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The Paramus Post - Greater Paramus News and Lifestyle Webzine
Tuesday, September 29 2020 @ 10:48 PM EDT
The Paramus Post - Greater Paramus News and Lifestyle Webzine
Tuesday, September 29 2020 @ 10:48 PM EDT
The Paramus Post - Greater Paramus News and Lifestyle Webzine

Toy giant Mattel needs engineers to keep on top of its game

The newly hired toy designer's fashion background prepared her to design the doll's clothes, but she needed to know her inside as well as out. More recently Kane inserted a motor in Barbie's back.

"I have noticed a shift to use more technology," she said. "Now more than ever have we tried to make Barbie come to life."

Mattel design teams include engineers, but designers such as Kane still must help figure out a toy's mechanics in addition to spawning ideas. "It doesn't hurt to know a little about engineering and physics," she said. "Since I've worked here, I've always needed an engineer for consulting."

Kane and Mattel's roughly 300 other designers - who come from backgrounds such as automotive, fashion, computer, entertainment and art in addition to toy design - now must adapt to children's growing fascination with technology to keep the toy giant on top of its game.

In the industry, sales of traditional toys including those with minimal electronic parts fell 2 percent in 2005 compared with the year before, while video-game sales jumped by nearly 6 percent, according to the market-research firm The NPD Group.

"We see technology surrounding a kid's life in so many ways," said Tim Kilpin, a Mattel general manager. "We ask our designers to bring in technology in everything they do."

Mattel is seeing the effects of the industry's shift toward electronic toys with second quarter worldwide sales down for Barbie - 1 percent - and Hot Wheels - 7 percent. Still, other brands saw increases such as American Girl and Core Fisher-Price. The No. 1 toy maker's overall sales were up 8 percent.

"Creativity is the most important part (of toy design)," Kilpin said. "We'll always look inside and out of the company to bring toys to life with technology."

Mattel recently announced it would buy Hong Kong-based Radica Games, maker of electronic toys, for about $230 million. The acquisition will allow the toy maker "to better participate in the burgeoning electronic toys arena," Mattel CEO Robert A. Eckert said in a news release.

Mattel also is developing electronic toys in-house. Scheduled to hit the shelves in October is Hyperscan, a video game that comes with collectible cards that players can scan before the game to play certain characters, and afterward to store their progress.

"Hyperscan has been my world for the last couple of years," said Jonathan Bradbury, the producer of the product's design team. He started developing electronic games at Mattel three years ago after teaching grade-school students and receiving a master's degree in software development.

"It seemed like the perfect mix, with my background in education - I knew what kids wanted - and my background in computers," the 31-year-old Bradbury said.

Mattel often recruits from Westchester, Calif.-based Otis College of Art and Design, where the toy maker's employees often lecture to students, toy-design chairwoman Deborah Ryan said.

Ryan, who worked for Mattel for 11 years starting in 1984, "was unfamiliar with technology" at first. That changed later as she helped in the design of Talking Barbie. Now she is proposing to implement a technology lab where students can learn to develop electronic toys.

"Either you jump on the technology bandwagon or you find another way to make a living," Ryan said. She said toy designers usually take part in all aspects of production, but larger companies often hire people who specialize in one area.

"Hasbro (Mattel's main competitor), Disney and Mattel have those resources," she said. "At a smaller company, the person who designs the toy goes to Hong Kong to work with the manufacturers, too. They wear many hats."

Ryan's students who incorporate technology in their projects often surprise her with their knowledge.

"They are so technology savvy," she said. "As interns and graduates go in (to the profession) with their knowledge, when there are designer layoffs, the older designers will lose their jobs because of that."

Despite the industry trend toward more tech-savvy designers, Mattel still sees value in hiring toy designers who have creative talent but not necessarily technical expertise, Kilpin said.

"We've recruited from all disciplines," he said. "The combination we get, that's what makes the magic." Michael Heralda worked as a graphic designer in the auto industry before doing the same thing for play cars at Mattel's Matchbox and Hot Wheels. His team is trying to make their play sets more interactive.

"It's got to be fun," said Heralda, 55. "We employ light and sound when appropriate."

Kane, 36, and other designers said they must stay on top of the trends to know what children want. Combining technology in doll designs, her team created Barbie as Princess Genevieve whose skirt spins when triggered.

"It's important to be well rounded and have a toy background," she said. "The more education the better, I have learned to evolve with demand. I credit it to my two grandfathers who were both engineers."


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