Claude Bonnaud is a toy designer and children’s illustrator who has also licensed his own children’s character brand. Claude kindly agreed to share some of his experiences of working on the sort of design projects many of us would dream of.

1. Please could you tell me a little bit about your background and how you got started as a designer and illustrator?

claude bonnaud toy designerI am originally from France (Paris) where I trained as a graphic designer in the marketing and advertising industry. Back then being a designer was very different from nowadays: most of the work was done by hand and the learning curve was much slower.

My first job as a designer in an advertising company consisted in making black and white photocopies for the art director’s projects. I gradually worked my way up until I was confident enough to become a creative consultant.

I came to England 22 years ago to work as a freelancer on a 3 months contract and never returned home.

2. You now specialise in design work for the children’s industry, what bought you to this niche and what do you like about it?

Since I left art school, I always wanted to work as a children’s book illustrator and when the licensing industry “exploded” in the 90’s it was really an opportunity for me to show what I could do. Disney and Warner Brother were continually looking for artists who could draw their characters and designers who could apply them to merchandising. The fact that I could do both was a very valuable bonus.

I opened my first design studio (Kid Cartoons & Design) in 1995 and we very quickly specialised in the licensing industry with a huge accent in children’s fashion and accessories (with occasional projects for novelty gifts and toys packaging).

In 2007 I left the company (and London) to relocate in Dorset and start a  “home based” graphic design and illustrations studio. I really wanted specialise in every aspect of the children’s merchandising. I find the toy and novelty gift industry very exciting; especially now with modern technology merging into it.

3. You work both on creating 2D designs and also designing more 3 dimensional products like toys. What tools and software do you use for each and do you have any tips for taking a designers skills and moving into 3 dimensional  products?

I work mainly on computer using Adobe illustrator in addition of Photoshop for projects involving photographic input. There are others software available to create 3D designs, but they are more time consuming and not always cost effective to include in a competitive pricing. Also I love working with a pen and pad (manually or digital), as the ability to draw is the key skill for expressing any idea on paper.

4. Please could you talk through the design process for one of your favourite projects that you have worked on?

I regularly contribute to develop new ideas for Vivid Imaginations range of toys. It usually starts with creating an illustration showing how the toy would look like. At that stage we spend lot of time modifying and tweaking each aspect of the original ideas. Then we move on to a coloured version which bring the concept into 3D.

Once the project is approved a real 3D model is produced and more amendments are added. I usually don’t get involve with this phase but I start contributing to any side artwork necessary to the final product like illustrations, graphic artwork, sticker or instruction sheets and sometime packaging. It’s always a fast moving and fun process, and I get to experience all aspects of creating new toys and games. The real kick for me, is usually a year later when I get to see the final product in shops, ready to be sold.

toy design for vivid imaginations

5. You have published several children’s books, please could you share a bit about your experience of that?

In 2008 in collabation with Sasha Felix from Sing and Sign ( we created a mini series of 3 “lift-the-flap” children’s books: “Where is Jessie?” which won the Practical Pre-School Award. I contacted Sasha earlier that year and she was looking for an illustrator to develop some children’s characters to accompany her teaching technique.

The books were so fun to work on as their format included lot of little details in each page to keep children interested. Each illustration focused on one world and one sign and in the process I learn a lot about babies’ language.

In addition to the illustrations I also produced the final layout of each book and I was able to give to this mini series a real identity. Sasha was such a pleasure to work with and gave me complete freedom of creativity.

childrens book illustration

6. You have licensed some of your work, how did you make contacts and did you use an agent?

licensed character designsYears ago I developed a children’s brand called “Big is Beautiful” (aimed at children with weight difficulties and had an educational “healthy eating” message). At the time, the license had a modest success, but triggered lot of support from some companies. The licensed aspect of the brand was fairly straightforward but it involves a tremendous amount of marketing and media exposure. The competition was also extremely fierce at the time and eventually “Big is Beautiful” was no more. The experience was interesting, but bank and nerves wracking…

7. What advice would you give anyone looking to license their design or illustration work?

First of all: Have a very tight marketing plan. There is no point in licensing your work if you don’t know where it will fit in the market ahead. We all hope that success would occur over night, but it usually takes 2 to 3 years to impose a new brand.

Secondly: Be very ‘hands-on” with your budget: Licensing, copyrighting and marketing your designs can be an expensive business if you choose to do it yourself.

Finally: Do your homework. Talk to licensing agencies and people who are currently going though this process. There is a lot to acknowledge and to think about to achieve a successful license.

8. Where can people find out more about you and your work?

I have a website, showing my portfolio, a Linked-in account for all my business contacts, and a Twitter account which I use to share tips and links related to freelancing, graphic designing and illustrating.