Jorge on bringing out the inner child for designing toys

There is a child in all of us, or so they say. Jorge Omar Santoyo Henaine can vouch for that. The product developer has managed to not only keep his inner child alive but also brimming with creative ideas. We ask him how? Jorge says for each toy that he creates at IKEA, he asks the child in him – would you like to play with this one? If the answer is yes, he goes ahead with it.

Jorge shares a slice of perspective about toys as we sit down to chat about his new projects. He’s working on not one or two but seven projects currently. Toys are beautiful and fun when you buy them and give them to your loved ones. But making a good toy is a different ballgame – a difficult one on that, says Jorge.

And that’s because toys also have elements that make them attractive and fun, particularly for kids. Think of a naughty looking monkey or a serene unicorn soft toy. There is something inexplicable that makes us reach out for that one specific toy.

The trick lies in the features, says Jorge.

“To achieve a good toy, there’s so many angles to consider. It can be from the size to the expressions in its eyes, to different personalities and body proportions. Just as when you work on a product, you want to make the best product. But toys have another level, which is how fun it can be,” says Jorge, who works on both soft and hard toys.

Jorge, who works as a Product design developer, has so far been involved in over 20 projects in the play range at IKEA. These include the JÄTTELIK soft toys and hard toys and the SAGOSKATT range, DUKTIG Ceramic Sets and HÖVLIG, to name a few.

So, how does he go past the hurdle? Involve kids, Jorge says. And this is precisely how the SAGOSKATT collection was created. SAGOSKATT is a limited edition of soft toys. Children from all around the world submitted drawings of the soft toys of their dreams. IKEA selected five of them and brought them to life.

“SAGOSKATT for me is one of my favourite projects. The concept of “for children by children” is something I had never seen before,” says Jorge.

Jorge says getting feedback from kids is the best way to validate an idea because they tend to speak their mind. If they don’t like something, they move away from it quite fast. So, whether it’s at a friend’s home where children are playing or kids in the Children’s section at IKEA stores, Jorge often takes notes of their reactions to the toys around them and implements the learnings whenever possible.

And his inner child is always there too.

“When I was growing up, I didn’t have too many toys. So, in everything we’re doing, I try to understand – would I have loved this when I was a kid,” Jorge says.

To be sure, his house is full of toys, and his favourite is a dinosaur, which was lying next to him as we continued our conversation.

“This is exactly the one I would have loved to have as a child.”

When was the last time you felt creative?
“45 minutes ago! I had a call with one of our designers as we are working on a new project. He showed some initial rough sketches, nothing fancy. But that is my favourite part because that’s where we discuss things like – why don’t we take these from this idea and combine it with the other one and use it? What if we do it like this? What if we change these with something else?“

What inspires you the most?
“It’s solving challenges and when we need to find a solution. I’m addicted to the feeling of belonging to a team of passionate people. And when we solve a challenge together, it’s one of the best feelings in the world, and that makes me keep going.”

Where in your home do you feel the most creative?
“Our kitchen is the place where I feel the most creative. For me, it’s like a factory, you’ve got all the tools, all the ingredients, and you create something. Sometimes it’s not as good as I want, but I adjust a few things and try again. Sometimes it can be perfect, and I discover a new way. It is incredibly playful to cook.”

How has your view of creativity changed over the last year?
“It made us relook at how we do things. Earlier, we would go to the factory and finish the product there. We could touch things, move things, and see the production line. But now, we had to do all of this from a distance. So, it’s not just about focusing on being creative to have good products and good solutions but also being creative with working from a distance without touching things.”

“We have video calls with suppliers, and we basically recreate everything as if we were there. They send us the sample, and then we have a call to go through all the parts. It’s challenging, but we have seen that it can be done.”

What are you missing to be able to unleash your full creativity?
“The fantastic thing about creativity is that you don’t need a particular something. It’s just you and your attitude, an open mind. But right now, I miss seeing my family. I guess seeing them gives us peace of mind. And when the mindset is right, you can be very creative.”