Unknown Origins

Darren Lee Phillipson on Toy and Content Development

November 20, 2021 Darren Lee Phillipson Season 1 Episode 87
Unknown Origins
Darren Lee Phillipson on Toy and Content Development
Show Notes Transcript

Darren Lee Phillipson is a multi-award-winning Consumer Products, Licensing, and Entertainment innovator and owner of design_lead_play_, spending the last 25 years leading some of the world's most influential toy and licensing companies: Disney, Lucasfilm, Dreamworks, Fisher-Price, and Alpha Group. Creating and bringing to fruition some of the most iconic properties, including Star Wars, Toy Story, Cars, Dora the Explorer, Kung Fu Panda, and Sesame Street.
 
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Roy Sharples:

Hello, I'm Roy Sharples, welcome to the unknown origins podcast. Why are you listening to this podcast? Are you seeking inspiration? an industry expert, looking for insights, or growing your career? I created the unknown origins podcast to provide access to insights and content from creators worldwide with inspirational conversations and storytelling, about art, architecture, design, entrepreneurship, fashion, film, music and pop culture. Darren Lee Philipson is a multi award winning consumer products licensing and entertainment innovator. But he has spent the last 25 years leading some of the world's most influential toy and licensing companies, including Vice President of Global Product Design, and content development for alpha group, a multi billion dollar toy, an entertainment company, toy architect, and head of hardline Global Product Development for DreamWorks Animation, where he led the product development team on over 20 franchises, including trolls, How to Train Your Dragon, and Kung Fu Panda, Director of Global Product Development for Disney consumer products and Lucasfilm licensing, where he led the development for powerhouse Disney properties, such as Star Wars cars, Toy Story, Princess Mickey and Minnie Mouse. After starting his career at Fisher Price, where he served as Vice President of Product Design for All licensed preschool properties, including Sesame Street, Blue's Clues, and Dora the Explorer, he launched many top selling toys, including Lane extensions of the popular Elmo character from Sesame Street. He currently owns design, lead play, a full service consultancy, and design agency, offering business to business support to consumer products, and the entertainment and licensing industries specializing and product and content development to help articulate the CP friendly and toy attic nature of intellectual properties. Hello, and welcome. Darren, when are you in the world at the moment? Darren?

Darren Lee Phillipson:

Yeah, so I am in Los Angeles. I'm originally from Manchester. Yeah. And then, you know, I've lived in New York City. So I lived there for nine years. And then I went to San Francisco and that was about four or five years and then now LA. I don't actually know how long I've been here now for it's about 12 years. I think. So you know, circumnavigate around the US.

Roy Sharples:

Well, it's homely, comforting to hear that you've maintained your Mancunian voice, and they anticipate vintage classic swagger and affectionate, rebellious attitude.

Darren Lee Phillipson:

Now well, you know, my wife's also from England. So I think we, we bounce off each other. You know, what about you? Are you Where are you based on because I know you had a stint in America, right?

Roy Sharples:

Yep, still here up in Seattle. Climate wise, it's not a million miles away from that of north of Britain, he grew up in Manchester must have had a profound effect on your creative influences, and early grooming, especially in terms of how influential it has been, as a creative society take music, for example, such as the Buzzcocks, Magazine, Joy Division, The Smiths, and the whole Factory record movement under the infamous Hacienda nightclub, which enable the whole new scene and dance music and pop culture.

Darren Lee Phillipson:

Your I, I think, and I was there a good time, sort of 80s night, you know, early 90s Because I moved to New York in 94. Yeah, but, you know, that was the days of Darcy under. So, for me, that was just the prime time to be in Manchester, amazing!

Roy Sharples:

Being the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. It has the self defined Dreamer Maker and Doer ethos ingrained within its culture and DNA. And unlike other cities, such as Seattle, San Francisco and Chicago, which have experienced snapshots and time for their musical and pop culture influence. Manchester has engineered a prolonged and self sustaining musical output that has navigated time with a distinct a static and identity, no nonsense attitude and, and confident swagger. And it's all been locally created. By by local people, unlike, say, cities like London, New York City, Los Angeles, where creators have a tendency to migrate to those epicenters to help fuel their creative pursuits. Manchester, on the other hand, has been arguably single minded and self sustaining. From that perspective.

Darren Lee Phillipson:

I love Manchester, you know, it's like, it's my hometown, you know, but I think because the word that can be quite visible at times, you know, he does read a lot. But, you know, I think that sparks of creativity, because people are just looking, you know, for something to really get into to kind of rise above. You know, if it's a rainy day outside, I genuinely think that's, at least, that's the way it was for me, you know, and that's the reason I live in LA now, because I did not want to see any more rain in my life. To the complete opposite place together, you know,

Roy Sharples:

totally get it me like, and I get, I mean, you're right, I mean, melancholy. And I'm not saying Manchester's Malenky, right. But there is an agreement there and been passed on, and rain wise, and combined with the northern angst, it definitely doesn't inspire creativity, knowing you will go your other industrial cities like like Glasgow, Dublin will not Dublin's an industrial city, but it's like poor timing, and it's got a similar psyche as well.

Darren Lee Phillipson:

I think dead, right! Yeah.

Roy Sharples:

So Darren, what inspired and attracted you to the magical world of timing and content development in the first place.

Darren Lee Phillipson:

As a kid, I would be drawing all the time, you know, whether it was cartoons, or little diagrams, that kind of stuff. I mean, you know, the artistic side was always there for me. And I think, as I started to get into art college, and you know, doing my degree, obviously started to study more about the arts, more about design movements, and that kind of thing. Actually, a big something that really influenced me was the Memphis design movement. And if you're familiar with that one, or maybe not familiar with it, I mean, it's basically a movement that was born in the 80s, out of Italy. And when you look at a lot of the pieces that were done, I mean, it's a lot of furniture, there's product design in there, but it's very, they'd look like toys, you know, so they might have a lamp, or, you know, a chair, or a hairdryer. And they just look like toys to me, you know, very colorful, all sort of geometric shapes. And I just absolutely fell in love with it. It was like, Oh, my god, yeah, if I, you know, if I'm designing the product, this is the inspiration point for me. And so when I was doing my degree in Industrial Design, everything I did, you know, looked like a toy. So they'd say, okay, is your first project? Can you design a cell phone or a phone with a pager attached to it? I was like, Okay, this great project. And you know, everyone on the course, they were amazing, you know, very talented people. And they all did beautifully designed little cell phones with the pages integrated, and very slick and sleek, and the colors were very sophisticated. And then I showed my final version of it. And it was this big, oversized crazy looking shape. It had like a big yellow, kind of disk shaped receiver that you speak into the microphone. So anyway, speaking to the shape of the body was this huge Angular blue, bright blue shape? It had a number of put like, handles on it that were like these wiggle shapes. And they said, Oh, yeah, and I'd want these to be neon. So they light up with like, neon lights in this crazy, look at that. It was like a piece of art, basically. Yeah. And I always remember, you know, that the tutor who's like, you know, you're never going to get a job doing stuff like this. You know, it's just, it's just too out there is like, it's not in the brief. It doesn't make any sense. For me, it was just like, that was the way my mind was programmed. And again, it was this heavy influence from the Memphis movement. You know, designers like Ettore Sottsass is just like a wonderful, you know, furniture product designer, and I think a lot of them were artists, and that was the thing they were sort of artists that moved into that field. Michelle dellucci was another one where I'm actually now I managed to get a couple of his pieces. You know, the some really beautiful lamp designs he did and I came across a one time and like this The second hand store and I was had to snap them up, you know? Yeah. Yeah, I would say the Memphis movement was, was a big inspiration for me in terms of how I started to think about product design. And obviously, designing things like a television itself to make them look like a toy, then that natural progression was to like, kind of get into toys

Roy Sharples:

That's very insightful and revealing. As soon as we enter the planet, we are immersed in popular culture, influencing us through the toys and games we play with the media programs, we watch the brand's advertisements and products we consume, the music, we listen to the art we make the books and comics, we read and the clothes we wear. The point being, these things stick with you. And they come out in peculiar ways, and across different touchpoints throughout life. And while time is constant, events can be cyclical within time, regardless at in the past, within the present, to create the future. For example, the children of the 1970s were predominantly born to the baby boomers, leading to their influence and specific product lines, fashion, music, art, cartoons, video games, toys, and the like. And these children grew up, enter the work force and became creators, therefore infusing their creations with the qualities they loved when they were when they were young, when they were babies when they were children. And you can see that red thread from how, from how you've envisioned and made the products that you've ended up making, and how those aesthetics and identity has been manifested and infused throughout your life. Obviously, that can only be done if you have the innate ability and talent to manifest what is inside of you. And then turn that from your imagination into art into the products you've designed and brought to market. Yeah, and

Darren Lee Phillipson:

I think the interesting observation now, and I don't know if you'll agree with this one, but, you know, certainly what I see more and more is, when you look at what's out there, in terms of industrial design and product design. It's very, sort of gimmicky now, you know, and, and I think a lot of that has come out of Japan. You know, I think they've had a heavy influence on that. But, you know, if you think about designers like Karim Rashid, you know, and if he's designing, like, vacuum cleaner, you know, implies this sort of blob object look to it. And very colorful, you know, it just looks fun. You know, I think, and I think that's quite a big part of the design sensibility. Now maybe it's the world we live in, where we need a little bit of that joy in our lives, and we get through through the product design, you know, I think it's to put a smile on your face, I think, you know, that winds whimsical kind of look. And I see that it's quite prevalent now. So I feel like what I was doing 25 years ago, okay, you know, maybe it wasn't exactly what's happening now. But certainly, for me, at least anyway, it was, it was a sort of precursor to what we see now, in that, you know, all of these kind of fun shapes and designs very playful. Yeah, that's sort of what inspired the look of, you know, in terms of the products that I designed. Now I can,

Roy Sharples:

I can totally see that. It's interesting as well, that you, you give a nod there to, to Japan, and, you know, when when you can go that as soon as you can enter the airport in Tokyo, you're just immersed in a whole world of cartoons and playfulness. And, and it speaks to every age. It's not just young people, it's people, you know, through all ages that have these gadgets and cartoon characters, and this is part of our cultural. So even when you look at those moments, and it's on the present within the culture, and you feel, but yeah, so you're going to see something that doesn't hold you.

Unknown:

I don't, no, sorry, I was just gonna say, absolutely. I agree. You know, I have been very fortunate in that I probably been in Tokyo now about 15 times in my career, because, you know, it's quite the epicenter of the toy industry. And they have a toy fair there in the middle of the year. And so yeah, I've had the chance to go further, many times, and it's exactly what you say. It's like the culture really appreciates, you know, products that you could say, well, this is a toy, you know, this is, this is something that a kid would want not an adult but the adults, they love toys. You know, I think they call they collect toys, they, you know, they dress like cartoon characters. I mean, they just really kind of adore that. whole culture and, and again, they've done that for years, you know, but slowly and surely, that has now infiltrated into western culture big time, you know, I'd say, probably over the last five to 10 years. And so yeah, we're seeing a big impact on that. Now, I think

Roy Sharples:

it's absolutely fascinating. Overall, I just find Japan a a mystic, erotic and spiritually enlightening civilization. It's particularly unique in its culture, and traditions. And partly because historically, it's been an isolated as a as a nation, which is probably reflected in many aspects of its culture. And these characteristics have been developed without outside influence. So I wonder if it's gonna play it away into how it's evolved from the points that you were you were making there, Darren. Anyway, leading into your creative process, Darren, how do you make the invisible visible by dreaming up ideas, developing those ideas into concepts, and then bringing those concepts to actualizations?

Darren Lee Phillipson:

A process that you go through? And, you know, almost like each project is a little bit different in that respect, but there are some, I think, fundamentals to obviously, you know, really, the things I'm going to say, you're probably looking at go okay, you know, that's sort of expected but that, you know, they're tried and tested, right. So I think that's why they always seem to work well, but I certainly would say research is a big part of it. So even before you know, putting pen to paper, you've just got to do the research, right, you've got to really understand what the consumer is looking for. And then a lot of the time, this is kind of speaking from both sides of my mouth, but what the consumer isn't looking for, you know, so that that's what you might also call kind of the the whitespace, or, you know, the blue ocean. And, you know, some of those terms, if you don't know, the audience, if they don't know, blue ocean, you know that the terminology there is, well, you're always looking for the blue ocean, because the other part of it is the red ocean. And that's where all the sharks are, right? That's the red ocean. And so you don't want to be in amongst all those sharks, you want to be in the nice blue ocean where there's, you know, it's all nice, and there's nothing going on there. And, and that's where, you know, exactly, yeah, exactly, exactly. And the same idea, right, with whitespace. You know, it's kind of like, the sort of blank canvas, the area where there's nothing going on. And that's obviously if you can get it get something out that goes into that whitespace, where there is nothing going on, and it works, it's gonna work really, really well, because you've got no competition. Yeah, so I think, you know, that's a big part of how you go about thinking of, okay, what's that next product, you know, and bring it to reality. And then, with that, you know, it is it is consumer tastes. So, you know, what are consumers buying at the moment, because that can certainly inform you on what it is that they might be buying in a year, two years, three years from now. And then, you know, kind of that future thinking, which is really trends, trying to stay on top of trends. And, you know, again, if you want to think about Japan, Tokyo as a good example, that you can, I can very much go there and see all these wonderful, kind of emerging technologies or trends or fashions. And it's only happening in Japan, you know, it's only happening in Tokyo, it might only be happening in a part of Tokyo, you know, and so you can kind of bring that back and develop something from that. And that will be brand new for the rest of the markets, you know, and that certainly can happen with going to Europe, because I think Europe has its own distinct style with a lot of different things. And even UK, the UK, you know, is a little bit even more separate to a lot of the countries in the rest of Europe, and Latin America, you know, and it's all based on culture, right? So, all these places have their own cultures, and therefore, you know, they develop their own kind of needs in the marketplace and their own trends. But again, you can be very much inspired by that, to create that next product. I'd say in the world of toys specifically. And I was going to kind of mention this before, but, you know, it's that idea, for me, at least, are still having the mindset of the kid. You know, I mean, I've, I think I've managed to effectively keep that mindset from being you know, 910 11 years old, and bring that into how I look at design now. And, you know, it's good and bad, right? So for me, the good part is that can think like a kid that can get excited about, you know, what kind of a toy a kid would want to play with. And if I dream up an idea I haven't idea again that, oh, I think a kid would really love this at a certain age. The bad is, you know, sometimes I'm just messing about too much. I'm not focused on a big kid. So you know, it's like, you know, I gotta control that side of it. But yeah, I think those are certainly some things that I am always looking at. And then I think, you know, the idea of being a toy design is very interesting. Not a lot of people think of it this way. But as a toy designer, you're actually a designer of all different disciplines. So as a toy designer, you're an automotive designer, you know, if you're designing a Hot Wheels car or something like that, you're a you're a furniture designer or architectural designer, if you do in a house or a doll's house, you're a fashion designer, if you include them for $1. I mean, the list goes on and on and on. So you actually have to be like a multi discipline designer to really do, obviously, then taking it to the sensibility of a toy. But you know, sometimes those toys I mean, if you think about collectibles, you know, it's a whole toy category, right? So, higher end products, bit more premium pricing, but for the kidults in this world, right, you know, the expression kidults. I don't know if you've heard of that one. Yeah, Kindle. I mean, it is what it says. Right? So it's an adult, that's like a kid and collects all this stuff. You know, they might be a big Star Wars nerd. And they click on Star Wars, toys and that kind of stuff. So yeah, I think, you know, when you design it in that category, you're designing a lot of things that are very realistic, but they're just on that miniature scale.

Roy Sharples:

That multiple things that you said triggered thoughts - one of the things that really resonated was how you retain how you manage to maintain your childlike wonder and imagination. And that's such a challenge. Because, you know, the more you can go through life, and you get exposed to multiple different kinds of things. And you know, some of you can lose that purity and ability to see things for what they really are, but, and not to become contaminated, contaminated by other things and, and the status quo of things and the ordinariness, I think, so being able to maintain that childlike wonder, throughout your your life and in how you approach creativity is is really admirable. The other thing, the other things that you said that as well around your creative processes, how you're able to really blend the art and science of stacks. And really how you're constantly looking, seeking inspiration through culture in everyday life, and being able to see those patterns or get those points of inspiration and to create products and content that connects to the emotions and under margination. But do it in a way that it's, it's really nicely branded. And you know, when I look at the, the companies and the projects and the the characters that you've created from Disney, DreamWorks Lucasfilm Fisher-Price, I mean, there's some massive, iconic characters and brands that you've created there, that all have a distinct look and feel, but they're all part of pop culture. And so being able to really do what you've done in to have that diversity of thought and the ability to what you said, around, it's like, you're you're an all encompassing, multidisciplinary designer, because in the context of what you're doing, you're having to create, you know, like you say, the, the fashion outfits, the, the industrial design, architecture, multiple things that you have to have an inkling and capability for. And that's something that I hadn't really thought about in too much depth until you you highlight your work.

Darren Lee Phillipson:

Thank you. Yeah, I mean, it's an interesting way to think about it. And, you know, you might not think about that, in terms of what a toy designer does, because he just has its kids toys, it's bright colors. It's chunky shaped, it's playful, but obviously, yeah, there is this mindset of I mean, you know, the guys that they hire at Mattel to do the Hot Wheels. I mean, a lot of them are ex automotive industry, guys, you know, because they're just designing cars, it just a miniature scale, you know. But yeah, that's kind of what fashion designers you know, a lot of those could be from the fashion industry, you know, that's where they were prior. And then they get into the toy industry, and now they're designing fashions, but just for adult scale, you know. So there certainly is like this kind of multidisciplinary way. You have to work.

Roy Sharples:

Definitely. So, Darren, how did you end up gravitating towards these iconic, incredible brands?

Darren Lee Phillipson:

The Star Wars one's an easy one to talk about because oh my goodness, I'm like the biggest Star Wars A crazy person out there. And, you know, I had the Star Wars toys as a kid. Yeah. And, and again, this was the other thing I played with toys consulars kiddo, it's very spoil, you know, as an only child till I was like 11 years old, and then my sister was born. So I was very sport had all the toys, and Star Wars was just a big one. In fact, you know, if we also want to talk about influences, and you know how we came to do what we're doing. For me, Star Wars was a huge one. You know, and it's funny, I think if you if you probably speak to a lot of designers out there, again, in different disciplines, a lot of them will quote, Star Wars as this major influence. So I think it's just that feeling certainly, for me, that feeling that I had, when I sat in the seat at the cinema, and what, in that movie, you know, I don't know, it just had this profound effect on me, it's like, it made me want to be creative. You know, whether that was a toy designer, or a product designer, or fashion designer, whatever it was, it just it that instilled that in me. And so, you know, I was, I've always massively been into Star Wars, and then, you know, could never figure out obviously, a way to think how to get a job there. Because it is, it's very, very difficult to get a job there, you know, there's not, they don't have a huge team there. And they really do only employ the cream of the cream in the industry, not not to say I think I weaseled my way in there somehow, but you know, like, they certainly, you know, get the cream of the cream there. And I think for me, that that was just about timing, you know, when I contacted them, and I did just literally cold call them and managed to get through and just at that time, they'd had an opening. And so you know, that it was all just very serendipitous, really that, you know, I was able to get the roll. And for me, it was just incredible, you know, being there. It was actually to work on Revenge of the Sith, which was the best, it's like the third movie in the, you know, nine movies, but you know, it was obviously a six movie that they made. But yeah, they hired me there for that. And, you know, it's incredibly excited the first week. They said, Okay, Darren, We've got this fear to read. I'm like, Okay, what's this? And, and it was the script for Revenge of the Sith. Oh, I'm thinking what, this is my job now to read this, and you're gonna pay for it? Yeah. It was amazing. I could sit there for the afternoon, reading through this. And you know, that those kind of experiences that I mean, going to see, sort of, like, you know, almost like the first rough edit of the movie with George Lucas and his own private cinema, you know, those kinds of experiences blew me away. And I have to talk about it. Because, you know, it's like a point in time. That's, that's gone now. And, you know, I've moved on in my life. But yeah, you know, if I think back about them, they were incredible points in time that, you know, it really sort of that, again, sort of inspired me even more, you know, so I think that that style was was a you know, Lucasfilm that's an easy one to talk about. And then, you know, for me, it's looking at all of these what I maybe would call like, sort of blue chip companies, you know, when you look at the entertainment industry, and he would say like doing, you know, amazing, incredible things. I mean, Disney, of course, you know, you would count that as like, right up the DreamWorks, obviously. And it's interesting, obviously, dream, Disney bought Lucasfilm now, you know, DreamWorks, were purchased by Universal. So, you know, you get a lot of kind of this stuff going on in the industry where, you know, other companies getting swallowed up. But, you know, for me, I looked at them as quality, they did quality product. Yeah, you know, and I think that's really important to me. And so that kind of gets right back to when I first moved to America. And I took a job with Fisher Price. And again, you know, if you think of, okay, which company has the best quality preschool toys? What's the one that's everyone's heard of around the world? It's Fisher Price right? Now, you can't really do better than that. So, for me, that was, again, a dream job to be able to work, you know, under the Fisher Price and blur umbrella and developing products with the Fisher Price name attached to it just because, you know, I, I had Fisher Price toys as a kid. My parents had Fisher Price toys as a kid. Probably my grandparents did, you know, and they all passed down through generations and, and, you know, it's just superb quality. So, yeah, I think that, you know, to go back to your original question, I think that's a big influence of me, is, you know, where can I go that I really appreciate and value the work that's done and it is quality. And I like to see that a lot of these companies now as well, they're, you know, wanting to move to greener initiatives to big thing in the toy industry now. So that that's, you know, as I get older now, and I have a boy who's 13, I start to think about that a lot more now, with the industry that I'm working in. So I mean, that has an effect on sometimes now, you know, what I want to do as well going forward?

Roy Sharples:

That's fantastic What what did it feel lik Darren? Like, I mean, so many o those stories you said, they'r like, where it's like you mad your dreams come withou sounding corny, right, yet like, it was dreamlike. And lik when you ended up being in thes amazing environments, but whe you were in there, in terms o what did it do to you creativity in terms of did i take you to a whole differen level, and being bein surrounded with just like minde people who were, you know, a creative, that really push it t a whole different kind of level And did it take you to a leve where you just didn't think yo had that in you? Or it was case of I knew how to me, and just needed to have that kind o platform so that I could reall bring it to life? On a bit o both

Darren Lee Phillipson:

I'd say it's absolutely what you were saying in the beginning there that, you know, being in those environments, you cannot help but be inspired in the work you do. I mean, and so and it comes at several, several levels, I think, I think one, it comes in terms of the product that you're working on, right? So if you're doing awesome Star Wars toys, or really cool Disney products, you know, whatever that is, that is inspiration and of itself. And then certainly the team that you're working with, because it's all like minded people. Yeah, you know, the mindset, and, you know, what a toy designer is into it, you know, kind of different to what other designers who were maybe more hard nosed industrial designers, something like that, you know, I'd say a toy designer does have a particular mindset. And, you know, you can't help but get wrapped up in that, right, because you're all you're all saying the same thing. And you're all into the same sort. You're all into pop culture, you're all into movies, you're into, you know, music, and like whatever it is, because it's all it's a very trim. I mean, all the design industries are trend based, but particularly the toy industry very trend based, because it makes it very quick. It's almost like probably closest associate closely associated with the fashion industry. Yeah, you know, it's constantly having to be updated, the constantly going to be on top of the trends. So all of that just kind of swirls around with everybody, you know, working in the teams. And then I think the last part of it is sort of that environment culture you working in. So, you know, these companies are all very good companies in terms of the culture that they provide for the employees. And then even like, the working environments, you know, again, to talk about Lucasfilm and working on the ranches, though, you know, just I can't even get into like, it's just mind blowing, you know, to look out my window and see deer run by, you know, all this kind of stuff is like, absolutely incredible. And Disney was the same way. They had a beautiful campus, DreamWorks campus, oh, my goodness, they had this incredible place where they had a fountain we call up shirt. And, you know, it's all bill, obviously, to inspire creativity with the employees. I mean, that's what all good companies know that, if they get if they have happy employees, they're going to get great workout. And that, you know, and so those are like three big factors, I would say that sort of inspire that creativity.

Roy Sharples:

So Darren, what are the key skills needed to thrive and survive as a toy and ontent developer?

Darren Lee Phillipson:

Well, I get, you know, the sort of the hard skills, right, which is, yeah, you know, being being creative. That's what we're talking about, overall, that being creative, and, you know, kind of knowing your market, and, you know, having the skill sets to be able to draw and design and then, you know, now, obviously, everything is CAD. So having the experience to be able to do 3d modeling, you know, and knowing all the different software that's out there and knowing how to use it, because pretty much all the files nowadays, you know, all shared digitally and, and that's what makes the whole process easy, right? So there's, there's all those, like, sort of typical hard skills, but I probably want to talk just a little bit more about like, the soft skills, you know, sort of what I think is important there because, because sometimes people don't talk about that as much maybe and you go into a company and we talk about company cultures and you know, being able to thrive and be creative, then you do have to sort of behave in a certain way. You know, want to say behave not like I've got to be a good boy here. You know, like, it's not that it's just how you interact with, with, with teams, and you know how you kind of go about your business. And I think, you know, certainly, one thing for me were toys is the just the idea of kind of shooting for the stars, you know, what I mean, there is, you have an idea, you know, you really want to like, do the best you can to put all of your thought, and all of your energy, and all of your thinking into that very first, design, that very first presentation, because it is guaranteed that bad, if you get that through all the millions of levels of, you know, approvals that you have to go through and all that kind of stuff and get it to the point of going in production and going on shell, it's definitely going to be a watered down version of what you did, you know, it's always the way because you've got multiple people involved, you know, you got a marketing person that has to market the product to salesperson that's going to sell it, you got engineers looking at it, you've got to cost it out. So it's the retail the consumers, you know, it's got to do well, in consumer testing. And throughout that whole phase, things are changing with the product, sometimes it's getting better, sometimes maybe in your own eyes, it's getting worse, but certainly it's evolving and changing and then never ends up being the product that you initially designed. And you know, a lot of the time, it does lose a lot of the flavor of what you wanted. And that's just how you have to be flexible and ductile and adaptable in the process. So that's my, I'd say shoot for the stars, like get all of your ideas in there to begin with, because, you know, then at least when you start to pull back, you'll hopefully always end up still with that great product that you really want to put out there. So that's kind of one of the things and then it say the other one is sort of have a thick skin, which kind of relates to what I just said, right? So thick skin is a big thing. And that's like something you'd find that hard to, to have if you came straight out of college and went into a job. And I find it hard to find that with somebody you know, to have that thick skin because I think it is literally something you build over time. And it is through experience of going through all the all the stuff you have to go through. You know, to get to sell your product, basically. And so the more you can grow that thick skin, the better off you'll be, because then, you know, it's a case of you not being too precious with, with the idea you've got, you're allowing other people into the process, because don't forget, any product, any toy product that's put out there, there's a ton of people involved in that whole process, you might be the one who came up with the idea, he might be the one who sketched it out, or, you know, you presented it, but ultimately for that product to happen. 50 other people need to get involved and help you to make it happen. And so you need to, you know, make them feel like part of the process. You know, they need to adopt other people's ideas. You know, and I think you need to make them feel like they have ownership because that's his kind of what I'm revealing there like the sneaky part of the process that how I do it is, you know, I will be I think I'm quite clever in the way I make my idea feel like it's somebody else's idea. Because once I've got to that point, I'm good. I'm getting my idea out there. Because I've got them in dusted now that they you know, even to the point where you like gray that a lot of what you've just done go with it. It doesn't matter to me, who claims ownership to that. And maybe who ultimately gets credit for it. That doesn't matter to me as much. What matters to me is I get the right products out there.

Roy Sharples:

Yeah, the integrity, you know, yeah, exactly. Yeah.

Darren Lee Phillipson:

Yeah. And, you know, some people might say, well, that's stupid, you've got to get credit, you know, that's you've worked hard at it. And I do think there's a truth to that, obviously, and I do like to get credit. But, you know, I think a lot of that comes from me being a manager leader for so long in the industry. You know, the way I look at it is I've got a team and I, you know, if they all feel motivated, and they feel like they're getting their products out there and people love it, then that just benefits me ultimately, you know, and if I've come up with an idea, and then I give it to a design, they run with it and they make it beautiful, by the way, they're going to add so much to it themselves. And then they get credit for the great job done, you know, they're now benefit from that they're, you know, hopefully going to, you know, basically move through their career and that kind of thing. So, you know, I'm all about that really kind of getting that credit over someone else, even if it's your idea. It's it's never really bothered me every now and again. I'm like, you know if someone believes Didn't Lee wants to claim credit for summer? And you're like, oh, wait a minute, you know, I've had that happen, then that, you know, that does happen. But generally I'm like, No, I'd rather somebody else get the credit, if it's going to benefit their career, and what then their motivation behind it because again, I'm just going to do well, from my team being happy, you know, and again, everything's a team effort, right? So, you know, it's a bit of a cliche, you know, everything's a team effort, but it's so true, you know, you can't come up with something and get it done by yourself, you need people invested in it with you.

Roy Sharples:

I think one of the things that came across within your points there, Darren is the importance of fostering a creative culture by having a strong sense of acceptance, belonging, and connected to a greater purpose and whole, and the importance to inspire creativity and others. And in doing so building productive and innovative teams that continuously manage innovation that powers the products you design, make and sell and the businesses you run. Darren, as you reflect back, what are the lessons learned in terms of the pitfalls to avoid, and the keys to success that you can share with existing and aspiring toy and content developers?

Darren Lee Phillipson:

Yeah, I can give you just one good one that I think is like the best one for anybody really, I actually learned this one at Disney. And it, you know, it's sort of common sense. And people generally know this, but not everybody can act on it. But it was a it was a term that came up first, for me, at least at Disney, and it was the idea of, like, fail fast. Yeah, and I'm sure you've heard of that. But, you know, just to kind of really describe, you know, it's obviously the thought that, okay, you have an idea, you know, you get to go and you get a little bit of traction around, you know, you get, again, you get enough people rally around it, and it's going forwards. And, you know, something happens along the way, and maybe it doesn't test well. So you redesign it again and put it out there. And now maybe the cost is too high. So okay, let me take this out now to get the cost, right. And retested again, and, oh, now there's another problem with it. And so you, you pull it back again, and you try to redesign it and, and so at some point, and this is, you know, where you would benefit from trying to understand this sooner rather than later is, you know, you kind of have to like, stop, right and say, Okay, I've put enough into this now where it's not worth it anymore. You know, and even though I've spent all this money against it, you know, kind of developing the product of developing prototypes, and doing consumer tests, and whatever else you've done, so all that money is going to be lost. Now, it doesn't matter. Because, you know, ultimately, you put that out there, and it doesn't sell, they've lost even more money. And there's lots more issues that can happen with that, obviously, but, you know, so the idea of failing fast, like, understanding as soon as you can, that something isn't working, is definitely the way to kind of think about things. And, and I guess the other side of that is, you know, don't worry about making mistakes, you know, don't miss making mistakes is a huge part of becoming successful. Yeah. Because you have to make those mistakes, to learn what not to do in the future. You know, nobody's perfect. So you're not going to do everything brilliantly. Maybe you'll get your first project, and they'll go great. And you'll think, oh, cool, I know what I'm doing. And then the next one might be good. And then the third one, oh, no, you know, it's gonna work. And so everybody makes mistakes, nobody's perfect. So, make those mistakes, don't kick yourself too much about it. You know, mistakes can cause lots of, again, different issues financially, or mentally, or whatever it is. But you do have to get through that, and move on and know and understand that making those mistakes is absolutely part of the process. And the idea is the older you get, the more experience you get, you make less mistakes, you know, but that's what happened for me, I'm still making mistakes. I'm still learning from them. But you know, I also put that down to life as well. Right? Life was ups and downs. So yeah, I think I think that's how I would summarize it really kind of fail fast. Don't worry about making mistake.

Roy Sharples:

Treating failure as a step forward, not a step backward or a reason to disengage and the quicker you can feel and learn from that, the better it is and the overall kind of scale of things right until your point, you're so right if you if you don't really, you know, learn from that really quickly and fail fast. And then the disastrous consequences of that kind of go into the market when it hasn't been fully diagnosed or has been pushed out there and really slapdash way that the consequences are that can be catastrophic. Yeah,

Darren Lee Phillipson:

Absolutely! Yeah, that's the, that's the dea, really, is to avoid it ge in a lot worse, which you c n, you know, and I've been t ere as well, you know, the p ints where I don't, I wasn't fa ling fast, or I wasn't unde standing that I needed to g ve up on something. And then ye h, you know, it just it just did get a lot worse down the road, y u know, and that's, again, ther 's some mistake, and you learn f om it and move on.

Roy Sharples:

Tilting forward, arren, what's your vision for he future of toy and content evelopment,

Darren Lee Phillipson:

We didn't actually talk a lot about content development really, so far, but you know, that, that is a big part now, for me of, of what I do, you know, my day to day business. So, you know, just just to kind of go back a little bit on that, and then we can maybe talk to the future, because I think it'll help inform the, you know, I really started getting into content development, I would call it and, and again, content can mean many different things. For me, it means involved in the creation of TV shows and movies that kids watch, right? So it's kids entertainment. So that's what I refer to as content development. And so when I was at Disney, my team and I started working very closely with the Disney Channel. And the Disney Channel, for me at the time, they were the, that was the place where they developed all of the kids entertainment, for TV shows, like, I name a few like Minnie Mouse, Mickey Mouse, Doc, McStuffins, Jacob, middle, and pirates, for parents out there, they would, they would know all these names, right. And so we would work very closely with them, to say, hey, you know, this show that that you're developing, what if we put this in there, what if we put this vehicle in there, or this character or this gadget, you know, if you can work that into the show, we can make a great toy out of it. And then the phrase comes up their toy attic. So if you've not heard that phrase, that's like, you know, a lot of you know, people create new content for kids want to make their shows toy attic. So they want to have content that, you know, you can make toys from very easily Paw Patrol being like the best example of that, right. So that's done really well with the concept of kids. And it's done really well with the toys, toys for kids as well. So you know, really started getting involved with the this the Disney Channel, folks. And then moving to DreamWorks, it was then working with the movie producers and the directors and the, the art departments again, to make the this was not now on the movie level. So you know, making sure that when they were developing the movies, we could put stuff in there that was toy attic, you know, and would would drive toy sales. And then from there, really my last job at alpha group, that's when it took another level, because I became an executive producer, on a couple of animated shows, and really been involved from the get go there in terms of, okay, this is the concept for the show. And these are the kind of things we need to put into the show to make him again, triatic. So, you know, content development is now a big part of what I do. And so the idea going forwards, I think is how can you marry that with toy products. And so that's been done, you know, for many, many years now. But it's all changing now with with streaming platforms and know how much content is out there. So when I was at Fisher Price, you know, there was like a handful of preschool shows out there. So we had some of the top ones, you know, we had Sesame Street, Blue's Clues Dora the Explorer, and these were like the top preschool shows at the time, there weren't that many other competitors out there. But now, there's hundreds. And that's because everybody's going after it. There's so many platforms now to watch this content on. You know, obviously, Netflix started it all. But you've got HBO max. Now you've got Cartoon Network, you've got Apple TV, you know, the list goes on and on. Right? So there's so much content out there. So it's like, how do you marry those together in a way that stands out, you know, stands out in the crowd. And for me, a big part of that what I'm looking at at least is then the third arm of it all, I guess, which is the digital domain, right? So, you know, again, with the technology that's out there in the digital world and how kids use their mobile devices and more They're watching on their screens got really, really start to think about how you interact those three pieces together. Because there's toys out there that have technology, those toys out there that are based on, you know, kids entertainment. But actually marrying those three together, there's been examples of that. But I think that is getting, you know, that's going to be the way forward is to how to really perfectly marry those, you know, and another example of speak of is, is to the, the toys to life category that appeared about five years ago, maybe longer than much, maybe about eight years ago, toasts life was things like Skylanders, Disney Infinity, you know, some of those ones, where you actually had toy figures, and then you could make them other avatars in your video game that, you know, really blew up, huge, huge business, you know, kind of dropped away as about as quick as it started, really. But you know, was was a massive category for many years there. So, you know, that there's one side of it, right? That's toy with digital, but they didn't really have a lot of, you know, content around us, I guess, Disney Infinity. Did you know, that was one where it was Disney figures married with, you know, video game married with Disney content. But you know, again, that's just one facet of it. I think there's so I think that's just a big open area right now to get into. And maybe even kind of to add into that I might add into it. educational aspects and stem, you know, so kind of bringing that into there as well, because I think, you know, that is handled in its own way right now. But I think there's lots of cool ways to integrate that into, you know, kids product, let's call it toy kids product, and content and the digital domain.

Roy Sharples:

Just how soon is the future? One thing for sure is, the future is unwritten and everything is possible. Do you want to learn more about how to create Without Frontiers by unleashing your creative power? Then consider getting

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