Careful calculation helps toymaker grow business

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 February, 2007, 12:00am

Bill Wong Chong-piu, designer and managing director of Toto Toys, draws on his engineering background to create educational toys

I AM THE sole designer of this company which I set up in 1988. We produce construction toys only. I was an engineering technician before this, and I never really trained in design. But when I realised it was actually possible to apply engineering principles to come up with construction toys that would be stimulating for kids and interesting to grown-ups, I became very interested. As I was becoming bored with my job in machinery maintenance, I decided to quit and move into toys.

The special thing about my toys is that they are designed on the basis of precise mathematical calculation. People can accumulate the component parts from the different toys - the same we use in production - and do their own creative reassembling.

To make my design relevant to children, I've actually drawn reference from the geometry learnt by my kids at school. I also test my new designs on them.

I've never felt impeded by my lack of design training, and actually go to machinery exhibitions to get inspiration. Conceptualising educational toys is all about being creative, observant and sensitive to the things around you. You can conceptualise a toy from anything that inspires you in your daily life.

I must also take into account the safety and the quality of the materials used. Some 70 per cent of my buyers are from Europe and the United States. They are very demanding on these aspects. It is also always important to get new designs patented to deter copycats.

Most of our customers buy fully developed products from us. Some put them in retail sales bearing our logo, but some package the toys using their own brand names before putting them on the market. We also take requests for product development based on clients' ideas, but not often.

I have a few art-trained staff to produce visual drawings and models based on my conceptual designs. Because these are construction toys, I focus mainly on getting a right fit for the component pieces and the overall balance in doing my sketches, which are all annotated with figures and mathematical calculations.

Unless a client requests more colours, we stick to a simple colour scheme of blue, green, white, red and yellow to avoid distracting kids from the actual construction.

When they get a sketch from me, my support staff will use a 3D printer to produce a 3D model which is a precisely measured and structured dummy made up of fine plastic threads. This is important because it helps us see whether a certain concept is viable. If it is, we do the necessary fine-tuning before moving on to making a production mould. The mould sometimes needs polishing; we will try it out first before going to production.

In the case of a design commissioned by a client, we provide the 3D print model for comments and do the necessary fine-tuning based on their views. We will also show them an advanced dummy from the production mould for final approval.

I have a factory in Shenzhen to manufacture my toys. There are more than 200 workers there, including a team of art-trained staff. I spend more time in Shenzhen than Hong Kong because it is important to supervise the manufacturing closely to ensure quality.

We are presently selling in southern China, Shanghai and Beijing. There is considerable potential in China. Parents are willing to spend on educational toys because they are eager to give their children the best.

Right now, I am focusing on new items with a stronger appeal for girls, as it seems what we've done so far is more boys' kind of stuff. I am looking at theme and presentation such as colour, but I'll still stick to our basic concept of creative construction.