Dean Carley – Hasbro’s Head of Global Design – on innovation, inspiration and inventors
Dean, it’s great to connect. To kick things off, was a career in toy design always on the cards?
I didn’t know that toy design was thing when I was growing up. If I did, I would’ve thought what I now know – that toy design is one of the coolest jobs in the world! I always loved sketching and building things; I was the kid who took everything apart to try to figure out how things worked.
This eventually led to me getting my undergrad in Industrial Design and in my senior year I had about 12 projects I had to put together to complete my senior show. Many of those projects centred around children and the idea of play. I did a children’s interior for a nursery school, a children’s furniture project and – during that process – started to think about toys as something I could really focus on. It matched my personality in that, in my mind and life, I am just a big kid.
Then Hasbro came on campus to do interviews and about two weeks later I ended up getting an interview. I landed the job about a month before I graduated. It was all a big whirlwind and I just picked up and moved to Rhode Island. I’ve been here ever since.
Yes, you’ve spent close to 40 years with Hasbro now. What is it about the company that has kept you there for such an impressive amount of time?
From the day I started I’ve always felt the same thing… That Hasbro has such an awesome array of brands and play experiences. I love the challenge and pace of innovation. I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to innovate and create toys on most of Hasbro’s brand portfolio and have launched – and reimagined – so many of the world’s most popular toy brands.
I’ve also had the opportunity to lead cross-functionally, including design, engineering, branding, packaging and marketing… I’ve been able to see innovation and creativity from more than just the design perspective. The thing that has kept me at Hasbro for all this time, however, are the incredible people and talent that I am surrounded by each day.
2023 saw you take on a new role as Head of Global Design. What does an expansive role like this entail?
First, it’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. As I said before, I’ve had the opportunity to lead in all four of Hasbro’s toy categories at different times throughout my career… And now I have the honour of overseeing all of them at one time. It’s incredibly exciting, but also a responsibility that I don’t take lightly.
I couldn’t do this without excellent innovative leaders throughout the design organisation. It’s my job to inspire, facilitate and elevate the role of design within Hasbro. There are so many chances to deepen our collective knowledge, create and validate incredible market opportunities and do things differently than we have done before. Inventors are a big part of that. I look forward to deepening our relationship with the inventing community across all our brands and our key partner brands as well.
You mention inventors – why are they important to Hasbro?
I actually spent a few years inventing myself, so have a deep appreciation for the hard work that goes into being an inventor. There’s just so much unbridled creativity within the inventor community. The way inventors tend to think differently consistently inspires us. If I can foster an even more open and ongoing dialogue with our inventor community – and share what we’re seeing in terms of consumer insights and interests – we can build a stronger flow of applicable innovation and increase our hit rate together.
Great answer. Now, let’s talk innovation! What has been conducive to a crafting a culture of innovation at Hasbro?
Frankly, it’s been challenging ever since 2020 coming through Covid and having to do so many things so differently. I couldn’t be more proud of the creative community and how we persisted and found new ways to do things when we couldn’t be together face-to-face. While this was difficult, it created new processes and tools that we are fully embracing – and it’s changing the way we innovate. Now we’re back, we are starting see the fun, amazing creativity and innovation that comes from incredible people working together, focused on our consumers and how we can create the best experiences for them.
We need to find new ways for our community to get together, be inspired and share our experience, knowledge and creativity. We will be working closely with our Insights team and drawing more people and functions into the dialogue – both inside our Hasbro community and outside… This includes experimenting more to go beyond the expected and create incredible new and innovative market opportunities.
On that, what’s the key to innovating around your brands without losing touch with what made them successful in the first place?
We’re a branded toy company so, of course, we’re always looking for ways to innovate within our brands. That can be challenging because we’re so familiar with our brands and it can be hard to see new ways that the brands could flourish. We need to change that and be much more open and flexible with the way we look at new play patterns, or other ways we can express our brands. This is another invaluable role that inventors play. Their fresh perspective and the unbiased lens through which they look at our brands often results in ideas we didn’t even know we were looking for.
Are there any recent launches that encapsulate how Hasbro sees innovation today?
I recently finished up developing our latest Furby and the new Furby Furblets. This was an incredible and unique opportunity from an innovation perspective. Originally an inventor item, Furby has such a rich history and has had so many forms and executions over the years. However, we needed to reinvent Furby in a way that would really resonate with today’s consumer.
We put a lot of effort into understanding not only what consumers wanted to see in a new Furby, but also – just as importantly – what they loved about the original. We ended up with an amazing blend of attributes that stays true to the core of Furby, while simultaneously giving it a modern twist. The consumer response has been fantastic!
Dean, this has been great. One last question! What helps fuel your creativity?
It really comes down to curiosity. I’ve always felt that the knowledge and awareness I have in the moment is never enough to keep up with the rapid pace of culture, technology and all the other factors that affect how we innovate.
My team will roll their eyes when I say I’m a voracious reader, but reading challenges my thinking and helps me more readily see unique combinations, and the seeds of innovation, to build on. I love to engage in robust conversations and push the bar higher on innovation. When a team starts to really break through the expected and innovate in new and fresh ways, I find that truly inspiring.
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