Freddie Scott Vollrath, daughter of Leslie Scott (the inventor of Jenga), has recently assumed the chief position at their company, Oxford Games. Within the universe of Gamedom, this interview with Freddie absolutely qualifies for our Legends and Legacies series. Inventor Peggy Brown, interviewed Leslie a few years ago (also a terrific read involving hen houses - click here) now questions Freddie!
You’re an industrial designer, and so am I. In college, I was the only woman in my major course of studies, and still remain in a small minority of product designers. Is your experience similar?
Happily, for me there were considerably more women in my year than I had expected. Even so, we still only made up about a quarter of the class. Here’s hoping that it’s an upward trend. You never know, maybe in another 20 years, we'll have reached the half-half mark.
What prompted you to choose design as a focus?
I initially determined to do fine art, but luckily started with a Foundation Course. This is a one year degree where you try out all the various fields that come under the heading of ‘Art’; illustration, fashion, fine art, craft and product design. I think it was a combination of the teachers I had on the product design section together with some amazing workshops that made me decide to focus on product design.
I had a similar experience – taking a required year of Foundations, I entered thinking I’d be a Graphic Designer, and wound up loving 3D/Industiral Design. I believe a good designer can design anything. Paper clips, landscapes, opera houses. What are your thoughts about good design?
I think ‘good design’ arises when you have clearly defined the problem (s) you are trying to address, and you find the simplest way to solve them. And when it comes to board games, adding a pinch of fun, too!
What are your design peeves?
Making things more complicated than they need be.
That’s a good answer and covers a whole lot. I can’t stand fake woodgrain on anything that’s not wooden, among about a million other things. I will spare you from elaboration. You’re welcome.
I’m an American who studied in America, and you’re a Britain who studied in Berlin. What contrasts do you see between the two cultures? How does one design well across cultures?
Oh my goodness, well to start with I’m half German/half British so I think I’m entitled to both love and be critical of both cultures. While I think German engineering is undeniably the best in the world, I find much German design (packaging, graphic etc.) too retro - and not in a cool way! But I should add that Berlin itself is a unique city, with a culture and design aesthetic all of its own. In my opinion, everyone and everything in Berlin is cool…even when they do retro!
I concur- Berlin is cooool with at least four Os. It has a very distinct and confident vibe. After graduation, I had a few options to start my career: I was offered a job designing pots and pans, another opportunity designing tractor parts, and a third designing games for Western Publishing (a huge book/comic book/game publisher, the game division of which was later sold to Hasbro). Once in a while I wonder what it’d be like had I chosen a different design path. What were your options upon graduation, and what guided your decision to take on a role at Oxford Games?
I probably did exactly what one should not do at uni, that is, instead of focusing on a specific area of design I became a jack of all trades. After uni in the UK I moved to Berlin for what was supposed to be just a couple of months learning German. But this turned into 3+ years. I more or less bummed about there focusing mainly on graphic design and crafts. I rekindled my love for board games there. Berlin is full of board game cafes and my new friendship group there was full of game lovers. I decided to try my hand at board game design and was lucky enough to get my first taste of the industry at ChiTAG and the Inventor Conferences. From that moment on I was hooked! When I told my mum that I was thinking of going into the industry, she invited me to work with her at Oxford Games Ltd, with the idea of awakening it from its current rather dormant state and, one day, running it myself. That day has now come, and now I'm her boss! Mwahahaha!
That’s a truly maniacal laugh you have. I like it. Oxford is a place of deep and proud history. Oxford Games also enjoys a proud history. What’s it like to be the standard bearer of it now, and how do you carry that history forward?
A rather daunting task to be frank, Oxford Games has a very strong brand image that I would not wish to dilute, though it does require some modernising. This is proving to be a delicate operation, but I am finding it an interesting challenge!
What is it like being the daughter of the genius behind Jenga?
Fab! I bask in the reflected glory that is Leslie Scott! Honestly, I very rarely think about it until I see or hear Jenga mentioned on TV/Radio or in conversation…..so, err, maybe I do end up thinking about it rather frequently. I can’t deny that it has helped me hugely when I decided to go into board game design, though the assumption that designing balancing/tower games is in my blood is not necessarily correct. Though I do have excellent hand-eye coordination!
Do you play Jenga?
I have to admit, not so often recently (sorry Mum). Though I did play it a lot at Uni...for obvious, alcoholic, reasons.
Do you like it?
Love it! Especially since I can now beat the inventor with ease…..old age has not steadied her hand.
Did you ever change the rules to Jenga to make it into an actual drinking game? (Asking for a friend.)
NEVER! (still do…)
Do you ever feel pressure to outdo in some way, or surpass Jenga?
Ha, I seriously doubt that would be possible. So I feel there is very little pressure to produce anything as successful as Jenga.
How do you like working with your mom?
It is great, I think we are able to understand what one another is trying to get at very quickly. Though our opinions are often different, we tend to have a similar design outlook and aesthetic. I think we’re both happy that we don't agree on everything as that could be dull, for us both. I find that the need to defend one’s design or idea often makes it so much better.
Problems only arise when I tell her she can’t take her holiday time…but she tends to win those arguments!