TOMY’s James Wing on lockdown, sustainable design and making packaging part of the play with Farm in a Box

James Wing, TOMY
Last month saw TOMY launch Britains Farm in a Box, a new play-set that uses its packaging as a central part of the play.

As well as including a John Deere tractor model, trailer, loader, fencing and animals, Farm in a Box also features colour-in scenes and its box can fold out to double up as a trailer attachment, milking parlour and animal pens.

We caught up with James Wing, European Project Manager at TOMY, to find out more about the design process behind the set, and how it aligns with the company’s aim to create toys sustainably.

James Wing, TOMY
Hi James! Thanks for making time for this; to kick off, how did you get started in the world of toy design?

A long time ago now! My very first job after graduating was as a graphic designer for NewDesign Magazine. I used to lay out press releases and job ads before they went to print. One day I saw an advert for a Design Assistant role at Vivid Imaginations and applied for it – two weeks before it was actually published. A bit cheeky I know, but I was offered the role and I’ve never looked back.

Ha! Nicely done! And you were there quite a while right?
Yes, I worked there for 14 years in total, before moving to join TOMY where I’ve been for the last three years. I love my job and wouldn’t change a thing!

And how would you sum up your approach to design?
It has got to be about the play and the fun. I want to help develop something that kids want and enjoy playing with.

We can all remember those toys that made us happy as a child; the ones that we wanted to play with as soon as we were home from school. That always needs to be the main focus when in the initial design process.

The cost, manufacture and the schedule are also critically important – especially in my role – but you’ve got to have a great toy to start with.

Does that align to the wider creative culture at TOMY?
Absolutely; TOMY is a great place to be able to share ideas and work collaboratively. The brand has a fantastic history where we can gather insights from, and it isn’t afraid to launch innovative products, disrupting the category.

Speaking of which, let’s talk about Farm in a Box, which has been said to be quite a special launch for the Britains brand; can you tell us why?
Firstly it’s obviously a great product with a brilliant team behind it!

It’s Britains first step towards a slightly younger audience, offering a gateway for new consumers. Farm in a Box features all of the classic, well-loved farm play elements, from a fantastic John Deere tractor as the centre piece alongside a trailer, cows and their calves, fences and hay bales. There’s loads to play with straight away.

On top of that the box opens out into a farm yard, with farm house, stables and milking parlour. Every bit of the packaging can be used as part of the playing experience, ensuring nothing is wasted!

James Wing, TOMY
As the contents are removed from the box, little ones can see how their imaginative farming world might grow as fitments turn into cattle pens and the trailer can be customised to transport animals. There’s lots to explore; even the packaging sleeve has fields printed on the inside to expand the play experience.

Once little ones have finished playing, all of the components fit nice and neatly back inside itself so nothing will get lost – which I’m sure mum and dad will appreciate too!

You mention that nothing is wasted; was that the starting point for the design of the set? Let’s create a product where the box is a key part of the play-set?
We already had some fantastic content that worked really well in our US market which hadn’t come over to the UK yet.

The key premise when designing this product was the age-old idea that kids love playing with the box, almost as much as what is inside. I’d also been working on product and pack development that could ship in its own container (SIOC) and the two things just came together at the right time.

We then wanted to really focus on how to reduce pack volume and materials – no blisters, no tape, no ties – without compromising on retail value. We wanted to ensure that everything included as part of Farm in a Box had a reason for being there and added to the overall play.

This approach is obviously very eco-friendly and naturally involves less waste, as almost everything is used. How much does the sustainability issue come into play when designing for the brand?
Creating sustainable products is something that is really important to us and it is becoming increasingly central to the overall design process. There’s always a balance, ensuring we’ve got a great product first and foremost, but also considering what is really needed from what can be optimised or ultimately eliminated.

We are thinking more and more about reducing, reusing and recycling, especially when it comes to packaging, and Farm In A Box really reflects this.

Before we let you go; how do you fuel your creativity?
I pretty much run on sugar – sweets, biscuits and a constant supply of tea!

I use ‘Feedly’ to link websites and news feeds and I’m constantly scrolling and browsing, with half an eye out for something that might spark an idea.

Play is also a big factor. I’m a big kid at heart and also have a very enthusiastic 3-year-old son at home; the perfect toy tester on hand all the time. I’ve learnt so much from playing with and watching him.

And how was lockdown? Did that impact your creativity at all?
Lockdown was an intense, crazy juggle to begin with, as I’m sure it was for many. Although taking Zoom calls with kids screaming and playing with toys in the background isn’t quite that out of place in the toy industry as it might be in other sectors! There were plenty of late nights and early starts. But the TOMY team were all in a similar boat so we all worked hard to pull together, be understanding if things went a bit awry and tried to make time for people to breathe.

There are some big positives too – I pick the phone up a lot more, I’ve never had more fresh air, done as much exercise or spent so much time with my family in the week. It also led to getting more ideas jotted down and reading and looking at things that I might not have given time to in the office.

I do miss the creative back and forth of the brainstorming and problem solving in the office ‘think tank’. It’s not the same over Zoom and email. There’s no substitute for bouncing ideas off each other and working together to scribble a brilliant toy or pack concept, and hack it together with foam board and tape.

I’m hoping to find a balance between the new and old ways of working. And however it shakes out, its got to be fun!

Absolutely; well a huge thanks for this James! Good luck with Farm in a Box! Speak soon.

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