The Toy Association’s Marian Bossard on engaging with the inventor community at US Toy Fair with Creative Factor

Marian Bossard, The Toy Association
At US Toy Fair this year, the Creative Factor will once again be hosting a range of educational panel sessions, inspiring solo talks and vital pitching opportunities for both experienced and budding inventors alike.

Topics this year span everything from the art of play to toy photography, designing for a diverse audience to sustainability; with speakers boasting the likes of Mattel’s Kim Culmone, Bananagrams CEO Rena Nathanson and Fuse London’s Pete Cartlidge.

We caught up with The Toy Association’s Executive Vice President of Global Market Events, Marian Bossard, to find out more about how the organisation engages with the inventor community via its Creative Factor arm.

Hi Marian. So, why is the inventor community such an important audience for The Toy Association, and how do you currently engage with this crowd?
The inventor community is an important audience for the Toy Association because our members, whether they make or sell toys, are keenly aware of consumer appetite for new play and entertainment experiences.

In our role of providing service and opportunity to the industry, it is essential that we elevate awareness of the incredible talent represented by veteran designers and inventors as well as the “I’ve got this crazy idea” contingent.

You’ll be pleased to hear that this year’s Mojo 100 list is dominated by folks based in the States – narrowly beating the UK! Why do you think the US is such a hotbed of creative toy design talent?
Well that’s pretty impressive! I’d be bluffing some deep insight with any suggestion of understanding why this year that is the case. I have a lot of random thoughts on the subject that would make for a fun conversation over a beer!  However, let me give this a try right now.

The proverb “necessity is the mother of Invention” still works (I actually like another version, “the true creator is necessity, who is the mother of our invention”, because it has the word creator in it). Humans can nicely track advancements that kept us healthier and made day-to-day living significantly easier. Many of the basic needs have been met, but the human appetite for play is real and it will never be satisfied.

So, back to your question, why the US and why now? We, along with so many countries, are living in very stressful times. We have so much, yet we feel anxious about the future. Maybe, just maybe, the need for play and relaxation is greater than most of us living today have ever known and wouldn’t it be wonderful if the creatives, inventors and innovators are the ones to save the day?

Absolutely! And that means we need more and more of them – fortunately, the US boasts some of the world’s top toy design courses in the world. How important is it that we encourage new designers to choose our industry as the one to forge a career in?
It’s very important!  With a global focus we would be well-served to create opportunities for new designers to find their way to the play trade. Technology has propelled collaboration, and creative thinking is open sourced. We need the inevitable discipline of toy design but we need to go further upstream to ensure that children are provided play-filled lives in environments that inspire and encourage creative expression.

Speaking of creative expression, Toy Fair’s Creative Factor arm has gone from strength to strength over the years. What can visitors expect from this year’s programme?
When Brett Klisch called the Toy Association and told us that our annual event was missing the “creative factor”, we sat up, listened and took action. At that time we were strictly an association whose focus was on the manufacturing segment of the industry and so introducing magnet learning and networking opportunities for inventors already attending Toy Fair was exciting and fun; but pretty much stayed under the radar for more than a decade.

Now in its 18th year, Creative Factor – as the initiative came to be known – has evolved alongside consumer interests which fuel the way the toy industry does business. What this means is that this year, more than ever before, we will explore in greater depth the product journey from concept to consumer. There is still great need for the basics; we’ll never abandon 101 level conversations about sourcing and production options, but what are the tech touch-points that impact the way ideas come to life? What’s changed about the way toys and youth product is marketed, promoted and sold?  How must retail adapt to deliver to contemporary consumer interests and experiential expectation and who is stepping out in front to get it right?

Readers will want to check in regularly to our website to see who, what and when. The why will be obvious.

Is the Creative Factor arm of Toy Fair something you’d be looking to bolster in the future?
Like it or not, the industry is on call 365 days a year.  Rational or otherwise, consumer appetite for new and now requires a different level of engagement and more responsive delivery of product.

We definitely see an even more steadily active role for the Toy Association to facilitate the relationship between the creative community and the rest of the industry.  We want to create more opportunities for these engagements well beyond the dates of our go-to-market events.

From a design and creativity standpoint, do you think the industry is in a good place currently?
Of course! Have you seen the impressive Mojo 100 nominees from the U.S.?!  Seriously, this is the most wonderful industry and just when you think you’ve seen it all something completely new comes along to wow you.  But, there can never be enough new and there can never be enough innovation. Change is constant and picking up speed, but I believe this will all feel perfectly normal and that today’s children native to the speed of change will likewise innately create at a similar pace.

Finally, how do the folks at The Toy Association fuel your creativity?
Well, you know the need for a play-filled environment that inspires and encourages creative expression mentioned above?  The same goes for the workplace.  Here, Creative Factor’s “crazy ideas welcome” tagline is given oxygen every day!

Thanks Marian. Always a pleasure!

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