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culture

I Want Your Job: Stephanie Lemoine, Toy Designer

Some people get to play for a living. We talked to one of them.

I Want Your Job finds Torontonians who make a living doing exactly what they love to do, in any field, and for any salary, and asks them how they did it.

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Lemoine.

Stephanie Lemoine was a creative child. “I was always playing with Lego and created a lot of my own games and toys and stuff,” she remembers. Now grown, she’s channelled her lifelong passion for play into a most enviable career.

Lemoine designs toys for a living.

A senior designer for Spin Master, a Toronto-based toymaker, her workdays are basically a kid’s dream.

“We play with a lot of toys—so we’re playing with our competition’s toys, and we’re learning from them—and we’re also sharing ideas and inspiration from other things,” she explains. “It’s a very creative, thought-based, dynamic environment. That makes it super-fun to come into work every day.”

Torontoist: How long have you been designing toys?

Stephanie Lemoine: I have been designing toys since 2007, so I guess that’s been about five and a half years. I worked at a Montreal company, Mega Brands, for a couple of years, and then I moved to Toronto about three years ago and came to Spin Master.

How did you get into this line of work?

I studied industrial design, which is a profession where you design products for mass production. I went to Carleton University in Ottawa, and I really focused on kids’ products. I’ve always had a passion for cartooning and caricatures and just basically the children’s industry. So when I was designing products for school, they would give me a product brief like “design a flashlight,” and I would naturally choose my own market and decide I wanted to do a boogeyman flashlight or something like that. My portfolio at the end of my university career was very kid-focused.

At the end of school, Mega Brands came to my grad show and saw my work, and they picked me up from there. That was my lucky break into the toy industry right out of school.

What’s a typical work day at the toy factory like for you?

Once I’ve got work to show to people, I’m doing presentations, and those presentations can be just to our small design group, they can be to other departments, or they can be to the whole company. After an idea’s been approved and we’re moving forward, we get to make an idea come to life—so a lot of development work, which is making specs for our counterparts in Asia to understand what we want to accomplish, and even travelling around the world to make that happen. Also, working with kids to see what they think of our ideas and seeing how they play with the toy, or how they like it.

What part of your job takes people by surprise?

I think people are often the most surprised with the amount of criteria, or constraints, that go into designing a toy. We have to consider safety, number one. We have to consider box size and shipping, we have to consider testing, the price points, and all these other factors that come into the toy—when we really just want to focus on making a toy really fun and making it resonate with kids. So first you have the nugget of the idea, but then you have to consider all the other parameters to be able to get it to shelves. There’s a lot more to a toy than people think.

What’s your favourite part of the job?

Definitely being creative, and being able to pitch ideas to my co-workers and have a lot of fun. Actually, the best part of the job is when we actually interact with kids, and see how they use our designs in ways that we don’t expect.

Once, I worked on a line of bracelets. I had fun playing with the girls and getting information from them about what they liked to do with the toys when they were playing with them. That helped us to tailor the design to be more how they actually wanted to play.

What’s your least favourite part of your job?

When you work really, really hard on a line, and everyone internally loved it, and there’s high expectations, and then when it gets to the market it doesn’t resonate or meet up with the expectations that were originally there for it. That often happens in the toy business. You want to be super passionate and optimistic because it drives product through final production and keeps your design exciting, but you also have to be prepared for the worst, in a way.

If you could do anything else for a living, what would it be and why?

I would love to be on the radio. I know that is so weird! But when I was a kid, I used to love to make fake Rick Dees or Casey Kasem tapes. I’m also a CBC junkie. I just think it’s a really cool medium. Maybe I just like stories about people, and learning about people. It’s similar to the toy industry—like, when we’re designing toys, we’re kind of designing stories that children build off of, or that they create their own stories from. It’s another passion that I think would be fun to be involved in.

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