Best of the fair

Recent graduate receives national attention for toy designs

March 13, 2014

Tou Yia Xiong is confident that toddlers ages 1 year and older will have hours of fun playing with a new toy he has designed, Tree Top Adventure.

He was a little nervous, however, when a group of adults gave it a try, on national television no less. They weren't just any adults either. They were members of The View, the popular ABC TV daytime talk show.

Xiong, a 2011 University of Wisconsin-Stout graduate from the School of Art and Design, works for Manhattan Toy Company of Minneapolis. Manhattan Toy was one of about 1,000 exhibitors in February at the massive 111th annual American International Toy Fair in New York.

Tou Yia Xiong displays Tree Top Adventure at the toy fair in New York.Out of thousands of new toys and products at the fair, a handful were picked by toy expert Elizabeth Werner for a Best of the Toy Fair segment on The View.

Xiong's Tree Top Adventure was the first item featured in the live show segment. Members of The View, including actress Whoopi Goldberg, tried each of the toys in front of studio and national TV audiences.

"I watched nervously (on TV), hoping nothing bad would happen. It turned out fine," Xiong said. "It was really cool to see Whoopi and everyone talk about it and play with it on TV."

Tree Top Adventure received a round of applause from the audience, and Goldberg said she wanted to buy one.

"It has lots of wonderful gadgets, things that children are going to push, turn and move," Werner said on the air.

Tree Top Adventure is an interactive wooden toy tree. Werner, Goldberg and others on the segment liked the fact that it's on a stand nearly 2 feet high and has four quadrants so that multiple toddlers can play at once. With four play stations, the toy can help develop social skills as well as motor skills.

The toy features six tracks with animal-themed gliders, six bead runs with colorful wooden beads and other movable, attached features.

"This is a different take on the traditional large activity toys you might have in your home or have seen at your dentist or day care. They're usually a box or simple-shaped design, with a lot of bead runs, for ground or table-top play. We wanted to set ourselves apart from the market," Xiong said.

Tree Top AdventureAlong with Tree Top Adventure, Xiong designed another toy at the show that drew rave reviews. Learning Play Microscope won the Best in Play award from Working Mother magazine.

Xiong, who grew up in Appleton and went to high school in Kimberly, may be having as much fun designing toys as the children who play them. He has worked at Manhattan Toy for about a year; he worked for a mobile video game developer, Strapped to a Meteor, in Seattle after graduating.

"I enjoy the variety of products I get to work on. Each one presents a fun challenge. Also, I like that I'm not tied to a computer all day. I bounce around drawing at another desk, mocking up samples and play-testing toys," he said.

He also has designed rattles, teethers and the Motorworks Fuel-N-Shine Station.

Along with his design work, Xiong's job includes doing competitor and trend research; understanding safety standards and business metrics; working with the operations and marketing departments; and working with the overseas manufacturer to resolve design and production issues.

Xiong, whose undergraduate concentration was multimedia design, said UW-Stout's art program helped him develop the many skills he uses in his job.

"I learned character development, animation, 3D modeling, Web and graphic design to name a few. On top of that, the art and design foundation classes also helped make me well-rounded as a designer. With the variety of toy projects I work on, I am able to apply the different skills I have learned to each of them," he said.

Nagesh Shinde, a professor in the School of Art and Design, isn't surprised by Xiong's success. "He was one of the most thoughtful, sincere and passionate students I have known. Tou always took the initiative to make sure his work was done exceptionally well. He naturally became a leader in my classes because of his pleasant and positive attitude," Shinde said. "I am excited for him and look forward to his future accomplishments."

For more information on UW-Stout School of Art and Design programs, click here. To learn more about the UW-Stout Alumni Association, go to the website.

Tree Top Adventure, which sells for $100, is expected to be in stores in March and will be available at the Manhattan Toy Company website