Is toys the most creative sector around?

Heayes Design’s Richard Heayes looks at how the toy industry compares to sectors like fashion, music and film when it comes to the issue of encouraging creativity
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Is the toy industry the most creative industry there is?

There was a time when my answer would have categorically been ‘Yes’, but now I‘m not sure.

The reason I stopped designing kitchen goods, cameras and lights was this: the world of toys offered so much more creative potential. Okay, as an industrial designer you have the opportunity to learn about semantics, manufacturing processes etc., which is all well and good. But, with toys and games, you are thrown into a world where you need it all, plus that crucial x-factor: fun.

As an industry, we’re certainly not short of creative ideas.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with some fantastic designers, and creators over the years, developing some of the world’s most recognisable toy and game brands.Therefore, I know that this industry is a magnet for creative minds.

The UK still boasts some of the best design education in the world, and our design output as a nation is one of our strategic strengths. (Albeit one that we don’t make the most of.)

So, if the toy industry isn’t the most creative, then which one is?

The fashion business has become much more influential, and the toy business certainly does well from licensing its brands to fashion. Likewise, the growing power of quality console games makes this industry a very strong contender.

How about the world of tech? Toys have always embraced technology and found ways to take its cast offs and breathe new life into them. The rise of the gadget has enabled sophisticated, playful experiences at many times the cost of kids’ toys.

The film industry would like to see itself as a leader in creativity. Our industries are very much aligned and, in the case of Star Wars, a truly symbiotic relationship has evolved over the years.

We also mustn’t forget music, which can stay with us for our whole lives, just like toys and games. I know I speak for many inventors and designers who, like me, think the toy business today is far too conservative and reliant on licences and regurgitated play patterns.

But, having been a game keeper (and now a poacher, as it were), I can see both sides.

There is creativity, there is innovation, but the risk is higher than it used to be. If retail isn’t prepared to try new ideas, then the trickle down effect is more ‘me too’ product.

Consumers are fickle, and when those big, crazy ideas do arrive, the tendency is to err on the side of caution. I believe this applies to all of the above creative contenders.

Creativity has been cited as the ‘most important business skill needed to succeed’ by some of the world’s top CEOs. It’s easy to see that the industry that’s recognised as the world’s leading creative network will be the one that can find ways of minimising risk, while having the confidence to try something new.

We deserve to be able to say that we work in the most creative industry in the world. It’s up to everyone to get creative and make this a reality.


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