By Phil Sage,
Director, Global Product Acquisition and Inventor Relations,
There are so many memorable stories which carve you as a designer, creator and leader, in what many regard as one of the most fun and rewarding industries in the world. You class yourself privileged, when you talk of experiences at pioneering companies such as Hasbro and Lego, the ability to work on their breadth and depth of global brands, learn something new every day, week in week out, it all molds you as a professional. It’s not only the fun creative stuff, it’s the critical conversations with senior decision makers, the nervy presentations to key stakeholders, the meetings with external partners twice the size of your company, all of which push your comfort zone and boundaries. As one reflects on these countless experiences, the one key critical element, core to that journey, is ‘exposure’.
Entering the toy & game industry was and still is one of the toughest endeavors. This may sound familiar to many. As a young whipper snapper, you work your cotton socks off through university life, sharpening your skill set, adding the right tools, building that perfect résumé. But the reality hits the minute you secure that job (which was and still is one of the best life-changing moments) and you enter the doors of a company or corporation. This is when the real learning begins. As the new kid on the block, your energy is boundless, you throw yourself into everything, in the hope you can make that instant impact. Then comes the critical piece, that one person you are trying to impress most, gives you that focus to channel the energy, step up to the plate and deliver in person.
So why the backstory? It’s situations like the one above and being empowered by others that allows you as a professional to learn the simplest things. This raw exposure delivers that left field thump on the head, which quite simply helps you understand ‘exactly’ who you’re designing for.
One of these most vivid solo AHA moments (which always brings a smile) certainly echoed the famous words “WOW … now why didn’t I think of that?” In our line of work, if we had a dollar for each time we heard those words, then I’d be a rich man. In this case, the young White Paper 2012 energy ball employee (that would be a rather young moi) jumped at the opportunity to travel all the way to a southern state of the US, to witness and help conduct their first ever toy test. Specifically identified as the ‘perfect storm’ consumer, it was the opportunity to put hard work through its paces; plus prove your worth to your line management and seniors above. Months prior, the extensive research, the management of international licencors, the sleepless nights churning out countless concepts with a particular focus on mechanisms, all paid off. The impressive hand-carried stereo lithography (SLA) models, beautifully deco’ d., were an absolute pride and joy. Getting them through customs was one battle; the other resided at the test center.
As you eagerly watch from behind the one-way mirrored glass, kids making weird faces directly at you, the scene was set, the characters all hidden under a white sheet, the kids chomping at the bit, eager to see the toys beneath. Then … it’s your cue, the chance to introduce the toys, show their super cool functions and gameplay and then you exit. What was witnessed when returning to the hidden hot seat was nothing short than the best learning curve experience. The children exposed the real meaning of play, the masculine characters with such detailed functionality … in their eyes were just plain simple warriors, as they fast forgot every softly spoken tutorial, and they smashed the prototypes together. SLA parts began to crack and shatter, as if they were wrestlers in a WWF arena ...no room for gameplay, no room for minor detail. The carnage taught a valuable lesson that your perception, something you are so confident in, can be polar opposite with your number one customer. No matter how cool you think the concept is, it’s your duty to think in the eyes of the child … it was a privilege to be given that opportunity, exposed by the reality. What was critical was the time to absorb the constructive feedback and carry it forth.
Needless to say, as a result of a brilliant experience, the initial proposal was not a complete write-off, yes it was re-directed, but in one’s defense, the project blossomed, becoming a collectible range of McDonalds happy meal toys which managed to ship over an impressive 50 million+ units.