Toy Design - Is it for you?
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Thread: Toy Design - Is it for you?

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    Toy Design - Is it for you?

    Some questions have come up in the lounge recently about toy design, so I thought I would follow Seedling's suggestion and make an info thread here. I know that there are other toy designers on CA who work in vastly different areas of the trade than I do, so please, feel free to chime in!

    What do toy designers do?

    Those who work in toy design wear a lotta hats. There are different levels of involvement in designing a toy, from the roughest concept sketches, to the tightest turn sheets, to the first sculpts in plastiline. I will focus mostly on the 2D aspects of toy design, although a good 2D artist who can also sculpt well is very valuable to a toy company.

    It starts with an idea and an artist to come up with initial concepts for new toys and new brands. Sometimes these artists work in-house, sometimes they work off-site. The sketches they create are often very rough, loose and don't take into consideration the limitations of the actual product (more on those limitations later). This is OK though, because these base level artists create a wide scope of ideas for the next stage of production. This is the most fun position to be in, IMHO. You have the most creative freedom at this point.

    Once a concept sketch has been approved, an artist then creates tighter turn-around sheets known as control drawings. Here's where it gets technical - the toy is drawn from front, side and top views, each piece to scale, with measurements listed, sometimes down to the hundredth of an inch.



    This was the first control drawing I had ever done. It's a fairly organic design but the measurements still needed to be fairly accurate. You'll see there are some inconsistencies with the scale and shape of some parts... Thankfully the sculptors were able to pick up my n00b slack.



    I apologize for the small image, I wasn't able to upload the prototype sculpts. Just the same, here is the final product - the sculptors take every little detail in your work very seriously, so if there is a mistake on the paper, it will show up in the clay.

    I also picked out the colors for each piece, using Pantone colors. If you haven't worked with Pantone chips before, you will become VERY familiar with them in the toy field! They come in a swatch book or in a fan like this:



    Each color has a numbered code, sometimes abbreviated with the prefix "PMS". So one of my favorite shades of orange would fall under "PMS 143 C" (the C stands for "coated", indicating that the pantone swatch has a coated finish on the paper, rather than matte.) Photoshop and Illustrator also have various Pantone color swatch libraries built right in. We usually used the "solid coated" variety. If you are a freelance toy designer, it's generally a good idea to have a swatch book on hand AND a natural light bulb to view them under, since the regular light bulbs tend to yellow out colors. Also, the fans and swatch books will set you back a couple hundred dollars and need to be replaced every year or two, since the colors can fade.

    What are the types of skills that I need?

    As a toy designer, you must have strong 3D drawing skills. I don't mean Maya or a 3D program, we're talking good old pencil and paper (or wacom, or cintiq, if you have one.) You are designing a tangible object afterall and odds are it will be sculpted overseas - your visuals are so much more important when there is a language barrier!

    The other skills you should have depends what kind of toys you will be working on. Here is a very small list:

    -Fashion design, for toys like Barbie or Bratz
    -Graphic design, for labels, box art and graphics that go onto toys, such as Pony butt symbols
    -Industrial design, for toys like Transformers, Zoids, RC cars, baby toys or video players
    -Character design, for toys like My Little Pony, Pokemon, or any brand that has a cartoon show or is a story-based line
    -Sewing and pattern knowledge, for plush toys and dolls - even G.I. Joe has a team of seamstresses keeping him looking suave in his fatigues

    Still, a good designer is a good designer, no matter what the discipline. If you know how to use colors and shapes effectively (i.e. large, friendly shapes for young children, angular detailed bits for older boys) you can do quite well in toy design.

    Do I have to have a degree in Toy Design?

    While I've had my arse handed to me many times by my co-workers who have their degrees in toy design, I would ultimately say no, a degree is not neccessary. If your artwork is strong and your portfolio reflects that, the degree (or lack thereof) is irrelevant.

    In my case, I did not go to school for toy design and never had a toy design class. I majored in Illustration, leaning towards the animation/character design side of the field. Toy design is another branch of illustration, so I was able to cross over into the field because I had learned basic design principles and also because the line I had worked on was character-based. I was able to sketch clearly and show how something might look from 4 different angles. The brand I worked on also relied on graphic designs to define each character, so it was a god fit for me. However, if you asked me to design a Nerf gun or a Transformer, I'd probably wither up and die.

    What should I have in my portfolio?

    Show your thought process! Finished concepts are great and should be included as well, but what was is most important is showing how you arrive at your idea. Clean sketches showing your thought process are VERY good to include. Sculpts are a nice addition to a toy portfolio, but are not mandatory. Remember, a concept artist is paid to think first, then draw!

    It also helps to know your toys! Having knowledge of a company's line of toys can be vital. For example:

    I interviewed for an internship at Hasbro during my senior year of college. I snuck into the interview in the first place (they were looking for ID students, not illustrators) and it had ended with the usual polite smile and "don't call us, we'll call you" air to it. I was about to walk out and accept that I had been passed up, when I turned around and said "Hey, how is the new My Little Pony line doing?" The interviewers brightened up and we ended up talking for another 20 minutes as I told them my opinions on the new line, what I liked about the old line and some ideas that I thought were cool for future toys.

    The interview did a 180 and they asked me to send more sketches to them, showing my thought process, handling of 3D shapes and breakdowns to how some toys might work. They wanted to see clarity and follow-through to my ideas. Even though 99% of the stuff in my portfolio wasn't toy-centric, it showed them that I had the drawing skills which I could adapt to their needs. I ended up doing some light sculpting while I was working in-house as well.

    Would it help if I had sculpting skills too?

    Absolutely! You can go in a couple directions for toy design if you have a grasp on sculpting - you can specialize in it and become a full-time sculptor, or you can stay sharp with sculpting and let it bleed into your drawing skills as a designer. Generally, full-time sculptors have less creative control (if any) over what they create, but the designers of course have more control.

    Like I said, it's good to be a jack of all trades - if you can come up with an idea, sketch it out in a few solid angles AND do a mock-up sculpt, more power to ya.

    What were those limitations you had mentioned?

    There's a whole host of limitations in toy design. Aside from needing to please both the child AND the parents who have the credit cards, there are limitations from marketing and the usual budgets... but that's not all! There are mold limitations where sometimes different parts need to be cast in the same mold of the same material, so you better make sure that those parts are all the same color in your design. A lot of times toys won't meet price points, so accessories or in the nightmare scenario, entire toy waves get cut. Sometimes the factories overseas are difficult and production is slowed (language barrier anyone?) sometimes there are bad years on Wall Street, with shrinking toy departments toy companies compete for shelf space with every wave, then there are the stupid children who eat everything they touch...

    So, I guess that's that. Keep in mind, I am just one designer with but one experience with getting into this field - I sure as hell never thought I would be here!

    Feel free to ask more questions or, if you are a designer, please add to what's been said!

    -Steph

    Last edited by Steph Laberis; November 21st, 2006 at 08:16 PM.
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    This is a great thread, Steph! Here's a question: what advice would you give to highschool students interested in the toy industry?

    I think you are awesome, and I wish you the best in your endeavors, but I am tired of repeating myself, I am very busy with my new baby, and I am no longer a regular participant here, so please do not contact me to ask for advice on your career or education. All of the advice that I have to offer can already be found in the following links. Thank you.

    Perspective 101, Concept Art 101, Games Industry info,Oil Paint info, Acrylic Paint info, my sketchbook.
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    I’m currently a full-time product designer (toys, seasonal and novelty) working with a variety of products developed from my own original ideas as well as licensed (Disney, Warner Brothers, Nickelodeon, Star Wars/Lucasfilm, Dreamworks, etc), so I’ll add on a bit to this thread with my own experiences and get some of my co-workers input as well since we all come from different creative and professional backgrounds. At the moment, only one of the creative staff that I work with actually graduated with a degree in toy design and she is senior designer/creative manager for the plush department at my location.

    Unfortunately because of NDA’s, I am unable to post any image references that I’ve done for product design in the past 2 years to show examples at the moment, but I can still write around that. If I do get official permission from my art directors (I'll ask), then I'll definitely post some images, too.

    Edit: Still working on getting some images to show, but in the meantime, here's more excellent info that I gathered from my co-workers along with some of my own experiences, all of which follows along or adds on to with what Steph Laberis posted previously.

    What do toy designers do?
    Adding on to what Steph mentioned....In my experience, development time can actually be extremely limited. Frequently, we designers have only a couple of hours to development concepts for existing product lines that need to be sent to the factory in China for overnight sample development (primarily plush in those instances, but they can be animatronics or plush with animation, or life-size characters that move, as well which would allow for a day or two or longer for additional development for engineering). Sometimes, I'll be working on a custom project for a particular vendor with them standing and staring over my shoulder. Quick concept sketches will frequently be run by the product manager and creative director, approved or revised, then go to color with turnarounds and callouts, and then sent out for sampling to the plush department or overseas to the factory. So ideas and draftmanship/drawing skills are extremely important. In my experience, while a sculpting background is appreciated, there's no time to do that here...generally it's faster and cheaper to have it done overseas. Except in the cases of some licensed products where we work with particular sculptors who we've worked with before for that license, or if we have a serious backlog of sculpting needs (actual production rather than just sampling) and then we'll work with a studio here in the U.S.. Sometimes. So, here, communication is essential. From the concept drawing to over the phone and email discussions about what is working or what isn't. Photoshop editing of the photos submitted for review at various sculpting stages is also part of the process on occasion.

    A toy or product designer gets to work with sales, marketing, product managers and manufacturing…the best designer understands all of the concerns that can come from these areas. This also includes a good understanding of the basic production cost for developing a particular type of toy. A toy or product designer takes into consideration these needs while creating a design with the required look and feel and this can be challenging (ie; thick skin required) and also rewarding. It’s also what makes Product Design one of the most varied and interesting career directions for a commercial artist. Because a product designer touches on all these areas, an artist has the opportunity to expand their future far beyond the drawing board.

    Graphic design skills and knowledge is a plus and sometimes a necessity. I'm surprised everytime I work with one of our spring or summer interns about how little they know about Pantone colors or typography or layout....but they get to learn when they work with our creative team. When you're creative directing a toy from start to finish, understanding how the packaging and other design elements can help or hinder the presentation and perception of your toy design can really make or break your product, from the sample stage which is shown to the buyers, to the final production stage that the consumers see on the store shelves. Also, Pantone swatches are how we communicate colors and materials for the product; from communicating with the buyers, licensors (like Disney), marketing, packaging, and the factory production teams for reviews, approvals, and production.

    Working with licensed products (Disney or Star Wars) or specific vendors (for example Hot Topic or Wal-Mart), you frequently have to work with styleguides which limits what colors, patterns, fonts, editorials, poses, icons, and other elements that you can use to develop a toy. Some styleguides are great and provide inspiration even though they are somewhat limiting what product you can design for that license or vendor. At other times, styleguides seem to be so patched together and confusing that they are more of a hinderance than a guide. Again, here's where communication as well as knowledge about the particular license can be helpful. So - know your toys! Know the licenses...do research! Go to the stores that carry toys and walk the aisles, frequently! See how product is placed, understand the value of shelf and endcap placements (can the kids see the toys? do the parents? who's buying the toys? what's next to your toys? where's the competition?) Stuff like that.

    Do I have to have a degree in Toy Design?
    No. As I mentioned, only one of my creative team actually has a degree in Toy Design. The rest of us come from various other creative backgrounds although we all have a degree in some field (Communication Arts, CG Art and Animation, Art History, Graphic Design, Illustration, etc.) If you are considering attending university, I'd recommend a degree in Industrial design. Also a Business degree wouldn’t hurt…and, if you have an aptitude for languages...learn Chinese.

    What are the types of skills that I need?

    As a toy designer, you must have strong 3D drawing skills. I don't mean Maya or a 3D program, we're talking good old pencil and paper (or wacom, or cintiq, if you have one.) You are designing a tangible object afterall and odds are it will be sculpted overseas - your visuals are so much more important when there is a language barrier!
    Quoted for agreement. Definitely a must for plush toys, too.

    SPACIAL ILLUSTRATION SKILLS: While line work is often utilized, light/shadows are more essential at conveying a concept’s physical spacial form (lines will never carry over to the physical product anyway).

    KNOWLEDGE OF TOY HISTORY: What toys hit it big over the years and why? And what lessons can be learned from the flops?

    KNOWLEDGE OF PRODUCT TECHNOLOGIES: Get out and know everything about toys, bookmark unique toy/product websites. Notice lights, illusions, magnets, fans, materials, mechanisms etc. Don’t worry about how it fits current projects. Keep them at the ready (in one big list) should they apply in the future. They will.

    IDEAS, IDEAS, IDEAS: In addition to showing you can design/render others’ concepts… also show that you have solid applicable concepts of your own. Be thinking of ideas all the time. Keep a pad near you (or voice recorder) at all times so you can record all your ideas. An opening position may not call for this, but that added bonus may put you above other less dimensional candidates.

    DIVERSITY: Show ability to design boy toys as well as girl toys, toddlers as well as older children, educational as well as silly etc

    KNOWLEDGE OF LICENSED PROPERTIES (should the job require designing for licensed products) : Be in-the-know about current TV, movies, video games, music and popular kids’ books. Have examples of this in your portfolio and explain why the concept made sense for the property assigned.

    ABILITY TO ILLUSTRATE LICENSED PROPERTIES: (again, should the job require designing for licensed products) As important as it is to have your own design/style in your illustration, it could very well be that you are asked to draw Spongebob, Batman or the Flintstones. So try to include a few samples of licensed character illustrations. Licensors want to see their characters "On Model" before they will approve any design, whether it's sculpted or plush. But remember: if you cannot do it, do not include it.

    Your portfolio is only as good as your worst piece.

    MAKE YOURSELF KNOWN: In the end, the adage “It’s not WHAT you know, it’s WHO you know” still pays off more than anything else. SO… acquaint yourself with as many fellow designers as you can. Go to every party, attend every function, and network until you have business cards falling out of your pockets.

    Go on as many interviews as you can. Blast the market with your resume/work and turn no interviews down. Every hit is usually coupled with 11 misses… so guess what could happen if you only go on one interview? And inversely, guess what your chances are if you go on 12, 15, 20 interviews? Never turn any interview down. If nothing else, you’ll need it as one of the “misses” that leads to the inevitable “hit”.

    And finally, one more thing that helps: LOVE TOYS!!!

    Last edited by tatiana; January 1st, 2007 at 09:05 PM.
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    Awesome!!!!:)

    THis is a great thread!!!


    Thanks for sharing Steph and Tatiana!!!!

    My contribution below.

    https://vendors.hasbro.com/

    The site where someone can upload examples of their work for consideration at Hasbro. Of course, the opportunity to meet one of the art directors of a toyline (GI Joe, Barbie) is most advantageous if one is able to make the trip. I've known a few of them to show up at San Diego ComCon.

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    Toy Design Summer Camp

    Hello! My name is Rebecca, and I'm in charge of hiring instructors for an academic summer program at Union College. This summer at Five Points, we will be offering a Toy and Entertainment Engineering class.

    Here's the website: http://www.union.edu/fivepoints/acad...gineering.html

    I'm having trouble finding a teacher. Do you have any suggestions of where I might post, or would you happen to know of an interested canidate?

    Thanks!

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    Rebecca - tough call. You might try posting in the employment section or perhaps directing the same question to the Women in Toys community. I know you aren't looking exclusively for a female teacher but it's the first toy community I could think of and they've got some great connections which could send you in the right direction.

    Man, if I were local, I would have loved to interview for that position though Good luck, please keep us posted!

    EDIT: OH! I think Fisher Price or Mattel has their HQ in NY. I know the people are out there, though I'm not sure how to reach them X_x

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    Hey Guys
    Thought I would respond to this great thread! I dont have time to give a very long, detailed reply, but I am a freelance toy sculptor, 20+ years now (that scares me every time I have to put it in writing!) but I can answer any individual questions, hopefully can have some valuable advice with regard to this industry. Sucess in this field is complex, but can be simplified: Be very good at what you do, be very responsible about deadlines, keep your prices reasonable. I've seen a few veterans in the buisiness go down because of not staying on top of thier game with regards to these three key areas. Again, great thread, looking forward to seeing how it developes...

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    Great thread you guys. I've done a few toy concepts for Disney in the past, and am seriously considering doing more toy design work. This info is very helpful!

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    That's pretty rad Steph, I think my girlfriend might even have that Pony.
    (She was all about the re-released 1983 set this year, which happily found its way under the christmas tree.)

    Man, this website is just solid gold; the deeper I delve the cooler it gets.
    I thought Toymaker was one of those dream professions that only get handed out by secret lottery. How did you gals land such a sweet gig?
    I want to hear all about it.

    I didn't spend as much time on the comic books as others, but I never gave up the love of Toys. As a child of the late 80s early 90s, I had my fair share of the good stuff the first time around, but even now, I'll still stop by Toy's R US on occasion just to wander the isles (even though I have no kids, and no real excuse to be there.) I still have most of the Star Wars stuff in boxes, and the pewter figurines... And of course there was HeMan, GI Joe, the Transformers, GoBots, Inhumanoids, Ninja Turtles, Creepy Crawlers, Legos and the like. I also got to see many of them come back (thanks to targeted marketing) once my friends started getting knocked up; plus many new additions that I used to wish existed back when I was little. The Lord of the Rings, Godzilla, Pirates of the Caribbean etc. I would have traded all the marbles on the playground, for one of Todd McFarlane's dragons, that's for damn sure.

    Curiously though there are some old favorites that have yet to make a comeback...

    M.U.S.C.L.E Men
    BattleBeasts "Water beats Fire!"
    and of course, Teddy Ruxpin (NWA "Straight outta' Compton" Cassette not included)

    Someone on Madison Ave needs to get on top of that one.

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    Last edited by Jasonwclark; January 11th, 2008 at 03:15 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jasonwclark View Post
    ...I thought Toymaker was one of those dream professions that only get handed out by secret lottery. How did you gals land such a sweet gig?
    I want to hear all about it.
    Not much to tell for my part. They were looking for an artist that would complement their teams of artists, product designers and engineers that they had in-house and worked with overseas -- I was looking for a job that would ideally give me the chance to do alot of concept art drawing and some in-house illustration; where I wouldn't have to do alot of travelling (did up to 95% of that per year when I was a corporate web and UI design/Human Factors consultant) so that I could work on other creative projects of my own in the evenings and weekends at my home studio (and have a life outside of work...very key!!); and the job would hopefully give me the chance to learn some new skills that I could take with me if/when I had the opportunity to work in the animation, feature film, or game development industries.

    They liked my portfolio, I liked the artists; I contracted with them for a month and worked on-site; and then they offered me a job.

    I will say that the fact that I don't want to do alot of travelling (like several times a year to the factories in China for instance) has held me back as far as promotions go, etc..IMO. However, that doesn't mean I don't get to do alot of different artwork for product design (much fun!) and I definitely have the "senior-level" responsibilities and do provide creative direction, etc.. On the other hand, after hearing from my co-workers (artists, managers, etc.) about stuff that goes on while they're over there at the factories...I'm still not rushing to go anytime soon. BUT...I'd love to travel to China sometime for vacation. I do have opportunities to travel and speak with the Product Development teams at Disney or other licensors here in the US on occasion; or meet with them when they come to the company showroom at my job for the year's development cycle...and it even looks like I may finally get to attend the NYC Toy Fair next month that I've heard so much about. Hoping to meet up with the Women in Toys group that Steph mentioned, too....

    t

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    Really inspiring and helpful thread. Thanks. Just what i need when i thought "HOW?".

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    I know that there hasn't been any activity in this thread for over a year, thus it would be considered a "dead thread". However, I would like to thank all of you for your input. It is most valuable to me with my life decisions. I was doing a search for a toy design forum where I could ask these questions. I just recently decided that toy design would be a great job for me and I would think that I would find it most enjoyable.

    Does anyone know of any colleges in the San Diego area for courses they deem necessary? I am currently enrolled in Grossmont Community College and have just moved here from Michigan, so I do not know any of the colleges that are good for me in this area. I was attending college courses in the MACA program at Macomb Community College in Warren, Michigan.

    How large is an appealing, but not overbearing amount of work in a portfolio when interviewing for these kinds of jobs?

    Where are the good firms/companies located?

    Thanks in advance.

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    I agree, very valuable thread thanks guys!

    I just got a job as a junior toy designer and this helped guide me and know exactly what would be expected of me (turns out quite a lot!!).

    Anybody got any other places devoted to toy design?

    Cheers! Adam

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    This thread is very great! I wanted to try my hand at toy design, and figured I'd just do some loose ideas and do a really rough build of a figure. Would someone mind sharing a bit of insight as to what else is necessary in conveying the right information- in form of some toy design critique?

    Always striving to learn and grow!
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    steps and procedures

    Hello to all
    I celebrate artists that can utilized their art skills and creativity for application of toys. I myself has gone on and off on this blog and felt it was time to write. I find myself liking to use my brain in creative ways instead of just straight drawing or rendering. I guess that I am driven to this direction. What i like for you exp toys designers to share is where, and how to break in. i guess the "how" I already know( build a "book" just for this industry) but i thought it would be useful for the young guys to read. So for me, i might need to know where to apply and find a good position,If you know where. I feel i would be best to design boys toys if there is such a position since i love toys myself.
    I can design both sexes toys though. I thought my colors, subjects being more real would be applicable in the boys toys.
    I also invite you guys to come to my site and check out my machines, and ships concepts which i often dream about being toys. I would love to hear your comments.

    www.zhibit.org/mvstudios
    m.v.studios@hotmail.com

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    I know this thread is a bit old, but I have some questions about putting together a portfolio. I have turnarounds and all that stuff-from my own ideas. However, I would like to showcase some product I have designed. I have NDA at my current and only toy design job. So certainly no artwork but what about finished product? I don't believe it is under my NDA that I can't take design credit for product but it seems to be frowned upon where I work. Is it just enough to supply your own art and just the company's name/years worked on your resume? Forgive me if I sound ignorant.

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