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Interview with Keith Gardner, Designer of 2017 CHITAG NYC Collector Card Deck!

Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?

By chance. I had always liked board games and have many memories from playing them as a kid. But it was from a freelance design job. I was working at an ad agency and a gentleman actually walked in and asked the receptionist at the front desk if he could buy some “advertising” for his board game. Puzzled she called the agency art buying department and asked for help on what to do. Luckily I was actually in the room when that call came in, and that was that! lol.

What trends do you see in toys or games that excite or worry you?

Digital is still strong, I feel the “APP” craze has spiked and is on the decline for detracting from board games. But VR & AI are coming up next and will probably have a similar path and disruption in our industry.

What advice can you give to inventors who are presenting new toy or game ideas to you?

RESEARCH the company AND their product lines BEFORE your presentation. I have done it myself, and looking back it’s a must-do. If you have a game, don’t say, “just like monopoly…BUT BETTER”

What was your favorite toy or game as a child?

Tinker Toys, Hot Wheels and Risk.

What does your typical day look like?

A blur… lol. I work for a small company so there are many hats to wear. From game reviews to design layout, production meetings with vendors, shipping/freight, logistics and trade shows…. did I already say make coffee?

What inspires you?

The joy and satisfaction felt when I see/experience: PLAY. Whether it is board games or a game of tag outside, the smile says it all, lost in fun and safe to let go.

Where were you born?

In a hospital (in Indiana).

Where did you grow up and how did that influence who you are today?

Michigan, Give it up for America’s Hi-Five! – (MJ Ruetter - that’s for you!) And we didn’t have much growing up. So lots of board game family nights.

What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?

ONE!? Shoooooooooot more like One Million… lol. I make a mistakes everyday, but I gotta EOD reflect on them. This lets me know two things:

1. I’m getting out of my comfort zone and attempting new things.

2. Add a positive attitude after each said mistake and you're learning everyday. But really maybe just the one I mentioned before... RESEARCH before presenting. lol.

What do you read every day, and why?

I read “the Bloom Report” by Philip Bloom. It does two things: gives me updates for the entire industry (toy & game) and reminds me it’s almost lunch time every Friday. AND of course the Chicago Toy & Game Newsletter.

What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?

My phone.

How do you jumpstart your creativity when you find yourself stalled on a project?

Every time I get stuck or stalled, just like a car, I cut it off and get out (mentally) and do something totally diff or unrelated to that project. You gotta let the sub-conscious chew on it for a bit. Then BAM you find new fuel to get back and fire it up again. FYI, I’m not really a “car guy” and I drive a hybrid… so I don't know where the whole car example came from...

When is the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

JUST NOW... And what caused it? This question... lol. I laugh a lot… and half of those laughs are me laughing at me.

Are you named after anyone?

No. but maybe someday others would like to name theirs after me...?

Do you have any kiddos?

I do. Three.

Do you have any pets?

Three chickens and a dog.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Jelly beans, and vodka (not together….. but that just sparked an idea…)

Do you play any musical instruments? If so, which one(s)?

I played percussion in grade school… a mean triangle player for school concerts and cymbals in the marching band. At the moment attempting to build and play a three string cigar box guitar.

What’s your favorite cereal?

Lucky charms.

What’s the first thing you usually notice about people?

Face, expression, eyes, smile (or lack of ).

What is your eye color?


Do you prefer scary movies or happy endings?

Happy Endings for sure! My movie viewing is an average of 4, 7, & 10 yr olds at the moment.

Summer of Winter? What about Spring or Autumn?

Honestly love every one! Michigan gets the full force of everything. Summer: great lakes, beaches and fishing! Fall: colors, apples and crisp air, winter: fun, skiing and snow ball fights with the kids. Spring: full bloom and re-birth starts it all again.

Hugs or Kisses?

(blush….) I would say HUGS because they can be given or received without much thought or prep. And similar to a handshake, a hug can vary in intensity and duration. A great transfer of energy and emotion. Kisses fall in one of two categories: hi/good to see you or HELLO I wanna be with you.

What’s your favorite TV show?

Any HBO series and Shark Tank.

Favorite movie of all time?

Billy Madison.

What’s the furthest you’ve ever been from home?


Do you have any special talents?

I wish.

What are your hobbies?

Outdoors, gardening, cooking (serious… I know).

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I want the strength to push myself everyday toward improvement - for myself and others to achieve and share the general good that’s out there. The question of “what do you want to BE” sounds like a landing destination. I look at it as “what I am.” This keeps present each day so there really is no end place. Just a keep on, keeping on attitude.

What’s next?

Collaboration and exploration of how technology can deliver/enhance PLAY for all ages.

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