Working at Play: Mattel Infuses Wonder Into Design

by Jerry Silverman

posted on 06-21-2017

Maybe you remember the thrill of watching a Hot Wheels car zipping and twisting on looped racetracks. Or the excitement of outfitting a Barbie in a peach gown and twirling her around. No matter the toy, the Mattel brand has been putting smiles on kids’ faces for decades.

Mattel’s Vanessa Dewey believes play and imagination doesn’t need to end with childhood. As the Lead of Development and Creative Experiences, Dewey’s on a mission to ignite creativity in her colleagues. Passionate about “connections, culture, and community,” she channels this energy through initiatives like ReFuel, a live speaker series for employees, as well as podcasts featuring stories of creatives, internal classes and workshops, and more.

“We have some of the most talented creatives that I’ve ever been exposed to,” she says. “I’m trying to inspire, connect, and elevate our community through holistic strategies so they feel empowered and grow.”

When Dewey first participated in an Adobe Creative Jam in Los Angeles a couple years ago, she knew it was something she wanted to host at Learning Lounge, Mattel’s in-house design center. As the Creative Jam is a mix of speakers, design competition, and hands-on activities, she was drawn to it for the inspiration it could provide, as well the emphasis on teaching designers hard skills with an eye toward the future.

To keep up with modern trends, the company’s strategy is increasingly more consumer-centric and digital- focused. In late 2016, Adobe and Mattel entered into a new licensing agreement for Adobe’s Creative Cloud for enterprise software and services, which Dewey saw as perfect timing to host a Creative Jam event customized to Mattel and their needs.

“Tech is evolving at the fastest rate it’s ever been. Designers are always trying to keep up,” she says. “To not take advantage of the tech Adobe is providing, and infuse it in our community in a new and fun way, would have been a miss.”

For Dewey, who first started at Mattel over eight years ago in packaging and branding, lifelong learning is part of the creative game. Since co-founding ReFuel in 2014, her curation has brought into Mattel everyone from influential designer Debbie Millman to pro-bono advocate Matthew Manos to brand innovator Leland Maschmeyer.

Everything Dewey does stems from genuine curiosity and a desire to nurture it in others.

“Creativity is ongoing. There’s no beginning and end,” she says. “Bringing in diverse opinions helps plant the seeds for when the timing is right.”

So this past April, Adobe hosted a multi-faceted Creative Jam at Mattel’s Learning Lounge in El Segundo, California. The day consisted of Creative Cloud 2017 training, a graphic design challenge, and guest talks from leaders in the design community open to employees from the entire El Segundo campus. For Jerry Silverman, Senior Product Marketing Manager for Creative Cloud, the partnership between Adobe and Mattel was a natural fit.

“Mattel’s corporate purpose “to inspire wonder in the next generation to shape a brighter tomorrow” seems nicely aligned with the mission of the Creative Jam series, which is to inspire and foster creativity amongst the world’s design community,” he says. “Vanessa is already a leader in the Los Angeles design world and brought abundant energy, passion, and vision to the collaboration.”

“Another important aspect of this partnership,” continues Silverman, “has been involvement across the spectrum of Mattel, from individual contributors all the way up to top executives. Vanessa ensured that everyone had a stake in the success of the event’s outcome, including Mattel’s VPs of Marketing and Product Design, which really helped to gather the proper momentum and commitment across the enterprise.”

According to Gabriel Carlson, VP of Global Brand Marketing at Mattel, “The Creative Jam was a very effective way to get a collection of our top designers engaged and familiar with the variety of tools and resources available in Creative Cloud. The variety of solutions over such a short period of time highlight the value and importance of design diversity.”

For the company’s first Jam, 14 of Mattel’s top designers gathered in the Learning Lounge for training on various Creative Cloud services while surrounded by colorful dioramas, displays, and imagery paying homage to Mattel’s iconic heritage. The designers then broke out into teams and had three hours to design posters based on the theme of “Wonder” using a combination of Adobe Creative Cloud desktop apps, mobile apps like Adobe Capture CC, and services like Typekit, Stock, and Adobe Spark. Later they presented their creations to an audience for voting.

“Looking at the final results of the competitors, and the amazing artworks they were able to produce under the time constraints with those new tools, was exhilarating and inspirational,” says Silverman.

Guest animator, illustrator, and entrepreneur Chevon Hicks spoke about kickstarting inspiration, and technical artist Kalan Ray talked about the possibilities of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. Members of the Los Angeles-based conceptual pop band YACHT reflecting on their multimedia career added another dimension―and some serious fanboying and fangirling from participants.

After the event, Dewey says many people came up to her wanting to learn more about Creative Cloud and requesting Creative Jams with other teams. Dewey would like to implement them internally on site and at other campuses, eventually creating an accompanying toolkit. Putting different people together in a room and seeing what connections happen, after all, is what drives her.

Dewey sees community and creativity as going hand-in-hand. When she’s not at work, she’s on the Steering Committee for AIGA’s inHouse Initiative, board of directors for the LA Design festival, and inaugural committee for Ladies Get Paid in Los Angeles.

Whether cultivating community externally or internally at Mattel, Dewey says her design families interconnect, something she likens to “knitting a sweater.” Together, they’re part of the reason she’s able to continually catalyze creativity at Mattel through events like ReFuel and Creative Jam―hopefully helping designers be the best they can be.

“Creativity can be very hard to quantify when it comes to the corporate world,” she says. “But in the long run it pays off.”

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Topics: Design

Products: Stock