“The toy invention scene is alive and kicking,” says Alpha Group’s VP of global product design, Darren Lee Phillipson

Each month, ToyNews picks on one industry bigwig to put through the ringer with a series of prying questions. This month, it’s Alpha Group’s vice president of global product design, Darren Lee Phillipson as we dig a little deeper into the toy design scene.

How would you describe the current toy industry’s invention/design scene?

The toy invention scene is absolutely alive and kicking and just as strong today as it was 26 years ago, when I first joined the toy industry. Toy inventors can vary in terms of their size and set up. Some inventors are very well organised, large scale companies with upwards of 50 employees and some are individuals who pitch to companies by themselves.

Some toy inventors specialise in specific categories that companies find hard to develop internally.
For instance, toy companies are very dependent on inventors to come up with new game concepts. Games need a certain mindset to figure out the mechanics and rules to make sure the game plays well for the intended target consumer.

Some of the hottest toys that launch every year come from the toy invention community.

How much of this innovation is actually making it to shelf here in the UK?

Even though the UK is a much smaller toy market than other countries such as the US and Japan, it has always been a hot bed for toy inventor talent. Many of the biggest toy lines in the world have come from the UK inventors.

The barriers tend to come from toy companies that are too marketing driven. Some of the best performing toy companies in the world right are more design driven. This innovation is then backed by some very creative and smart marketing to help convey the product messaging and positioning to consumers.

What are the current trends on the invention scene?

Inventors are extremely tuned in to what is happening in the industry and are still at the forefront of trends that are important to kids. More and more inventors are turning to digital platforms such as YouTube and Kickstarter to try and predict emerging trends. The advent of “Unboxing” has really spawned a new paradigm in the toy space along with “Celebrity Influencers” who can help drive sales with just the use of their name or brand on the toy.

Toy companies are still trying to crack the digital (or phygital) play pattern, which is always a challenge as kids generally play with their mobile device separately to their physical toys.

What do you think the future holds for the toy design space – what is shaping that future, and how will you guys maintain your place ahead of the curve?

Toy design will continue to morph and evolve at a fast rate. The winners will be the ones
that can flex and adapt quickly to the ever changing landscape in retail, content placement and consumer trends.

At Alpha Group US, we approach every project with all of these constraints in mind. Events such as the Play Creators Festival are critical to help stay connected with the invention community…a true lifeline of creativity for toy companies.

About Robert Hutchins

Robert Hutchins is the editor of Licensing.biz and ToyNews. Hutchins has worked his way up from Staff Writer to the position of Editor across the two titles, having spent almost eight years with both ToyNews and Licensing.biz, and what now seems like a lifetime surrounded by toys. You can contact him by emailing robert.hutchins@biz-media.co.uk or calling him on 0203 143 8780 You can even follow him on Twitter @RobGHutchins if ranting is your thing...

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