Imaginations factory: Jonny Henton on life inside Vivid's R&D wing

Billy Langsworthy

By Billy Langsworthy

September 16th 2016 at 11:19AM
UPDATED September 16th 2016 at 12:00PM
Imaginations factory: Jonny Henton on life inside Vivid's R&D wing

Vivid is responsible for a wealth of popular toy brands, but where do ideas for the likes of Fungus Amungus come from. Jonny Henton, Vivid’s development and QA director, tells Billy Langsworthy what a typical day is like for the firm’s R&D arm, how to spot a good idea and why the industry is in great place when it comes to creativity.

What is a typical day like for Vivid’s research and development team?

A typical day in Vivid’s R&D department is normally very busy but a lot of fun. Essentially, Vivid is a thirsty machine, and R&D is tasked with filling its hopper with new product to keep it moving forward. Hence our R&D function covers a broad range of responsibilities from identifying trends to debugging pre-production samples and managing everything that goes between.  

With blue-sky creatives sitting alongside design engineers, we have a superb mix of highly passionate and capable designers who are all able to conjure toy ideas out of almost anything. Nothing is off limits and no ideas are dismissed outright.  

We also work closely with licensors and the inventor community to find new properties or product lines. Once we have something we want to take forward, a brand team is formed and made responsible for managing the idea through the development process.

One of your biggest launches of this year was Fungus Amungus. Can you talk us through the origins of that property?

Fungus Amungus was a great concept to work on. Originally a concept proposed by an inventor (US group Lund 2.0), we liked it immediately as it ticked so many of the elements you want in a boys collectable line.

We found the sticky TPR material provided a creepy movement that really worked well to bring the creatures to life and meant they were super clingy when thrown at walls or ceilings. These aspects defined the feature of the collectable (an all important element of even the lowest priced products these days) and defined the brand attributes as we evolved the offering.

As with all new lines, we brainstormed around the concept a lot to ensure we had stress-tested the full potential of the property, and even when we thought we’d settled on what it was we occasionally took a step back and questioned aspects in order to ensure we maintained the core DNA of the brand.  

This is a key incubation phase when establishing a new property and takes a little time of pushing at the boundaries of the idea to ensure we have something strong that works and appeals to the consumer.  

How do you balance launching your own IP with taking on extrernal ideas?

Brands come in to the business via a number of different routes. We develop in-house, licensed or inventor concepts as a matter of course, and also distribute items for partners around the globe.

All contribute to our portfolio of products, which we constantly appraise to ensure we maintain a fresh mix of innovative products, with some staple items to give us the best potential for growth.  

In-house brands are important to us as they not only add to Vivid owned IPs, but also provide significant opportunity to grow our international business, which is going from strength to strength. It’s also always been equally important for us to work with all our longstanding distribution partners from around the world.

Is the industry in a good place creatively at the moment?

I feel we’re in something of a golden age as there are so many different areas to explore and new and refreshing ways to bring them together or to new audiences.  

The boundaries between different brands, aisles or licensed characters are falling too. It’s now cool to reposition classic products in an entirely new way or to a different audience. Licensed characters are moving into each other’s worlds and similarly established brands are reinventing themselves to stretch their reach.  

There are a lot of opportunities to join the dots and create something new, but at the same time the consumer is more demanding so we have to dig deeper and deliver a more complete brand offering to stand out. It’s a really interesting and inspiring time.

What have been your highlights of 2016 so far?

Vivid is seeing success across a broad number of categories, both from in house developments and from ranges we distribute for third party partners.

Fungus Amungus has launched in over 40 countries so far and doing well as we launch Series Two for A/W, Nocto is just hitting the market, Phlat Ball the outdoor phenomena is achieving #11 in the top selling items in value across the UK toy industry YTD (NPD July 16) and Charm-U is already showing how appealing it is to girls.

It’s also been a very strong year for Crayola, especially in core stationery and back to school.