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Odd Jobs: Toy designer

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They're colorful and quirky toys with a twist. These Montreal designers don't spend a lot of time worrying about how things are supposed to be. 

"Most companies would probably use primary colors," said Julie Gambino, toy designer.

But at B. Toys, breaking the rules isn't necessarily a bad thing, as long as they keep one principle in mind.

"You have to be a kid at heart," said Gambino.

Even at 30, Gambino isn't afraid to show her childish side.

"It's fun. I think anyone can play this game," said Gambino.

But that game didn't design itself. In fact, "Ribbit-tat-tat" took a team of three designers 15 months to put together.

"We have rough sketches," said Gambino.

It's like a peek inside Gambino's imagination. As the toy evolves, those sketches become digital designs. Then technical specs are drafted to give engineers dimensions and color studies help them narrow down a palette. 

The brains of the toy no one ever sees are buried beneath plastic. A 3-D mock-up gives designers their first real feel for size before the factory ships a working sample. Then it's onto the tough part of the job. The toy is tested before it hits store shelves and Gambino can finally breathe a sigh of relief.

"It feels really nice actually because I know the process of what it took to get to the shelf," said Gambino. 

Gambino says her goal is to create gender-neutral designs that inspire individuality in kids. Her own inspiration comes from ordinary objects like a co-worker's pet, food at a restaurant or items in a thrift shop.

"We like to take traditional toys but spunk it up and make it funky with a little twist," said Gambino.

The toy world is an industry that allows her to flaunt her creative side. But it's not a career she ever planned.

"I'm passionate about it because I never thought I could do it. And I started here without any knowledge of toy design," said Gambino.

Gambino studied graphic arts at Concordia University. After a bout with her own invitation business, she sought something more stable. A family friend got her a job at Battat, B. Toys' parent company. For the first two years she designed doll clothes before transitioning to baby and toddler toys. 

"As much as we want to make something super elaborate, we always have to think of the reality of it," said Gambino.

Keeping affordability in mind, she and her team are launching 20 new toys next year. But for every success, countless other ideas fall flat. Still, she says a flop is a chance to create an even better toy.

"I am lucky. I really, really enjoy my job and now I'm making toys I kind of wish I had," said Gambino. 

It's an Odd Job for grown-ups who shine in the land of make-believe. 

The company also donates a portion of its proceeds to charity. Click here for more on that mission and the toys. 

Jennifer Costa is always looking for Odd Jobs. If you have one or know someone who does we want to hear from you. Send us an email to news@wcax.com.

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