When it comes to goofing off, Kim Vandenbroucke is a pro. As a board game and toy inventor, she has developed products such as Cranium Party Playoff for Hasbro, Barbie Mini Kingdom for Mattel, and Scattergories Categories for Winning Moves. Trained in industrial design, the 32-year-old Chicagoan mixes the fundamentals of product design with a passion for play. "It's about going beyond that first solution," she says. "You have to keep up with what's out there, what's been successful, and why it's been successful." That's one of the reasons Vandenbroucke launched the Game Aisle, a website offering reviews of what she considers to be the best new game releases. She hopes the resource will inspire folks to rediscover board games. "It's very social," she says. "Video games are great, but you all just end up staring at the TV." Here are some of the tools she uses to reclaim our attention.
Meet Mr. Product
"I love old advertising characters—the styles, the names, the nostalgia," says Vandenbroucke. This book, by Warren Dotz and Masud Husain, offers a thorough look at the past, making it "a great place to get ideas." ($10, amazon.com)
When designing games, a set of normal white and black six-sided dice just won't cut it. "I have blank dice, dice with colors, and dice with skunks," she says. "I have them in giant cups behind my desk so I can just turn around and grab them." (Prices vary, chessex.com)
Wacom Cintiq 21UX
"The more ideas I come up with and the quicker I can realize them, the more likely it is that I'll license something," says Vandenbroucke, who struggles with sketching by hand. With this display's undo function, "I can do some fabulous drawings in a third of the time." ($2,000, wacom.com)
One of Vandenbroucke's favorite games, Pit "looks so lame because it's a commodities trading game," she says. "But it's awesome and so much fun." The Deluxe version adds a bell to the action, which makes it even better: "Everybody loves a game with a bell," she says. ($18, winning-moves.com)
When friends invited Sussman to Japan in 2004, she was torn between a beach trip to Ogasawara or a two-day hike to Yakushima to see a tree that locals said was 7,000 years old. "I was ready for an adventure," she says, and chose to skip the beach. In place of the sun and sand, she bought a bag of sea salt at a Tokyo department store. "It is delicious." (From $1, iwako.com)
Moleskine Sketchbook and Double-Pen Quiver
"I have my little Moleskine with me always," says Vandenbroucke. But before she discovered the Quiver, she was often left scrambling to find a pen when inspiration hit. "I would end up forgetting a lot of ideas," she says. "The Quiver is so much better." ($13, moleskineus.com; $18, quiverglobal.com)
Vandenbroucke keeps her mother's 1962 edition of this card game close at hand. "It's a great reminder of how many generations can love one game," she says. "They just did the retro version of Mille Bornes, because great things don't go out of style." ($16, amazon.com)
"From the minute I went out on my own in 2006, I started collecting catalogs," she says of the pamphlets she picks up at trade fairs. "You have to make sure that you know what's already been done."
A version of this article appeared in the December 2011/January 2012 issue of Fast Company magazine.