Interview: Adam Colavecchia - Toy Designer at Spin Master
"It's only a good toy if your kid has fun with it. Pay attention to them! What do they have fun doing? What are they interested in? What do their friends have that they long for? To me, being tuned in to things like this is what makes the difference. Generally speaking, if you foster your child's interests with things that are built to last, you did well"
We had the honour of sitting down with Adam Colavecchia from Spin Master. What's Spin Master? Think Paw Patrol, Hatchimal, Kintetic Sand. Adam is a giant kid that has never lost his playful spirit and puts his heart into the details of his work to make wonderful toys.
All Circles: How did you get into Toy Design?
Adam: I'm a goofy guy that's always been a passionate collector/consumer of toys, cartoons, & video-games, and I found myself doing well in design school whenever I created products for kids. In my third year, we had a toy company visit to do a project with us & scout for interns at the same time -- speaking with them made me realize there were people out there that did this for a living! I got my start doing contract work for local start-ups, & networking eventually got me a steady gig doing freelance work for Spin Master. I went the extra mile on every project I did for them, and whenever I noticed a skill I lacked, I put effort into developing that skill. After years of hard work & persistence, I found myself in a "right place, right time" situation! It's a small industry with a bubble of super talented people, but if you treat every day as an opportunity to grow & focus your time & energy on that growth, eventually it will become undeniable that you belong in it!
AC: How would you explain the difference between good and bad toy design?
A: In my opinion there's no exact science for this -- you can spend $5 on a dinky toy your kid treasures for years, and in the same year spend $200 on a big set your kid plays with twice & never touches again. There are of course things you should screen for -- does it adhere to established safety standards? Does it help your kid learn something or develop a skill? Bloggers will tell you that well designed toys check these boxes, and although that's true, at the end of the day, it's only a good toy if your kid has fun with it. Pay attention to them! What do they have fun doing? What are they interested in? What do their friends have that they long for? To me, being tuned in to things like this is what makes the difference. Generally speaking, if you foster your child's interests with things that are built to last, you did well. Designers like me are half of this equation because we make great toys available, but the other half is parents choosing the right one for their kid.
AC: What are some of your driving objectives when designing a toy?
A: My objective as a designer is to optimize as much as possible within the limitations of the project. What does our target audience like? What features are our competitors offering that we are either obligated to include or have an opportunity to do better? What price are we aiming for the toy to cost? What's trending right now that we have an opportunity to capitalize on? Every project we ask ourselves these questions & strive for balance on all fronts.
AC: Do you have ways to quantify the success of a toy? consecutive play hours/ years used etc, or is the main indicator sales volume?
A: Depends who you ask & what success means to you! If the company producing the toy is publicly traded, people that wear ties at the top of the food chain will tell you success is defined by sales volume. Makes sense, right? However, money's not the only reason we do it! There's nothing more satisfying than igniting positive emotions in a child from an experience you provide them with. Kids are future adults! Great toys inspire them to create, entertain them, make them laugh, spark their imagination & fill them with wonder & excitement. To me, true success is seeing things like that materialize because of something you created, regardless how big or small the audience ends up being.
AC: Do you have a particular toy or design that you're most proud of and why?
A: 'Dragamonz' is a line of collectable mini figures & trading cards that I've worked hard on for 2 years now & am very proud of! I'm given a lot of creative control for that brand in particular so it's extra rewarding to see the positive response it's gotten & the community of passionate fans that's grown around it. We spend a lot of time making sure every character & card is refined to the finest detail, & it's a great feeling to see people notice that & be inspired by that. Seeing kids post fan art, photos of their giant collections, & videos of grown adults clearing out stores of their stock is super flattering & pushes me to maintain that level of enthusiasm.
Photograph by Gillian Jackson