Features Industry Outlook

Design Edge: A Year Without Travel

By the time I was 24 years-old, the furthest I had been from my home on Long Island, New York was to visit my grandparents in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. However, 10 years later, at 34 I had been around the world so many times, that twice I had to have pages added to my passport…and almost all of that was for work.

The toy industry is a global business with a trade show circuit that annually bounces from Hong Kong to Germany to New York to Tokyo to London to Los Angeles and to Dallas before starting all over again. In addition, the industry has a network of factories, manufactures, distributors and localized trade shows that have brought me to some places that I never even knew existed. At last count I had been to 34 countries in all, solely for the purpose of work.

I’ve been going somewhere at least twice a month, on average, for the last 20-plus years. And while that lifestyle may not suit some, personally, I love it! Through my work travels, I have not only seen some fantastic and sometimes exotic places, but also I made so many great friends around the world. They have shown me their culture, their cuisines, their cities, introduced me to their families and, to a great extent, they have exposed me to the “world at large”. I feel truly blessed to do what I do. But…

2020 certainly slammed the breaks on any travel.     Even before COVID-19, the 2020 toy travel circuit was off to a very rocky start. Traditionally, the Toy Industry trade show season kicks off with the Hong Kong Toy and Game Fair. Every year, a few days after the New Year holiday, a large chunk of the toy industry fills planes around the world to head over to Kowloon, Hong Kong to meet with suppliers, buyers and factories. But 2020 was different from the onset with many people of the industry opting to cancel their trips due to their concerns for personal safety as political unrest and protests plagued Hong Kong.

However, I was all set to go to Hong Kong in spite of all this but then, only a few weeks before the show, protesters and police faced off in the streets of Kowloon, leaving cars burned and store windows broken. As a father of two boys, I had to make the decision to put them first and not go. Of course, nothing happened during the window that I was set to be there, so I somewhat regretted not going…that is until rumbling of a new virus from China started to make headlines.

A few weeks later the industry and myself were in Nuremberg Germany, for Spielwarenmesse, the largest toy trade show in the world. By this time, COVID-19 had started making headlines and had become an industry concern as China began to close factories and then started to quarantine entirely in the hopes of keeping the virus at bay. Meanwhile, in Spielwarenmesse, the China Pavilion was a ghost town as nearly no westerners would enter it out of fear of catching this new virus.

In early February, the industry would unknowingly meet for the last time in 2020, at the New York Toy Fair. Subsequent shows would soon be canceled around the world and zoom meetings would be deemed “the new normal”.

So what will be the ultimate effect of a year without travel upon our industry? While some of us say it won’t make a difference, I couldn’t disagree more. Trade shows, in my opinion are not only an important part to our industry, they are essential! They are part of a greater ecosystem that allows everyone to meet on a literal common ground. It is the opportunity for industry friends to catch up, shoot the gab, and it allows for competitive companies to meet at events, share meals and have drinks together while getting to know the human sides of one another.

Trade shows allow people a chance to see other cultures and learn how their unique sense of aesthetic directs the way they design and market their toys and games. They allow suppliers and buyers the chance to walk around and see an actual productive landscape and interact with tangible product. Trade shows foster a communal unity that no chat room on Zoom would be large enough to handle, nor are they nurturing enough to encourage the quality of interaction that is present when meeting on the proverbial common ground .

And, so while it may be convenient to roll out of bed, turn on screen, log in and become a floating head in a chat room, the world will be a better place when we all have pants on, shirts buttoned, and are meeting face-to-face, coffee and ideas in hand. I can’t wait until we all finally get to meet again in person. Our industry will be stronger and more welcoming then ever. I hope to see you all soon.

Cheers to the times ahead.

Matt Nuccio is president of Design Edge, a New York-based graphic design and research development studio. For more information, he can be reached at Matt@DesignEdge.net.

This article appeared in the October 2020 issue of TFE Magazine.