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Team Spotlight

Team Spotlight- Yongai Zheng

This month’s featured Guidecraft team member is Zigler’s Director of Education, Yongai Zheng, in our Beijing office. She has been a wonderful addition to our Guidecraft team and we’d love for you to get to know more about her!

yongai-profile

Yongai Zheng, Director of Education at Zigler.

GC: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your life growing up?

YZ: I was born in HeBei province, which is very close to Beijing. I grew up with a lot of recognition and support from my family, because I performed very well in school and was admitted into Beijing Normal University without having to take the National Higher Education Entrance Examination (which was a first for BNU).

GC: Tell us a little about your family.

YZ: I have a happy and lovely family with my husband and 8-year-old daughter. My husband has a very good job as a public officer in the financial department in the Beijing municipal level government. Aside from his work, he is responsible for taking care of our family, which is what I like about him most. He is popular among family and friends because he is always thinking more about others than himself. My daughter is a pretty, smart and sensitive girl. When we came back from United States last September it only took her two months to catch up in her classes. Now she not only performs excellently in school but also takes charge of some duties as a class committee member. I am so happy for her rapid progress.

GC: I heard you spent a year at Yale, how was your experience and what did you do?

YZ: It was so amazing! I love the Zigler Center, Yale University, and New Haven. It was so great to spend the whole year with the Yale Zigler Center team and create the Yale-China child development ACPPA curriculum, adopted from Kaplan Early Learning’s Learn Every Day curriculum.

GC: How did you come to work at Guidecraft?

YZ: While I was at Yale I helped with the development of the Zigler brand between Yale and Guidecraft, and then fell in love with Guidecraft when I visited their New York office. So now I’m here as a member of the GC family!

Yongai, left, with Dr. Tong Liu, PhD, working in the New York office on the Zigler concept wall.

GC: How would you describe your position?

YZ: I am currently the Education Director at Guidecraft and will be the Director of Education of the Zigler Brand, which was born out of a partnership with Yale, Kaplan Early Learning Company and Guidecraft.

GC: What is your favorite experience working at Guidecraft so far?

YZ: Guidecraft is a company where creativity is respected by everyone and where there is always a supportive team. I’m very passionate about my work here!

GC: Can you describe your experience of becoming a published woman in your field? 

YZ: I received my Bachelor and Masters in Early Childhood Education and worked for 10 years in the preschool education field as a teacher, an administrator, a researcher and a director. However, I think I am always pursuing success in my field.

GC: What has been your proudest professional moment so far? 

YZ: I am most proud after I train or present to teachers and parents, they like my educational theories and suggestions and then apply my work to improve the development of their students or children.

GC: What is some advice you would give someone who wants to go into a similar field?

YZ: Education is not only an occupation but a great career to pursue with your heart because young children are the future of our society.

 

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Team Spotlight on Industrial Designer – New York, Nick Kovacs

This month’s featured Guidecraft team member is Industrial Designer, Nicholas Kovacs, in our New York office. He has been a wonderful addition to our Guidecraft Design team and we’d love for you to get to know more about him!

Guidecraft Industrial Designer, Nicholas Kovacs

Industrial Designer, Nick Kovacs

GC: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

NK: I am originally from Missouri, but my family moved to South Dakota shortly after I was born and then moved again to Poughkeepsie where I lived all the way through high school. After high school, I attended Drexel University in Philadelphia. I was really into music in high school, which I still am, so I originally went to school for music, like music business. I transferred out of that program during my freshman year because I took design and art classes as electives and really liked it. One of my professors got me in touch with the director of product design at Drexel as I hadn’t known what industrial design was before that. Product design was a brand new major at Drexel at that time so I joined their first class and the rest is pretty much history. I was in the first graduating class at Drexel for Product Design. It had about 7 or 8 people, which was really small, but it was nice because it was intimate and I got really close with the faculty. It was this whole process that made me first realize that I wanted to be a professional designer.

GC: Was there anything or anyone in your young life that inspired you towards a creative career path?

NK: I was always creative as a kid. I liked to draw, write music and play music.

GC: What made you choose to work at Guidecraft?

NK: I really like how this company fosters creativity and doesn’t restrict you at all. Throughout the offices, the people and the ideas, it is very open which I like a lot.

GC: I heard that there was a memorable dog toy in your portfolio when you came for your interview…Pet Toy(1)(NOBLEED)

NK: Yes, it was from a project I did during my sophomore year in college. From my research, we found that a lot of dog toys are dangerous and can dislocate dogs jaws so that started my ideas. I came up with sketches and an idea for an overmolded tennis ball. Basically when the dog is chewing on it it will hit a certain threshold where the ball would pop out and they can enjoy it. You can also throw it and when it hits the ground the ball pops out and goes flying and they can chase after it. It was a project that I really enjoyed and I thought it was a good idea to present it because it was something fun but not too serious.  They seemed to love it and I was really happy they did since I had put a lot of work and effort into it!

GC: What is your position and what do you like about it?

NK: My position is Industrial Designer. I like that I get to design a lot of different things, furniture, toys,  graphic design and I like the continuation that occurs for new products and new ideas. It’s never monotonous. There is always something new to do.

GC: Why did you pick children’s toys and/or furniture as your focus?

NK: Everyone in my immediate family is in the medical field, always helping people. My dad is a physician and my mom is a school nurse and they really enjoy the aspect of helping people I always wanted to design to improve people’s lives or help individuals with disabilities. That’s kind of why I enjoy early childhood education as my focus.

Andrew Williams and Nicholas Kovacs

Industrial Designers Andrew Williams and Nicholas Kovacs

GC: Are there any particular rules you follow when designing toys? What about furniture?

NK: There are a lot of rules. For toys, it depends but the obvious things are small parts and the developmental age of the user. You don’t want to design something too sophisticated for a child to use and vice versa. For furniture, it depends on whether the piece is a consumer piece for Guidecraft or a piece for school supply. For school supply, it’s very stripped down and has to focus on durability, not so much on style. It has more of a utilitarian design. That’s the difference between say a Guidecraft dress-up center, which might have many design elements and a shelving unit for a preschool.

GC: What has been your proudest professional moment so far? Any specific toy or piece of furniture?

NK: I think it’s just seeing your overall designs being manufactured then taken to market. It’s really cool. Basically that you created something and brought something new into the world.

I was really impressed however, with how the development of a furniture line for one of our corporate partners. It was also a global project too. We found the maple in Canada and exported it to Vietnam and worked with them and then we brought it back to the United States to be assembled. The whole global aspect of it was really cool.

GC: Any favorite toy projects?

NK: I liked all of the IO Blocks projects. My favorite is probably the IO Blocks Vehicles because it was a really fun discovery process for us. We had the wheels and we started designing and printing 3D parts, playing with them and creating different vehicle possibilities. It was just a fun experience overall.

IO Vehicles

IO Blocks Vehicles

GC: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of pursuing a career in design? Or someone who is currently in a college program related to design, like yours?

NK: First, I would suggest to really think about how something is going to be manufactured. If it’s for a plastic; ask if it can be molded correctly. It is important to think about the entire project agenda and if it makes sense to move forward. Is it going to be too expensive, complicated or involve too many materials? Learn about the entire lifecycle of a product and pay attention to the small details of how something is made. Also, design is very subjective and everyone will interpret your designs differently. In the end, the more you know about design, the more you realize how much more there is to learn. It’s a great and continual process which we explore every day at Guidecraft.

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Interview with Ethan Wadsworth, 16-year-old PowerClix® Explorer Series Artist for Guidecraft

Ethan Portrait (1)

Ethan Wadsworth

GC: Your artwork is so amazing and intricately detailed. When did you get seriously interested in drawing?

Ethan: I became really interested in drawing in first grade and by second grade I was drawing every single day.

GC: How do you describe your style?

Ethan: I’d say my style is very cute and friendly and it seems like something you would see and want to touch and pick up if you could. I’d also say it’s very modern, in the sense that, it’s kind of stylistically similar to a lot of things that are popular right now. It’s kind of Japanese influenced. You can put a face on anything and it can turn into a character.

My style has been evolving and changing over the years. Lately I do many characters whose proportions are similar to a real person but for this Explorer Series project, I decided to go back to characters that I used to draw so much a few years ago. They seemed appropriate for the toys. Again, they are very cute, friendly and inviting.

GC: What is a typical day for a 16-year-old professional artist?

Ethan: Well, I go to high school Monday through Friday but I basically draw all day in school on worksheets. I even doodle all over my tests! Some teachers like it and some don’t, I’d say. Then, I get home and draw a lot too. I’d say I draw 1-2 hours after school each day. I also do some Still Lifes now which is kind of a new thing for me.

GC: Any other interests?

Ethan: I am getting very interested in animation… making the pictures and characters move and watching them in action.

GC: How did you get involved with Guidecraft and PowerClix toys.

Ethan:  My mother and Heidi Bilezikian are both painters, and good friends from art school, and Heidi (who is married to Gary Bilezikian, the President of Guidecraft) loved my work so much she recommended that Gary take a close look at it and see if it would work for a project with Guidecraft. Then a year ago, Gary asked his son, Dan, and I to come in and do some builds with the PowerClix magnetic toys over winter break. That day, I brought some drawings and characters that I drew and showed them to Gary, his family, and everyone at the office and they really loved them. A few months later, I got a call from Gary and he said, we need someone to design some characters and they couldn’t find anyone whose work they thought fit. He said, “If you send your portfolio with some character designs and it works out, that you could have a job working on the new PowerClix project.”  It turned out to be the opportunity of a lifetime. In the end, it will be a whole series of PowerClix toys (Explorer Series) with different adventurous themes. The first set’s theme is Space and the main character is an alien exploring planets with his jellyfish-like friend.  I am working on the next set which will be about Architecture and have been studying and drawing styles from around the world for the backdrop.

GC: What’s your favorite thing about the project?

Ethan: It’s just amazing that my characters are being used with and turned into an actual toy. There will even be a figure that I made included with each PowerClix Explorer set.

PowerClix Explorer Series - Space Set

PowerClix® Explorer Series – Space Set

GC: What was the process to get the toy done and how long did it take?

Ethan: First I showed some different characters I have done, then we picked a few themes (loosely based on them) that would fit with the PowerClix builds. Then after that, I developed a comic, backdrop and character for each theme so each set is different. I bring ideas to Guidecraft and we work out the details and make changes together. Then they take it from there, creating new magnetic sets (and colors) from all the PowerClix building toy shapes they have. The booklet that goes with the toy has a cartoon, backdrop and pictures of the real toy builds interacting with my characters and drawings.

GC: Who are some artists that you admire?

Ethan: Well, there are so many… David Hovarth, who designed the Ugly Doll series.

Aaron Meshon and his Let’s Hang zipper pulls, Hayao Miyazaki, the creator of the Studio Ghibli movies, and Hokasai, the classic Japanese artist who did 100 views of Mt. Fuji.

GC: Do you plan to go to college?

Ethan: Yes, some schools I am interested in attending are Pratt, RISD, SVA and Cal Arts. I would like to study Animation.

 

More on the PowerClix® Explorer Series – Space Set here!

 

 

 

 

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Team Spotlight on Director of Sourcing – China, Polly Zhou

This week’s featured Guidecraft team member is Polly Zhou. She plays a critical role in keeping Guidecraft running smoothly from her home base in Shanghai.

 

Polly Zhou Guidecraft

Polly Zhou, Director of Sourcing – China

GC: Tell us a little about your young life and growing up in China.

Polly: My first 3 years of college were in China and I was majoring in business studies. I didn’t enjoy college life then because at that time, I didn’t yet know what I wanted to do in the future. But I really wanted to be independent and want to find a good job, so I started to think about going abroad as an efficient means to that end. I started to get my documents, contacted a college representative, went to do the interview and got an acceptance offer from a college in Ireland.
When I went to Ireland on my own, it was an adventure right from the beginning. I had a rough start. Due to the fact that I missed the opening day of college since my VISA came late, I wound up studying there at a language school in the meantime. It turned out to be a good experience because while there I gained something precious – confidence. My English was pretty good, teachers liked me, I made a few good friends there; I was not lonely any more.
I really had begun a brand new life. I got a job, started to make money. It felt so good to make and spend my own money; not needing to rely on my parents any more. As I gained independence, life got more and more interesting. I tried different jobs – all valuable for me in different ways.
Then I met Ronnie, who is now is my husband.
Now at college, he encouraged me to study hard and both of us got very good grades. Then we both decided to apply to the best business school in Ireland. We got in, studied there and both received our Masters.

GC: When did you first know you were going to be a professional toy maker?

Polly: When I joined Guidecraft, I already knew that making toys would be so interesting and so creative. The use of multiple colors, different functionality, new creative designs – so many possibilities to give kids a world of playing, thinking, and using their imagination.

GC: Why did you pick children’s toys?

Polly: My daughter was young then, only 3 years old, and children’s toys were like nutritional food to both of us. My previous job provided me with basic knowledge of the toy industry, and because my child was playing with toys all the time, I was able to bring and represent a consumer’s point of view as I checked and examined toys. All of this helped my sensibility to pick up right suppliers who were able to fabricate the proper high quality products we make at Guidecraft.

GC: Are there any particular rules you follow when making toys?

Polly: I ensure that safety standards are more than met and make sure the factory will be able to sustain the quality we require on an ongoing basis.

GC: What was your proudest professional moment?

Polly: Finding a great source for our products, watching the process work successfully right from the beginning. Experiencing growth and still shipping out without problems (and on time) and the receiving great reviews from customers. It’s nice to see the Guidecraft brand expand and to watch our sales increase while maintaining great quality.

GC: How easy is it to reach success in the business world
as a woman in China?

Polly: Being responsible and having the support of your family is very important for a woman to have in order to succeed. I have that.

GC: Why do you work for Guidecraft vs. another company in a similar space?

Polly: Guidecraft has a free culture and environment in which to work. I am in charge of my time. I am free to express myself and my ideas. Everyone in the company has a very good relationship with each other and we all work together well as a team.

GC: Anything else you would like to add?

Polly: The management team, especially Gary, is very positive about Guidecraft’s future and how business is developing. This keeps all of us motivated all the time. It also creates a very positive environment in which to work.

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Team Spotlight on Director of Design/Sourcing – Thailand, Suvimon Siriwong

This week’s featured Guidecraft team member is Sr. Toy Designer, Suvimon Siriwong, in our new Bangkok office.  She is a very welcome addition to the Guidecraft team and we’d like for you to meet her too.

 

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Suvimon Siriwong, Guidecraft Sr. Designer, Bangkok, Thailand

GC: Tell us a little about your young life and growing up in Thailand.

 SS:  I was fortunate to be born in a beautiful province, close to the beach, in the eastern part of Thailand.  Aside from its great geographical location, it is also rich in history and known for its unique food and abundance of tropical fruits (durian, rambutan, jackfruit, mangosteen).  I grew up in a big, warm, multigenerational family.  Early on, I went to Catholic school and was active in the Thai Performing Arts.  As I grew older, I liked to study math and science.  I then added fine arts to my studies and finally at the university level, I added industrial design as well.

 

 

GC: When did you first know you were going to be a professional designer?

SS: Even when I was young, I really loved to draw.  Everywhere I went, I sketched.  My father was very artistic and a great inspiration to me.  Everything in my home was created by him.  He spent his money on good books and toys for me.  He loved movies too.  He particularly loved Star Wars, and even gave me the nickname “Jord”.    I think I always knew that I was going to be a designer, only back then, I thought I might become a fashion designer instead.

 

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CEO of Wonderworld demonstrating Trick Trax in Bangkok

GC: Why did you pick children’s toys?

SS: It was at The University, that I first learned how to make a toy.   My teacher, Mr. Pornthep, inspired me to not only design, but also to fabricate a toy.  I really loved doing it.  It made me feel so young again.

For my thesis, I researched and analyzed toys for blind children.  I found that toys actually help to develop the senses and improve so many skills.  It’s a wonderful thing.  I then became a trainee at a toy company, and have now worked many years to create toys for all children.

           

GC: Are there any particular rules you follow when designing toys?

SS: These aren’t necessarily rules, but more of a philosophy and environment that produce great results.

  1. Be curious, be observant ——-> New ideas and solving problem
  2. Think of other people ———>  Worth
  3. Creative —————————->  Innovation
  4. Neat, Organized —————–> Quality
  5. Taste ——————————–> Value

           

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Suvimon and Shannon working on new manipulative line to launch at Toy Fair 2016

GC: What was your proudest professional moment?

SS: Many years ago, for just one year, I taught an art program to children in my hometown.   One of my students from then, went on to graduate from the architecture program at The University.  Afterwards, she went on to become an art teacher herself, in a very well known university.   I was very proud when she told me that she had been inspired by that year of study with me.

 

GC: How easy is it to reach success in the design world as a woman in Thailand?

SS: I think we must be willing to learn new things and work hard to make progress and to find good opportunities in life.  You have to make this day a good day, so that tomorrow will be even better and you don’t have to start at zero.   Learn from what’s going on around you.   It’s a good clue.

 

GC: Why do you work for Guidecraft vs. another company in a similar space? 

SS: It’s a place where I can use my creativity and all of my experience, and continue to grow.

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Suvimon Siriwong and Shannon Moore outside new Bangkok Guidecraft office.

I’d like to also say, thank you to everybody who has come and joined in my life, you are all a part of my success.  Everything I learned – both good and bad – has helped me gain experience and knowledge.

 

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