent position as the sole designer for the company; within a couple of years we won Hamleys Toy of the Year!
Year-on-year we developed the range, expanding into different markets, winning many awards. Our exports grew significantly, taking the company from a mainly UK centred market to an international level, whilst always following an ethos of designing for creativity and imagination.
And you were with the firm for 16 years; how did your time with Fiesta shape how you approach design?
When working at Fiesta I was in charge of all aspects of product development, not only the design of the products. I managed the research, analysis and idea generation, sourced, liaised and negotiated with manufacturers, also dealing with all the safety aspects. The knowledge I gained about the whole process necessary to bring an idea to production has been invaluable to shape the way I design products.
Learning how things are made and the possibilities and limitations of mass production have certainly changed the way I approach the design of products. Over the years, I have realised that coming up with ideas is probably the easiest part of my job, but being able to translate these into viable products takes a lot of work and skills.
Another aspect that developed my way of seeing design is that I had to learn about context. No matter how brilliant an idea is, it needs to fit with the market/customers/brand. As a creative person, it was initially hard to learn to let go – it was my baby after all – but understanding that the vision you have for a product is not always feasible for various reasons changed the way I looked at the whole design process.
This knowledge and understanding has given me the confidence now to set up Pumpkin Projects, I know the whole process inside out, I now feel I have a lot to offer different companies.
Yes, so moving onto Pumpkin Projects; how would you sum it up and what sorts of projects are you looking to collaborate with toy companies on?
Pumpkin Projects is my very own toy design consultancy, born from the desire to utilise my expertise and skills for meaningful and considered designs.
Although I spent many happy years with Fiesta, it was time for me to move on and start working on more diverse projects and with a variety of companies that share my ethos: to design toys to enrich, stimulate, educate and solve problems.
I believe a switch to the way we buy and use products is happening and toy design should aim for a more responsible approach. I want to explore the use of a different perspective to design, one that cares about how things are made and why, that values individuals and resources, and is dedicated to the longevity of the toy market for the next generation of children.
There are so many products brought to market that are not well thought through, unnecessary, of poor quality and limited use; I believe this is not sustainable and I am very much looking forward to working with companies that want to make a meaningful change for the better.
Absolutely; and you mention a positive shift happening in the industry, but do you think the toy space is in a good place creatively today?
This is a difficult question and very subjective as we all have our concept of what is ‘creativity’.
Over the many years I have been in this industry, I have seen big improvements and an increase in the quality of what I consider creative ideas but mainly from small/medium size companies, start-ups and inventors. There has also been a lot of innovation in terms of technology in recent years.
As in many other sectors, much of the design is driven by short-term trends, aided in sales by large advertising budgets and because of the size and familiarity of the brand. This has obviously been the driving force of the toy industry for decades, but I feel there is a real opportunity for change.
Whereas once cheap plastic toys were ubiquitous, I believe there is a desire for more sustainable toys that aid creativity for a longer period of time; something to counterbalance screen time and encourage imagination and play in different ways.
Great, and finally, how do you fuel your creativity?
I draw my inspiration from countless sources. I make sure I am feeding myself constantly from art and design, books, museums, research and articles, Instagram, interior design, fashion, film and society in general.
Creativity for me is not necessarily always starting from scratch, it is also about searching for potential. I really enjoy visiting trade fairs in China where I am always on the lookout and I pride myself on being able to spot the potential in an idea, material or technology that many people may disregard. I take these beginnings and develop it or change the context to create new, exciting and long lasting products.
I am very fortunate to be surrounded by so many creative people established in various fields such as: art, graphic design, illustration, product design, architecture, advertising, photography, music, and film. This gives me a great and varied appreciation of different creative worlds and the many conversations we have are always a boost and offer new insights and directions.
Without a doubt a huge source of inspiration comes from playing with my children and seeing how they play with their friends. It still amazes me how children can use their imagination and creativity in ways adults can’t even begin to comprehend. I always learn so much from the way they see the world while playing, experimenting, exploring and creating their own worlds. This is what drives me, what keeps me passionate, seeing that the products I design encourage all of this even more.
Superb. And if someone wanted to reach out, how can they get in contact with you?
I can be contacted directly via email email@example.com but if anyone is interested in knowing more details about my services and expertise, my website is where you can find more information at www.pumpkinprojects.com.
Thank you Valeria and good luck with Pumpkin Projects!
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