Graphic Design students got the chance to see their creative concepts realised in the form of soft toys, thanks to a project with the iconic Keel Toys.
Industry Liaison Officer, Denise Knights Toomer, secured a fantastic opportunity for students to collaborate and work with Keel Toys Ltd. Denise and Patrick Downs, Head of Design for Keel Toys, worked together to produce a project in which Level 3 Graphic Design students would design their own soft toys.
Patrick and Rachel Downs visited the students in September 2022 to deliver their brief. Students were asked to design a range of soft toys that would work within the company’s best-selling Bobballs collection. Bobballs is a range of 20 small, low-cost collectable toys that have been a core part of the Keel Toys range for many years.
Key areas they were asked to focus on were creating a collectable story for their collection and branding it effectively. The students were required to research the brand and the soft toy industry, and complete market research in the EKC Canterbury Nursery in order to decide their target audience, before working on their design proposals.
By January, all digital designs were finished and sent over to the company, who shortlisted the top five designs created by Alisha Wood, Tamilore Owairu, Chelsey Hawkins, Jasmine Holley and Jack Zammit-De-Haas.
When asked what the company looked for when shortlisting designs, Patrick said:
“We focused on quality and clarity of the design process, how closely students had followed the brief and then finally the quality and commercial appeal of the final designs. Overall, we were very impressed with the quality of the design process, attention to detail and understanding of the brief. This led to some very successful final outcomes”.
The shortlisted students were then tasked with presenting their final designs to the company’s design team at the Keel Toys headquarters in Ashford. They were expected to sell their vision, understand their product and be knowledgeable about how it could be upsold and become a collector’s item.
In preparation, the students were invited to attend the Toy Fair at Olympia London. This allowed them to network with professional designers, manufacturers, and distributors, where they learnt handy trade tips and welcomed advice and guidance.
Alisha Wood decided to follow a theme that has already proved popular with the company, designing toys using animal features. She commented:
“I took inspiration from Totem poles which I thought was kind of unique, that was what I was trying to use as a selling point. The toys are also animals, but they have a slight resemblance to a totem pole through the use of colour and you can stack them on top of each other.”
She continued: “The project itself was quite fun. We explored lots of different techniques to come up with our ideas, but I really enjoyed the process of going and being involved with the client and being able to go and visit them. I thought that was interesting because they are a real company so it’s really interesting to see.
“During our experimentation, we also had the creche come in and do drawings for us so we could see what children wanted. We explored lots of traditional mediums and then we went into Adobe Illustrator to create our designs.”
Once finalised by Keel Toys, each of the designs were manufactured into prototypes and students received invaluable feedback on their work.
In June, Patrick and Rachel attended EKC Canterbury College to present the toys to the students as a reward for their hard work and success. Patrick commented: “I hope we have inspired some young passionate designers to try and forge a career within the creative industries, they certainly have the talent and application!”
Denise is thrilled by how well the project went, and the invaluable experience it has provided the students. She said: “I search extensively to find fabulous employers that our students can work with. This has got to be the best one so far, teaching students all the skills needed to listen to a client brief, research, present ideas and deliver within a deadline. I am so grateful to Keel Toys Ltd and all our employers for these opportunities.”