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Taking a Playful Approach to Creativity

Jeanne Bleu, Creative Director, The Manhattan Toy Company
Sarah Dos Santos
March 4th, 2014
Jeanne Bleu is the Creative Director at the Manhattan Toy Company and she leads her team to get inspired and develop cool and unique toy designs. Francis Goldwyn, the grandson of motion picture studio owner Sam Goldwyn, founded the company in 1982 and they started the trend of using non-traditional fabrics in toy design. They pride themselves on their high standards of quality and safety and they developed a variety of popular toy brands kids love from Groovy Girls to Dr. Seuss.

Four Questions with Jeanne

1. How does your team generate new ideas?
Our task in life is to create toys that will become childhood favorites. The creative team meets regularly for show and tell, birthday celebrations and group art reviews. We are basically curious, playful, kids at heart. Our culture is to invest considerable time in trend study.

From big picture to specifics we look at current demographics and retail patterns, adjacent design fields, industry and consumer magazines, design blogs, and we do our best to stay current with everything that interests kids! When seeking personal inspiration, the design team is encouraged to get away from the desk, get lost, daydream, trend shop, etc.

2. How do you ensure you're getting trends/insights information that your competitors aren't getting?
I’ve been using trend as a tool for a long time, I have many sources and strategies that enable us to stay ahead of the crowd. I can usually site the source of inspiration for each of our products/designs, it may be a shade of green from an Acne Studios dress in Amsterdam, seeing “fringes” in a recent issue of Vogue, or noticing a surface design pattern more than three times at the ICFF in New York. We strive to provide relevant product for all our varied retailers, releasing product at the right time, in the right place is a secret to our success.

3. What is the biggest challenge you face when innovating?
Developing new products is a design puzzle. Balancing the need to be unique and fresh with market acceptance. Sometimes experience can become a barrier to ideas, we strive to remain open and to let an idea grow a little, before the inner judge tries to squash it.

4. What makes an innovative culture? How do you create a culture of innovation?
It is a balance of collaboration and individual exploration. Based on my own research, I create visual guides for initial product direction. The individual designers will then begin their own process of creation, knowing they have the freedom to pursue their ideas.

We have built a trust level with each other; we meet often to challenge, encourage, and work through roadblocks together. In a high functioning team, this balance of structure, freedom, collaboration and individual creativity results in a kind of creative magic!
References: linkedin, manhattantoy