Raising the baa: University of Sussex student design could become new Shaun the Sheep toy

Product design students from the University of Sussex have had the unique opportunity of pitching toy design concepts to the Oscar®-winning studio Aardman.

Designs by 28 students were put before Adam Vincent-Garland, Senior Interactive & Product Development Executive at Aardman, as part of an exclusive link-up between the studio and the University of Sussex.

Aardman now have the option to incorporate their favourite student designs into the Shaun the Sheep product line.

Student Matthew Tuck, 21 from Worthing, received awards for best prototype and best overall design for his game Tractor Footy, which sees youngsters play football with remote-controlled tractors.

He said: “It was a really good experience to have my work reviewed by Aardman; to have feedback from Adam, who is someone who is really respected in the industry, is invaluable.

“When I started the product design course, I was more interested in the engineering side than the creative side but the course has given me the tools and freedom to become a better designer. This has made me rethink my career path and my options.

“That is what every product designer wants, to see something they have designed on sale in shops. That would be the dream and so that’s why you put a lot of effort into your design to try and make that happen.”

Second-year product design students at the University of Sussex were tasked by Aardman’s Rights & Brand Development team to produce a toy which could be considered for the much-anticipated sequel to the hugely successful Shaun the Sheep Movie, which earned Oscar®, Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations and took more than $100 million at the box office in 2015.

Students were asked to thoroughly research the global toy market as well as manufacturing techniques and produce a high-quality render or prototype of the toy that had been thoroughly user tested.

The product design students spent 12 weeks honing their designs as part of the toy and game design module which forms part of the degree. Working on a live brief with industry experts was designed to challenge the students’ design skills as well as giving them a great opportunity to put into practice the design thinking, communication and engineering skills learned throughout the degree course.

Mr Vincent-Garland said: “The students did a great job and presented their ideas professionally with a good understanding of the brand and marketplace. It was brilliant to see so many interesting ideas with heaps of potential.”

Lauren Sampayo, 20 from Maidstone, won the general arrangement drawing certificate for her toy which challenges children to build up the faces of Shaun the Sheep and Bitzer the Dog in the fastest time.

She said: “When we first got the brief, I was extremely excited because when I was younger Shaun the Sheep was one of my favourite programmes to watch, so receiving the brief was very exciting.

“There is so much that goes into toy making. You can go from thinking you have a brilliant idea, but then once you've prototyped it and tested it, it can become the worst idea.

“Secondary school was when I really started to get into product design, so to pursue a career in toy and game design after I graduate would be the dream.”

The unique link-up with Aardman was established between Diane Simpson-Little, head of the product design degree at the University of Sussex, and a key contact in the toy industry, Billy Langsworthy, who runs a company called Mojo Nation, which operates as a body for toy and board game designers to celebrate the industry’s achievements and to bolster opportunities for creators and young, up-and-coming talent.

Ms Simpson-Little, senior teaching fellow in engineering and design at the University of Sussex, said: “This has been an absolutely fantastic experience for all students involved and the possibility that their design could become a toy for children around the world really is about as good as it gets for any product designer, whatever their level of experience.

"This has been a fantastic learning curve for all our students and a wonderful motivator, not only knowing the potential of the prize on offer but in working towards delivering something that can match the high standards expected of such a popular global brand as Aardman.”

Patrick Baxter, 19 from Crystal Palace, won praise from Mr Vincent-Garland for his game Hay Bale Baarnage, a catapult game inspired by more modern games such as Angry Birds and more traditional games like Crossbows and Catapults.

He said: “I wanted to create a game that was very easy to play but very difficult to master. I remember playing games on the beach when I was younger when I would try and break down a rock castle and it would take 30 to 40 minutes until I got very good at it.

“I was really interested in the psychology of play and mastery, how the games that people love to play are the games that they always go back to because they master it and become very good at it.

“I was very thorough in coming up with the idea, I watched some episodes of Shaun the Sheep, I looked at what online games and board games Aaardman already did and I looked at online reviews and saw what parents were saying about existing games and how I could improve upon that.”


By: Neil Vowles
Last updated: Thursday, 14 June 2018