Toymaker. Joy bringer. Roadrunner.
Alumna Sharon Park has the coolest job in the world – making people smile.
By Dan Vaccaro
Sharon Park has a distinct memory from her childhood: standing in the aisle of a toy store, a soon-to-be-opened box in her hands and an irrepressible feeling of joy in her heart.
These days, the 31-year-old toy designer spends her time trying to re-create that feeling for others.
As a member of the design team at Kidrobot, Park dreams up, draws up and develops toys for today’s vinyl-art collectors. She even gets to play in the worlds of other creators, designing toys based on TV shows such as “The Simpsons” and “South Park.”
“I am supposed to be adulting,” Park says. “But I guess I just see the world more like a child, with a kind of awe and wonder. That’s why I have the perfect job for me.”
And yet there was a time when it didn’t seem likely she’d end up a designer at all.
Her parents wanted her to be a pharmacist – a good, stable career that paid well. And as a first-year student at MSU Denver, she followed their directive, studying biology and taking other prerequisites. But something didn’t feel right.
So she began to look at majors that would allow her to express herself artistically. “I’ve always loved to create things,” she says, “so when I discovered industrial design, I knew I’d found the right fit.”
Her parents were predictably unhappy with the change of direction. But Park says she’s not someone who likes to take no for an answer.
Her first class only confirmed the decision. While she was nervous about operating the heavy tools and machinery, she quickly learned to love the work. She learned something about herself, too. Regardless of the assignment, everything she created had a playful aspect to it. She traced this unexpected inspiration back to her childhood, a clear sign of things to come.
Park graduated from MSU Denver in December 2012 and scored a job with Kidrobot in 2015. She’s been with the company since and says she uses the skills developed during her studies every day.
Her favorite project so far has been designing new characters for Kidrobot’s Yummy World line. Her favorite is the Cheesy Puffs plush. For the uninitiated, she explains: “It’s one of our most interactive plush toys, a mock cheese-puff bag about 24 inches tall with nine soft cheese balls inside. I loved imagining and creating the user experience of opening the bag, hearing the crunch of the puffs and pulling out the puffs to toss at friends. It was so much fun.”
Park is clearly having the time of her life in the present but hopes the future holds even bigger things. She can imagine herself as a creative director or even starting her own design firm.
As for where she finds inspiration these days, Park says she’s the weird person who digs around in the children’s toy boxes at friends’ houses. But she is most motivated by bringing joy into people’s lives through her designs.
“I’ve gotten to see adults and younger enthusiasts interact with my designs,” she says. “There’s nothing quite like it. When they laugh or smile, and I can see their happiness, I know I’ve succeeded.”
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