Glance over your shoulder a second to look at the past first half a year and you’ll see a trail emblazoned with some of the best innovation the toy space has witnessed for some time.
Despite the much-reported hardships 2019 has also brought with it for the likes of the high street (which suffered another stagnant month of sales in June) and retail, product innovation within the industry offers up a beacon upon which hope can be hung.
We’ve already covered extensively what pioneering new tech is bringing to the toy space within the pages of ToyNews, whether you were dazzled by Wow! Stuff’s Invisibility Cloak (Yes, we’ll keep banging on about it) demonstration at New York Toy Fair, or dumbfounded by ThinkWay Toys’ interactive Toy Story 4 toy line-up, in which Buzz Lightyear and Woody converse in ways previously only imaginable.
But that’s not the only sector of the toy industry to have been touched by innovation. Look at what Worlds Apart (now Moose Toys UK) did in the plush space with Scruff-a-Luvs, or the advancements being made in tabletop gaming. Innovation has well and truly infiltrated the toy industry and captured the zeitgeist wonderfully.
“It’s fair to say that the toy industry’s invention and design scene is thriving,” says Billy Langsworthy, co-founder of the toy and game inventor body, Mojo Nation.
“Innovation is touching every category, and I think more companies than ever before are opening their doors to the global inventor community and are increasingly happy to shout about the achievements of their design teams and invention partners.”
Heading up an outfit dedicated to championing the efforts of those pioneers in toy design, Langsworthy spends most of his waking life immersed in the inventor community, a role that, despite common misconceptions around just what a toy inventor may indeed look like, has not left him an adle-brained crackpot yelling out equations in his garage. (He lives in a flat with limited on-street parking).
Suffice to say, Langsworthy is quickly becoming the face of a sector of this industry that thrives on dynamism; and one that is quickly broadening horizons as well as diversities.
“There is definitely no typical toy inventor,” continues Langsworthy. “All ages, genders, skill-sets, industry experience-levels, and design disciplines get involved in the world of toy and game design – that’s what makes it the best part of the industry in my humble opinion.
“Even the tabletop space is embracing unique new themes because of it, with hits like Fog of Love (a rom-com in a board game) and Wingspan (players step into the shoes of keen ornithologists), and it’s the same in collectables, pre-school, the connected play area, licensed product, and the great thing is it’s agencies and freelance designers pushing this just as much as the incredible in-house R&D teams.”
The reason Langsworthy has taken time out of an always busy schedule to talk to ToyNews is because this September 2nd will see Mojo Nation play host to its second Play Creators Festival, a two-day event that features a day of inspirational and educational talks, followed by a day in which inventors can pitch their concepts to some of the world’s biggest toy companies.
And, as if to echo sentiments around the broadening inventor space, this year’s line- up holds a lot of promise.
“We have a line-up that includes creatives from toy firms like Hasbro, Spin Master, and Moose Toys UK, as well as figures from design agencies like IDEO’s Brendan Boyle, Fuse’s Pete Cartlidge, and Making Things’ Fi Murray,” explains Langsworthy.
“On the topics front, we have lots of sessions on different aspects of creativity and innovation, as well as a Room 101 panel where designers can air their pet peeves and see them banished to the room, as well as a panel discussion on the important topic of eco-friendly toy design.”
In this regard, it’s clear that modern and current sensibilities towards topics such as sustainability hasn’t escaped the toy design community. In fact, many have pin-pointed this very area as those at the vanguard of change in the eco-friendly stakes. It is in the innovation stage, after all, that waste and plastics can be designed out of a product – and it’s a topic that has become of greater importance to the design community.
“Consumers are becoming far more sensitive to it, so the toy firms are, and of course, the design community are passionate about the issue,” continues Langsworthy. “Green materials can often be pricier than the more traditional, less eco-friendly materials, but once one of the major players cracks it, you’d hope the rest will follow. We know most designers will try to avoid creating unnecessary or disposal product, whether it’s packaging or in the actual toy design. They strive to create toys and games that will be played with for years and years, and that in itself is a form of eco-friendly design.”
Positioned in the midst of the toy development, Langsworthy is well-placed to observe emerging trends; the better integration of technology within the toy products of today, being a prime example, and it’s something he believes is ‘becoming increasingly more creative.’
“Look at the work being done by the likes of Wow! Stuff, Pigzbe, Tech Will Save Us, Primo Toys, Kano, Storyball, LittleBits, Novalia, and Curiscope, then the likes of Hasbro, Mattel and LEGO who are equally pushing the boundaries in this space,” he suggests.
“We see far less gimmicky implementations of tech nowadays. Like anything, it remains a balancing act, and I don’t see traditional toys or games falling by the wayside to make way for tech toys, but it’s an incredibly creative part of the industry, and one that we should continue to champion – especially when so many tech-focused firms would rather position themselves in the tech space than toys.
“There are key differences of course, like price points for one, but I think the toy and games industry and design scene is stronger with these tech players in it.”
For the first time in its history, Mojo Nation’s Play Creators Festival will be hosting its own Play Creators Awards in an attempt to celebrate the achievements of the design community.
“It’s our move to be vocal about a community whose great work doesn’t get shouted about enough,” says Langsworthy. “They can be quite a humble bunch, so we are happy to do that for them.
“The Awards will take place on the opening night the festival on September 2nd and is our celebration of figures in the design space. It’s an informal networking event, where we give out ten awards across categories like Toy Designer of the Year and Game Designer of the Year.”
Given just what a year it has been for innovation in the toy space, it’s the unenviable task that Langsworthy lands of whittling the greatest developments of the year down to just ten. It’s just as well this is a young business owner with an unbridled passion for the creativity of the industry.
Mojo Nation’s Play Creators Festival kicks off today, September 2nd at Chelsea FC home ground Stamford Bridge.