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Strottman Executive Creative Director Mikko Meronen has been living and breathing toy design for the past 25 years. Mikko’s Design School training, coupled with day-to-day nurturing of the work and of the  Creative Team at Strottman in Irvine, has made him a natural mentor in one of the country’s only BFA programs in Toy Design.


 In a recent 3D Modeling Class class taught by Professor Dave Schultze (www.schultzeworks.com) at OTIS College of Art and Design (www.otis.edu/toy-design) Mikko shared his knowledge of Toy Design with students who were given the assignment of creating a “Steam Punk Robot.”  As a starting point, Mikko models the kind of creative culture that he actively nurtures at Strottman. Mikko borrows from the philosophy of the esteemed creative culture at Pixar, which its President of Animation Ed Catmull writes about in Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration in providing “good notes”:


“A good note says what is wrong, what is missing, what isn’t clear, what makes no sense. A good note is offered at a timely moment, not too late to fix the problem; it doesn’t even have to include a proposed fix. But if it does, that fix is offered only to illustrate a potential solution, not to prescribe an answer. Most of all though, a good note is specific.”


Most of all, Mikko abides by a notion championed by Pixar’s Andrew Stanton: “I always feel like whatever notes you’re giving should inspire the recipient – like ‘How do I get that kid to want to redo his homework?’”


Mikko’s most frequent advice reflects his experience creating and presenting custom toys for clients in a variety of industries, many of whom haven’t found themselves charged with evaluating whether a toy will work. Mikko advises the OTIS College design students to:

  • Remember to connect with your audience when presenting your ideas. Your passion is powerful and your clients or audience should get to see it.
  • Pay attention to what’s most challenging and what’s most fun for them to design. Knowing what made it so can help you harness the magic of a truly great idea.
  • In the same vain, go back to your first sketch to recapture the heart of a good idea that may have been overworked or become too technically focused.
  • Think like a marketer: what’s the hook or the essence of your idea that you would communicate if you only had one thing to say about it.
  • Share your work. Using your peers for feedback – and exposing your idea to the end-user – can be frightening, but priceless in terms of getting to the best end product.


For Mikko, sharing is a two-way street – while he sees it as his duty to give back to the creative community, he also gains a fresh perspective from being around the newest minds thinking about toy design.