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Alpesh Patel, Vice President, Global Toy Design at TOMY, talks to us about Toomies, Jurassic Park and the one question he always asks himself…
Alpesh, pleasure to catch you – I know you’re really busy; thank you – as always – for making time for Mojo Nation… Am I right in saying you’re celebrating 21 years in the industry?
I am indeed – although now I’ve revealed my age. Its been a fantastic and rewarding 21 years and I’m deeply grateful to be a part of the industry. I’ve met so many lifelong friends in toys – and long may it continue!
What’s the road not taken then, Al? If this wasn’t your job, what would you want to have done instead?
Great question… As a young kid, I always had dreams of joining the RAF as a pilot and saving the world. Maybe I watched too many reruns of Top Gun at the time! But as I entered my teens, I really enjoyed two subjects: economics and design. Thankfully, I chose design for which I had a real passion, especially at the start of my GCSEs due to a great teacher.
The right teacher can make all the difference. Growing up, what was your favourite toy or game?
I had a few toys that I remember favourably as a child. The toy that I was most fond of was a 1982 Hotwheels Pontiac Trans-Am. I used to carry it everywhere I went, and remember constantly playing with it on my grandparents’ sofa. I’d treat the 80’s fashion of floral sofa patterns as roadblocks and parking spaces to manoeuvre in and out of. I also loved Centurions by Kenner. Max Ray was my favourite! As I got older, and LCD games became popular, TOMY’s Tronic 3D Shark Attack was another one of my standouts.
Some great answers! And let’s stay with this… We know that, as a child, you used to physically dismantle Tonka Toys and put them back together again… Do you still break things apart to see how they work?
Absolutely. Breaking toys apart to see how they work provides so much insight and helps generate ideas and solutions for future product development. It lets you marvel at the clever, simple engineering that you not only learn from, but also helps you appreciate the intelligence in which the Toy Industry relies on. As the industry is increasingly challenged on pricing and value, learning how products work is an absolute must for all toy designers.
In terms of the industry, your jobs and brands include Hasbro, Golden Bear, Vivid, Mattel, Disney, TOMY… Given that, what advice would you give your younger self if you could?
I’ve been very lucky to work on a variety of amazing products, with amazing people and amazing companies throughout my career. The best advice I’d offer my younger self is to keep practicing your craft. Only do things that make you happy, allow yourself to perform at your very best and always be open to learn and try new things. Also, be grateful to the mentors that provided you with the training, vision and inspiration to get you where you are today.
In terms of your personal creativity, you’ve spoken about how you travel, visit retail and play with your kids. What else inspires you?
I’m a really visual person and embarrassingly, I don’t read as much as I should. Nearly all of my inspiration comes from simply looking at things – whether in real life or digitally – and asking myself the really simple question: is this interesting enough for a child to positively notice?
You’ve also mentioned – very much in passing – your idea book. Tell us about that: what happens when something’s caught your attention?
When I spot something interesting or have a creative brainwave, I take a picture, save a link, write it down, sketch it or make a sound recording straightaway… I have quite a short-term memory! Then I simply show it to my kids for their immediate response.
A stringent filter!
Very much so! And anything that filters through then goes into some further thinking time to see if there’s a product possibility. As I’m getting older, I’m realising the beauty in simplicity and focusing my efforts on how to innovate with straightforward ‘ingredients’. It’s a challenge, but I look at the most loved toys in the world and the simple innovation that always captures the audience imagination and love for toys.
Well, let’s look at an example of that… This June sees you releasing a new line of licensed preschool toys for the Toomies brand. Working with Universal Brand Development, you’re launching Jurassic World items… Chase & Roll Raptors, Spin & Hatch Dino Eggs, a Pic & Push T-Rex… Tell me about these!
There are probably five movies in my lifetime that I’ve been to the cinema multiple times to watch… And Jurassic Park is proudly a part of those five.
I’m with you. Great film. Brilliantly made, fantastic premise and – at the time – the closest we’d ever been to seeing real dinosaurs!
And dinosaurs are such a classic part of a child’s life from a very young age. So when developing this exciting new range, we were finishing our new Jurassic Park line, which expanded our famous eggs into a complete, interactive world. We wanted to define what direction we could take the line down in the future. It was after a conversation with Alpana Virani at UK Toy Fair that an immediate memory of the egg incubator sparked from the first movie. And I just thought, wow, Jurassic World and Hide and Squeak Toomies could be awesome.
To read the full interview on our sister site Mojo Nation click here
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