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Toy design program breeds tomorrow’s innovators

IN the mood to suss out some budding toy talent? Look no further than Otis College of Art & Design in L.A. The school offers the only full four-year undergrad program in toy design in the US. And over the course of the program's 11-year history, it has become one of the first stops for consumer products companies searching for staff.
September 1, 2008

IN the mood to suss out some budding toy talent? Look no further than Otis College of Art & Design in L.A. The school offers the only full four-year undergrad program in toy design in the US. And over the course of the program’s 11-year history, it has become one of the first stops for consumer products companies searching for staff.

‘When they graduate, our students have the complete set of skills to do a full range of toy design, probably more than most of the people they go to work for,’ says department chair Deborah Ryan. Otis accepts approximately 20 students per year, and 95% of graduates land jobs at major toycos including Mattel, Jakks Pacific, Spin Master and Lego.

At Otis, budding toy designers learn technical skills such as drawing, Photoshop rendering and the use of programs like Illustrator and Rhino, along with the mechanics of model making. But students are also schooled in the business side of the creative enterprise, taking courses in licensing and brand marketing. And rounding out the experience, they dabble in the

history of toys, art and child psychology as well. Toy experts currently working at leading companies in the field are often brought in as instructors, including Christian Colquhoun, a principal designer for special effects firm Applied Effects, and Jeannie Hardie, currently a design manager at Mattel.

So sought-after are Otis graduates that manufacturers often look for ways to scout students before they finish the program. Just this past spring, for example, Mattel gave the school a grant to send its graduating class to the toyco’s manufacturing facilities in Hong Kong and China, where the students were able to see first-hand every single aspect of toy production, from hair rooting and grooming, to printing, packaging, and toy safety processes.

Ryan, herself a former creative manager at Disney, often receives calls during the school year from toycos that want to preview student work. Some get their chance in March, when Otis holds an internship fair. The event welcomes as many as 40 companies from across the US to come and meet the students, all of whom volunteer their services for a summer or two. Each graduating class also showcases its designs at an event in May that Ryan describes as Toy Fair-esque – the whole college clears out, and graduates display their best creations while industry folk descend upon campus to recruit the best in show.

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