“There is no secret sauce!” Suzanne Robinson reveals what REALLY makes Carterbench remarkable…

Suzanne Robinson, Carterbench, I.D.I.O.T. Award

Welcome, Suzanne. Thanks for making time! For the uninitiated – and that can’t be many – who are you?
I’m Suzanne Robinson and I am a partner at Carterbench. My background is in Industrial Design and I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a long career in such a creative design field. I’ve now been with Carterbench for 35 years – which I still can’t quite believe!

Wow! What’s your role there?
I’m the Creative and Commercial Director. Carterbench itself is an invention house based in the Northwest of England; we’ve been at the forefront of the toy industry for over 30 years.

So Carterbench has been at the forefront of the toy industry for over 30 years – but you’ve been there 35?
Right! Because while it’s true to say that Carterbench – as a dedicated toy invention studio – has been going since 1992, it has its origins in the late 1970s. Back then, the name Carterbench was synonymous with advertising. Their client roster included some of the greats of British toy design: Bluebird Toys, Denys Fisher, Waddingtons…

Biiiig names! So then Carterbench changed its focus? And to what, then, do you attribute Carterbench’s long success as an invention studio?
While we are, essentially, a design and development company, it’s fair to say we’re also imbued with an acute awareness of what makes a toy or game successful. It’s in our DNA, so to speak. However, the key to longevity is to always evolve, and be willing to learn more from the next generation of talent.

Suzanne Robinson, Carterbench, I.D.I.O.T. Award

Great answer, thank you. Now… You once did a short Mojo Nation interview – which people can read here. In that, you said your creativity is partly fed by “blue-skying opportunities”. What did you mean by that? Is that a specific process?
Not really a specific process as such, no. It’s more in line with what I said about always being adaptable and keeping an open mind. With a good creative team of people, you can apply these core attributes to any area and pivot to where you think the new opportunities lie.

And once your team has pivoted, once it has what it thinks is a fairly decent idea in its sights, how do you progress? What are your methods? Tell us everything; leave no trade secret unrevealed!
Ha! I don’t suppose our methodologies are much different than everyone else in the toy invention business… Sorry to confirm: there is no secret sauce to anything we do! I do think, though, that if you’ve been in the business as long as we have, you do recognise the germ of a good idea when you see it. It’s not always fully developed at the start, but as – a team – we noodle together to see how we might evolve that germ to fit a particular license or brief that may be current at the time.

More personally, what’s the one tip you’d give new blood that’s coming into the toy and game industry?
Enjoy the process! What I mean by that is to enjoy designing, playing, and developing an idea. If you love what you do and what you create, then this shows in your concepts and product pitches. Also, develop a thick skin! Our industry sets the bar high for success, so don’t be despondent when your concepts are rejected. Listen to the feedback, keep adapting and keep reshowing.

Suzanne Robinson, Carterbench, I.D.I.O.T. Award

Lovely! Meanwhile, Suzanne, your year started with what I took to be a huge and tremendous surprise… You won the much-ballyhooed I.D.I.O.T. Award! What did that mean to you?
Oh, it meant a great deal to me – and it really was a total surprise… I think that was probably evident in my acceptance speech! I was genuinely thrilled to receive the award and to be recognised in front of my peers. A great honour.

You were clearly shocked and moved when it came your way. For the benefit of those not in the room, how did you feel? And do you recall what you said in your speech?
It’s all a bit of a blur, but I wanted to thank Tanya Thompson for her lovely speech, and the Inventor Dinner committee for thinking of me. It really was a great honour! I also appreciated the wonderful creative team that I work with at Carterbench. They really are a great gang of people – and we do have a lot of fun, which I think is important!

The team also shares a certain resilience which is needed in our business. That shows in the longevity of the people that work there… I think I mentioned to you before that Jim Keenan is one of our newest recruits – he’s been with the company 25 years…

Meanwhile, Ross Worthington and Simon Gidion have been with the company for a similar amount of time as me. Also, to return to your question, I have – over the years – met a lot of remarkable people in the toy industry, many of whom I consider good friends… So, as you can imagine, I was excited to see so many of them in the room that night!

And is there anything you think you might have wanted to say in your speech that escaped you at the time?
Probably that it can be tough to be an inventor! There can be a lot of disappointments along the way, but the rewards and satisfaction from licensing a product and seeing it enjoyed in the marketplace makes it all worthwhile. The highs certainly exceed the lows! Also, as a woman in the industry for so long, I would encourage other women in toys to keep with it and have self-belief; to trust their instincts and – mostly – to enjoy the challenges as they present themselves.

Great stuff! We need to start wrapping things up, Suzanne, but I’m curious to ask one last question… Lovely Jim Keenan managed to keep the award a secret from you for a couple of months. Has that changed the way you look at him? Has it eroded all your trust?!
Jim WHO?! Ha! Honestly, who knew Jim – and Ross for that matter – could keep such a secret?! But I’m pleased they did as the surprise was even more meaningful! Thank you, Jim; thank you, Ross!

And thank you, Suzanne!
And thank you, Deej!

To stay in the loop with the latest news, interviews and features from the world of toy and game design, sign up to our weekly newsletter here

Stay up to date with the latest news, interviews and opinions with our weekly newsletter
Back to top arro

Sign Up

Enter your details to receive Mojo updates & news.