Monday, March 1, 2010

Joe MacCarthy Feature!

Joe MacCarthy has over fifteen years of experience designing in the fields of children’s toys, marine design, electronics, and most recently game concept design. He has won several awards for his products and continues to bring new ideas to the field of toys. Joe is constantly pushing himself to become a better designer, think even more creatively, and improve his skills while adding some new ones. He’s a graduate from Wisconsin-Stout and it’s my pleasure to bring his knowledge and advice to all of you.

Please stop by his Coroflot to see his professional work ranging from packaging, furniture, bikes, and more, or visit his blog.

1.Welcome to sketchatoy, I’m glad you could join us here so thank you. If you could describe your style and approach to design in three words what would they be?

Not 3 words but here ya go:

1. Openyourf*ckingmind- Really force yourself to think differently. Find the niche in the market to create something special and new. Let your brain flow and your pencil flow freely when laying down some new ideas. Have FUN!

2.Inhale/exhale-Take in all that you know from what is around you (learning from past projects, specific project goals and parameters, cool influential things) , relax, and do a vomit type of a brain dump on paper.

3. Play Well- Being a designer is working on a team. Keep in mind you need to work with people from many different types of backgrounds to make design happen. You really need to listen to other team members and do not try to force your ideas upon others. You never know what will happen to your design seeds that you plant when you expose them to other brilliant minds.

2. Walk us through your design process from thumbnails through to final stages. When do you know you’ve found that final concept to move forward with?

Stage 1 Research/ Define:
There are a few ways I tackle a new toy design at Leapfrog. The first is the team approach. I work with a team of Marketing, Program Management, and Content Design peeps to define an idea for a toy. Once we have defined what this thing might be (cost target, age ranges, product size, general content ideas, and theme) I will start the design process. The second way I will start off “give birth to” a new toy idea is generating ideas that start with me. I can find ideas from a cool product on the market (not typically a toy), from watching my kids play or kids in our play lab, a trip to the museum, or thinking about what I liked as a kid and how that could be updated.

Stage 2 Thumbnail:

Once the idea is generally defined I will start sketching out thumbnails of what this could be. I usually will have reference art on the side of my sketch page to remind me of materials, cool forms, kids the age of that I am designing for, or competitive product that I am trying to deviate from. I sketch mostly on my Cintiq 21UX at work but I also sketch on a sketchbook as well when I am in a meeting that allows me to sketch. I ALWAYS have a sketchbook with me. They are in my car, in my bag, in my office, in my living room, and I need one next to my bed. I get concept art visions all the time and have to jot them down. When I thumbnail sketch I will use different method s of sketching. Scribble sketching is way cool for concept art. You just do random sets of scribbles then take a look at each one and see what you can “read” out of the mess.

3. What does a typical day as a principle designer entail?

My typical day consists of 30% team meetings to go over current or future projects, 40% Design Time and about 30% of my day is just zoning out at the computer monitor. (ok that was ripped from Office Space). Seriously though…the other 30 % could consist of 1 on 1 meetings, perhaps a trip to Target to walk the Toy Isle, looking for inspiration on , a good design Magazine, kid testing, or zoning out at the computer monitor.

4. You are truly passionate about design and spend time outside of work on side projects. Do you find it important to design and draw for yourself?

Hella Yeah! (in Oakland,CA accent) I love creating and designing new things. I still remember as a kid I was always like “Hey Mom, what if….” “Hey Mom, what if…” And my Mom would reply “Would you quit asking me the what if questions!!” I certainly am glad that I didn’t. I find myself always wanting to peek into the future and see what is next. I guess that is why I am always sketching the “What If’s” About 1 year ago I started putting time into doing concept art to develop a gaming portfolio to hone my skills, get faster, and possibly start getting some Gaming Companies interested in my work and get some freelance. Mission accomplished on all levels. Next plan of attack is doing a book of my sketches called “What if?” and send it to my Mom!!

5. You have lots of vehicle concept designs on your blog. Could you talk about how you approach a concept illustration and how it differs from product design?

Concept Art: If I am designing work for my portfolio doing a concept vehicle there are no boundaries! That is what is so fun about it. You can do a series of thumbnails and then look at them and find lots of hidden forms, surfaces and ideas that will amaze you and make you wonder where this stuff comes from. I am excited to see where these designs take me. When I am doing gaming concept art for freelance projects there are a lot of parameters involved but since I am not manufacturing it I am not concerned with safety issues, mechanical engineering issues or cost!!

Product Design: The process for Product design is quite constrained with factors such as limited size, limited cost, limited technology, safety parameters, and taking into account the wishes from other outside forces. One thing you will find when you are a designer and work on a team with other disciplines is that everybody wants to be a designer. In saying that I mean that everybody has their favorite color, everybody likes certain shapes and everybody sees something familiar in your work. In being a designer you need to strive to design something that you believe in and be able to justify what you came up with. Pour the passion in what you do and get into the project enough to have it become a part of you and remember that this project will and can be KILLED at any moment ;)

6. You’ve worked for several toy companies over the years including big names such as Fisher Price and V-Tech, but you’ve also worked in other industries, what is it about toys that keeps drawing you back in?

I love kids!! I actually am kind of a big kid at heart as well. I grew up with 7 kids in my family and during College I worked with kids at YMCA Camp Icaghowan every Summer. Now I have about 14 nephews and nieces to hang out with and I also have 3 kids of my own. I have always loved toys and still buy the cool ones even up to this day. Just ask my full scale Sandtrooper “Sphen” in my living room ;)

7. How has your experience changed throughout your working career and what/who do you feel guided you to become the successful designer you are today?

Experience Changes:
Over the years I have seen the design teams dwindle to about 50% of their original size at the companies I am and have worked at. We are expected to manage a lot more projects with fewer designers. Regarding production a lot of companies are phasing out local USA based Mechanical Designers, Manufacturing Engineers, and other local positions. Now a lot of the ME support is overseas or is done with our selected manufacturers. At work we tend to run faster with projects and once we have a good feel of the directions we jump right into 3D modeling and rapid prototyping. This is done a lot easier these days since the Rapid Prototyping machines are so affordable and our overseas model shop is FAST and they are very cost competitive.

*A prototype toy that is made at a local model shop here is the USA is about 3-4 times more expensive than our Hong Kong model shops.

Man, whew….that is a great question. I will have to say that encouragement from my 6th grade art teacher really had an early and strong impact on me even though I did not realize I did not was going to go into the art and design world until my Sophomore year of College. I also had some great Professors at UW Stout that were pretty tough (Graphic Design, Art History, Manufacturing and Processes, and ID) and I thank them for that HARDASS attitude every day!

8. Is there a product you’ve done past or present that has received an award that you are particularly proud of?

I would have to say that the Scout Line that was just released from Leapfrog would be a recent success that I am proud of. The Scout Line is a tech forward learning line that is features our characters Scout and Violet. I did the Product Design for four of the products in the line so far. They are all performing really well and the Moms really dig it according to the great reviews on Amazon and the fact that “Scribble and Write” is the number one toy in the Preschool Toy Category right now. Go Leapfrog!!!

9. What do you think is most important when designing for a specific age range?

The most important thing is to remember who you are designing for. When you get into the technical, marketing, costing, materials side of things you can forget just who the heck this is for. It is sooooo helpful for me to have kids the age I am designing for at home and also have a whole bunch of them in our play labs here in the office to observe and interact with.

10. You’re currently working at Leapfrog, a company known internationally for their learning toys. How do you cater a design to encourage a developmental milestone and promote learning?

Well that is a great question. We actually have developed a thing here called our Learning Path. With the Learning Path most of our products falls into place so as kids grow with us. Parents can monitor what the kids are learning and not learning to make sure that certain developmental milestones are hit. We look at our product line as a whole on our team and see what areas of learning need more reinforcing and will take that “content” and infuse that into new concepts for the appropriate ages. We are trying to make our toys still learning but really focus on the FUN in and ID way while still having the Leapfrog learning infused in the product. You don’t have to slap the abc’s and 123’s on every product to justify that it is a learning toy. You will see some great fun first products coming out of a new line called the Everyday Play line this year!!

11. You have a strong understanding for both traditional sketching methods as well as digital rendering and sketching. Is there one you prefer, and why?

Lately I have been generating a LOT of concepts with traditional digital sketching. I will do a few a week for practice and fun in my spare time. I really enjoy the fast paced level of sketching and being able to crank out a lot of concepts in the time that it would take to build one of them in 3D. (Even though I am pretty fast in Pro-E)
I do also love refining a developed concept in Pro-E model and doing some tasty Bunkspeed renderings with Photoshop tweaks to Ohh and Ahh my team here at work. What is really sweet is to have a meeting one day and present a design and 3 days later have a white FDM model in your hands.

*Now for the repeat questions.

12. What programs or tools could we find in your arsenal that you couldn’t design without?

Good Music (Pandora), Photoshop, BunkSpeed, Pro-E, and Illustrator. This has been a great tool to have when working with my Mechanical Engineers. I used to work with Alias and Solidworks but the Pro-E Wildfire is a pure delight!!

13. You’ve been in the industry going on 15 years. Do you have advice for young designers wanting to break into the field? And for those already in the field what advice do you have?

For young designers remember that you are not a designer once you graduate from College. You are a designer THE DAY THAT YOU DECIDE YOU WANT TO BE A DESIGNER! Get a feel for an area you would like to work in early in your career if you can and start researching and studying that Industry. By the time you graduate you will thank yourself for taking the time to be ahead of the crowd with some great portfolio pieces that are ready to roll! Also, if a place is not hiring, don’t give up! Keep working towards that goal and develop a portfolio that will excite them. I wanted to get into a place years back and I sent them postcards that featured different projects on a weekly basis. It worked to get me noticed and got the job. You really need to stand out when you have literally hundreds of other designers applying to the same position these days.
If you are already in the field I would just say to keep honing your skills and keep being inspired!! Get out and see new things and create new things on your own time that do NOT relate to what you design for a living. Go sculpt a pig out of the snow in your backyard for cripes sakes!!

14. What other artists do you look to for inspiration?

Glenn Barr, Dr Seuss, CORE77 (Designers,Illustrators,Sculptors) Picasso, Salvador Dali, GNOMON Artists…

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