Q&A: Grand designs

One thing the world?s most popular toys all have in common is that they all started life on a designer?s drawing board. Ahead of January?s Toy Fair, ToyNews speaks to three toy designers to find out what makes them tick, whether eco credentials are really important, and what?s next...
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Neil Gray is head of design at Worlds Apart, which has its own ‘Innovation Factory’, an usually high ratio of in-house designers and an internal research department where children and parents are invited to test toys.

ToyNews: How has toy design changed over the years and what’s in store next?

Neil Gray: "New materials and technology have been the big drivers of change; kid's play patterns often remain the same: girls will be girls, and boys will build things. Then break them. Moving forward, we're already seeing more multi-platform development (Moshi Monsters, Lego Design by Me) and I think we'll see more digital content for toys to build interactivity, longevity and range extension in a way that's cost effective."

How important is it to consider eco credentials and sustainability when designing toys these days? 

"It's imperative as it’s important to the consumer. But a lot of ‘sustainability’ principles also make solid business sense.

How do you go about designing fun into toys?

"It's all about putting yourself into the mind of the child. We always have to balance product features against commerciality and we always test at key development stages which brings the focus back to fun."

Which of your childhood toys do you still own?

"Several ice cream tubs full of 1980s Lego Space, which my son Billy and I still play with."

And finally, why is Worlds Apart at Toy Fair?

"Our customers are previewing ranges earlier and earlier, so some of our emphasis for Toy Fair is increasingly on talking to licensors and trade PR. It's always a great showcase for us and, as well as lots of new products, we'll also be launching our new brand at Toy Fair."

Sue Lipscombe (pictured) is a successful animation set designer, designing sets for the likes of Aardman. She is also the brains behind Toy Fair 2010 smash Armouron, which has just been launched by Bandai.

Why become a toy designer?

Sue Lipscombe: "Mostly because I love kids. They think really positively and should be involved in any toy design process early on."

What was the first toy you designed?

"Football boots for my cat when I was about five and adaptations of my brother’s Action man kit."

And the most recent?

Armouron, the lightweight suit of armour that launched at this year’s Toy Fair. It’s also my favourite because there is nothing else like it on the market. And Bandai will be launching new skus at Toy Fair 2011.

"I've got a great little American metal car that when it gets knocked its driver's door suddenly flips 180 degrees and it looks damaged, as if by magic. Boys have the best toys - they tend to be more robust and there’s more variety."

How has toy design changed over the years?

"It seems there is less new invention which means less risk taking by the toy companies."

How will toy design change over the next 12 -24 months?

"Designers will be under more pressure to create innovative products that are cost effective and eco friendly returning us to the challenges that faced toy designers a century ago."

Do you still own toys from your childhood?

"A black knitted toy rag doll which has a really pretty dress. It was given to me by my mother and, as we travelled abroad a lot, she came too."

Andrew Reeves is managing director of Sonic Games where he is the sole toy designer. He also notoriously turned down £200,000 from those famous dragons in the den.

How long have you been a toy designer? 

Andrew Reeves: "I have designed games, puzzles and toys since I was five and, commercially, since 2002."

And why puzzles specifically?

"My cerebral cortex functions in a logical way, breaking problems down bit by bit and my Mensa IQ is in the top one per cent (though I’m average at general knowledge!)"

What was the first toy you designed?

"The Isis puzzle in 2002."

And the most recent?

"The Copernisis puzzle 2009/2010: a metal puzzle with over 188 million combinations involving the solar system sun and planets. You’ll see it at Toy Fair."

Do you still own toys from your own childhood?

"I still have my old Scalextric, original Monopoly board game, magic products and juggling equipment."

Toy Fair takes place 25-27 January 2011 at Olympia, London. To register please visit www.toyfair.co.uk.

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