Rowena Isotta-Day – Designer and Illustrator at Orchard Toys – on creating the company’s Peter Rabbit collection

Designer and Illustrator Rowena Isotta-Day talks us through the design process behind Orchard Toys’ first licensed collection.

Rowena, it’s great to connect. You’re both a game designer and an illustrator at Orchard Toys – which skill-set brought you into the industry?
It was both actually – and animation! I did my work experience sketching for an animation studio and became an animator after art school. It was solitary work and I missed working in a team. Then my friend saw an advert in the local paper for a job at Orchard Toys. It was just for a maternity cover role, but I managed to wrangle my way in permanently! I’ve been here 11 years now!

Wow! Some maternity cover! And you’re not alone in being with the company for an impressive amount of time… Why do people stay at Orchard Toys?
It’s a lovely job. You come in, draw all day and play games – it’s the dream, isn’t it? And everyone’s lovely to work with; the design department is a close-knit team. I’m very lucky. I never get that dread on a Monday morning going to work.

To the naked eye, the art style seems quite uniformed across the Orchard Toys portfolio. Did mastering that take time?
When I started, I saw it as a challenge. I needed to make it my own while being sympathetic to the other designers’ work. It was a fun challenge and the designs have evolved over time, while still looking cohesive. The key has been working really closely with the team. Everyone that joins brings something slightly new to the table, which helps to evolve the brand.

Your games are grounded in fun and education, but what does that early stage of development look like on an Orchard Toys product? Which aspect comes first?
It depends really. Often a theme emerges first, or it could be an educational element, like ‘How can we make times tables fun?’ When we were designing Match and Spell, it came about from experiencing how my own kids were starting to learn how to read. We wanted to strip it down to the real basics of first letter sounds… It comes from different places each time.

Rowena Isotta-Day, Orchard Toys, Peter Rabbit, Toys & Games, Film & TV

Do trends guide the process at all?
We don’t jump on themes just because they’re current. The range is always looked at as a whole. If we already have a lot of jungle or farm-based games, we won’t want to introduce another and over-saturate that. It has to be balanced.

Makes sense. How do you get the balance between a game being fun and it also being effective education-wise?
We’ll scrutinise concepts at an early stage to see how effective they are when it comes to our learning goals. When we’re ready to test a game, we get our design team to have a go first and if it passes that test, then we’ll invite other people from the company to try it. We’ll also take games into nurseries and schools to see how children engage with it. You can see very quickly if they identify with it.

You mentioned Match and Spell earlier, but what was the first game you designed at Orchard Toys?
It was called Spooky Steps. It was set in a witch’s house with a 3D board. You played as little frogs moving through the house to the witch’s potion in a bid to transform yourself back into a human.

Rowena Isotta-Day, Orchard Toys, Peter Rabbit, Toys & Games, Film & TV

Sounds right up my street! And has your approach to design changed much from then to now?
It has – and I think that’s due to having kids. You learn so much from watching them play. And having been here for so long now, I feel more confident about starting the process of creating a game than I did back then.

Fantastic. Now, let’s dive into your new range – and it’s a bit of a milestone for the company! Orchard Toys’ first-ever licensed line in the form of a Peter Rabbit collection. Why did this brand feel like a nice fit for Orchard?
Both brands are well-loved and appeal to the same age group, so it felt like a really exciting opportunity to be a part of… Especially to be able to blend our unique creative style, engaging gameplay and educational values, with the iconic characters from one of the world’s most beloved brands.

Yes, no pressure!
Ha! It was a little bit daunting, but I also felt tremendously lucky to be able to do it. I wanted to keep the charming quality of Beatrix Potter’s characters, so I used a more muted, softer colour palette than we normally use for our general range. The line work is also slightly different; I used a softer pencil line work where we usually use black line work. It was more sympathetic to the original designs, while also keeping the fun lively energy of Orchard Toys. That was the aim!

Rowena Isotta-Day, Orchard Toys, Peter Rabbit, Toys & Games, Film & TV

I think mission accomplished!
The collection is developed under licence from Penguin Ventures, on behalf of Frederick Warne & Co – Beatrix Potter’s publisher and owner of The World of Peter Rabbit – and that team has been brilliant to work with. They’ve been like an extension to our team.

Lovely! The range is a mix of brand-new games as well as some Peter Rabbit twists on your popular titles. For example, there’s a Lotto game – but in Veg Patch Lotto, Mr. McGregor can actually win if you accidentally uncover too many scarecrow tiles. Why was it important add these authentic gameplay twists, rather than simply bringing Peter Rabbit artwork to existing games?
When I started this project, Penguin kindly sent us the books and I sat and read my girls Peter Rabbit and all of the other tales. What I really wanted to do with each of the games is give nods to different stories. With Veg Patch Lotto, I wanted to use the timer element – the scarecrow – to be a nod to the moment when Mr. McGregor hangs up his jacket and shoes as a warning to the rabbits. It also makes Mr. McGregor a character in the game – and he might win before you collect all your veggies!

Rowena Isotta-Day, Orchard Toys, Peter Rabbit, Toys & Games, Film & TV

And it’s a genuinely sophisticated mechanic, especially for a game for young kids. And leads to some real tension!
Thanks! And kids don’t see Mr. McGregor as a timer – they see him as a character that’s in with a chance of winning!

Absolutely – it adds pace without turning it into a race. Now, another game that has great table presence is Don’t Wake Mr. McGregor! Can you talk me through the design of this one?
With that one, I wanted to immerse children into the vegetable garden. The idea is that you don’t want to wake Mr. McGregor, and there are stepping stones along the path – some with a watering can symbol. If you land on one of those, you wake up Mr. McGregor. In the story, when Peter Rabbit is running away from him, he tries to hide in the watering can but gets a cold and sneezes, so Mr. McGregor knows where he is.

I wanted to bring that into a game so kids have to say “Atishoo!” if they land on one of those spaces and that wakes him up. If he’s awake when you get to the end of the path, your rabbit is startled and you have to go back to the beginning. But if he’s asleep, you can steal some veggies from him.

Rowena Isotta-Day, Orchard Toys, Peter Rabbit, Toys & Games, Film & TV

Great stuff. And what do you find helps you have game ideas?
I keep a notepad by my bed, and I have woken up in the night with a brilliant idea – whether I think they’re still brilliant when I look at my notes in the morning is another thing! Often I’ll also have the headspace to explore creative possibilities on my commute home. Peaceful calm moments are key to having ideas for me.

Before we wrap up, I also wanted to ask two last questions! First is, what’s the best game you’ve created at Orchard?
There’s one that I personally love called Veg Patch Match. It’s more of a family game and I love it because the board that you’re matching to is constantly evolving. And the little vegetables had faces and looked very sweet. In the summer, I’m always in the garden and we grow lots of veggies, so it was very much my cup of tea!


Great pick! My second question is, what’s Orchard Toys’ most underrated game?
Tummy Ache has been in the range for years and years, but I feel that doesn’t get enough credit. My family absolutely loves playing that one and we’ve actually got a few versions of it, from the one I had when I was young to a version that I actually helped revamp from a few years back. It’s brilliant – and kids just love trying to make the grossest meal they can!

Rowena Isotta-Day, Orchard Toys, Peter Rabbit, Toys & Games, Film & TV

Rowena, this has been great. Huge thanks again – and congrats on the Peter Rabbit range.

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