From Comic-Cons to fish markets, Fab Design’s James Yuen on finding inspiration for toys and games in all aspects of life

James Yuen, Fab Design
James Yuen is a staple of the toy and game design world, having worked for over 20 years at Hasbro as a principal designer.

After decades working with every design team at Hasbro, across all categories and brands, last year saw Yuen leave the firm to launch his own creative studio: Fab Design.

With a line-up of services spanning concept to product design, ideation, innovation and even character design for animations, we caught up with Yuen to find out what drives creativity at Fab Design, and how decades at Hasbro shaped his approach to design.

Jams Yuen
How did you get started in the world of toy and game design?

I was brought up in the Far East and have been a ‘dedicated’ fan of Manga/Anime, Japanese robots, Kaijus, 12” action figures, and of course, Transformers. I was always fascinated (and still am) with toys and games, and passionate to find out how they worked. I dreamed that I’d design my own products one day!

I came to England to study Art and Design in the glorious Eighties after receiving the Hong Kong Young Designer of the Year award. After I graduated from De Montfort University, I worked full time for a design consultancy in the Midlands, mostly working on product and exhibition designs for Kenner, Parker, Tonka and Hasbro. I also worked as a freelance designer in character design, TV and movie production.

In 1996, I was approached and invited to join Hasbro. This was truly the turning point of my life, giving me the freedom and full artistic license to pursue my dreams!

And you were at Hasbro for over 20 years! How did your time with the firm shape your approach to design?
Massively! In my 24 years working in Hasbro as a principal designer, I had the privilege to work with every design development team and create concepts for all categories in toys, games and entertainment brands. I think I am probably the only designer who has had such a far-reaching and in-depth relationship working alongside with so many talented people within the Hasbro family!

Hasbro has a very well established and robust process for innovation, product design and development. It really helped me to master many aspects of both hands-on design and managerial skills; and at the same time, know the importance of staying creative at all levels.

Hasbro also trusted and empowered me to lead innovation and provide platforms in order to maintain and enhance overall creative culture within the company.

During the last few years, I introduced and facilitated innovation workshops and mini-camps in multiple global locations, casting our creative net further and deeper to instigate and harvest amazing ideas with great success.

I am definitely bringing all of these quality design principles and processes into Fab and will continue to fully utilise all that I learnt for my new adventures.

James Yuen
Absolutely, and how would you pitch Fab Design? What sort of services can firms reach out to you about?

For Fab Design, I am simply continuing what I do best: creating ‘Fab’ ideas and concepts! The services span cool-hunting, trend/product research, toy and game concepts and entertainment design to things like character design for animations. I have also recently set up a small CAD team in Hong Kong so I can now also produce CAD turnarounds and WL/LL models!

I will never get bored of creating new things since I truly believe that creativity has no boundaries and that every job is a learning process and a challenge to deliver my very best and beyond. I am also helping design and entertainment businesses, primarily but not exclusively, to organise and host brainstorm events and innovation workshops.

That’s such a varied – and impressive – line-up of services and skill-sets! Would you say there’s one element that ties a lot of your creations together or is the work too eclectic?
This is a hard one! I would say the signature ‘elements’ of many of my designs are ‘fun’ and ‘storytelling’. To me, in creating any concept, the fun features always come first, and every design has a story to tell.

I believe that successful design not only concerns appearance and functionality, but more importantly the intrinsic message or story that engages the users to build an emotional connection to my design. This then allows and encourages them to unleash their imagination to create their own story!

James Yuen
And where do you find your ideas come from? How do you fuel your creativity? 

My ideas come from all aspects of life, from walking down to my local corner shop to get a pint of milk and ending up spending hours chatting with strangers about some random topics; to visiting global events like Comic-Con dressing up as my favourite character. There are always amazing things to explore and get inspired by around me!

Most of my ideas don’t come from design related shows or events – it may be something I pick up from the fish market! However, the most important thing is to immerse yourself and become a part of whatever you are searching for!

Never be just an observer and be brave to connect and engage with people. After all, they are the very reason for us to create and design!

Finding inspiration at a fish market – love it! Looking at the industry today – toys and games, not fish – are we in a good place creatively?
Absolutely! One of the many cool things about creativity is breaking barriers between cultural and social differences. We can see the positive influences from East to West and vice versa. For example, the rise of Anime/Manga and designer art toys are becoming more mainstream than ever on a global level!

Look out for the opportunities and rapidly growing segments in open source creativity and fabrications thanks to the Makers movement worldwide.

We are in the most interesting and exciting times embarking on a journey of greater opportunities in multi-cultural integrations, innovations and collaborations!

Inspiring stuff. And finally, how can folks reach out to you and Fab Design?
Please email me on [email protected] or call 07885615424 – I would love to be a part of your creative adventure!

Huge thanks again James!


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