I don’t have any kids, but that doesn’t seem to stop me from coveting things from The Land of Nod (like this gold lamp or that scallop mirror or these charming baskets). What makes the company unique is that so many of its products are designed in-house by The Land of Nod team. It sounds like so much fun to work at a company that makes toys and fun things for kids. So how do you position yourself to find a similar job? We talked to The Land of Nod’s Managing Director, Michelle Kohanzo, to get the scoop. Michelle joined The Land of Nod in 1999 as their 10th employee. In her fifteen years at The Land of Nod, she’s played nearly every role in the company, and now as Managing Director, she leads multiple aspects of the brand, handling everything from merchandising to marketing. She was even responsible for launching the company website, spearheading a full rebranding campaign and setting up The Land of Nod pop-up shops and tour buses. Whew! It’s a big job and so we asked her for some advice on how navigate a career like this of your own. How does she stay motivated, focused and inspired? Thanks, Michelle! –Amy
Photography: Paul Strabbing and Land of Nod
D*S: What did you study in college?
Michelle: I studied English Lit – I thought I would be a grade school teacher, but wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do.
D*S: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Michelle: I wanted to be a mom; I have 4 kids – so, success! I also wanted to be a mermaid, that didn’t pan out for me.
D*S: What’s the best part of your job?
Michelle: I love the product. I love having an idea and seeing it come to life, traveling and seeing our products being made – it’s so inspiring and really fuels me.
D*S: Can you describe a typical day?
Michelle: I wake up as late as humanly possible, read my email, check my calendar, then spend 10 minutes getting ready and jump into my car for my hour-long commute (boo). My day is usually pretty full of meetings; I have one-on-one meetings with my direct reports, updates on various projects, and so on. I try to sneak back into our sample area every few days to see if any new product has shown up. If I have free time, I’ll peruse Pinterest or some of my favorite blogs to see what’s going on in the world. I head home at 5 and have dinner with my family, a cocktail with my husband and then all 6 of us load into my bed and chat about our day or watch TV until bedtime.
See more about a career as a Managing Director after the jump!
D*S: What have you learned about life from your as a job as the Managing Director of The Land of Nod?
Michelle: I’ve learned so much, the most important thing: love what you do, find your passion and never settle for anything less. And I’ve learned to be more patient, to slow down a bit – if you’re lucky, life is long and not everything has to be done right this second (I’m still working on this one).
D*S: What advice would you give someone who would love to get into product design – particularly for kids?
Michelle: Be creative – paint, sew, write. Find your inspiration and understand what drives you – let that passion direct you. In high school get involved – theater, art, photography and get good grades. Then go to a good art school, get a good foundation in art history and then if you really know what product category you’re interested in, specialize. Also, take time to travel and be inspired by different cultures; going to India and seeing rugs being woven by master artisans literally changed my life. There is so much heritage and artistry to experience, see the world before committing to any grown-up endeavors (bills, spouses, children) if you can.
D*S: Do you think there are common characteristics amongst children’s product designers or managing directors?
Michelle: This question really stumps me – I don’t think that I am your typical managing director and am hardly a designer. I guess I believe that to create truly brilliant children’s products you need to channel the kid inside yourself. To remember what it was like to be small and everything around you giant and to truly be delighted by the world around you and to never be too serious and to play.
D*S: What else would you love to do in this field?
Michelle: I would love to design apparel. I am a complete fashion junky and have hundreds of clothing items in my head, that I need, that don’t exist – Ball skirts, and gowns, and easy beautiful clothes, that’s my dream.
D*S: What’s the holy grail in your field – what’s your Oscar?
Michelle: Maybe being featured on Design Sponge, honestly this is pretty epic.
D*S: How do you stay inspired? (And where do you get your ideas from?!)
Michelle: Sometimes I think my head might explode, everything inspires me. I spend a lot of my free time being creative – sometimes I paint, sometimes I sew. I redecorate my house constantly, I cook, I read, I collect strange objects and I love to travel. I love a glamorous resort as much as I love a barefoot vacation in Minocqua, Wisconsin with my family.
My ideas come from everywhere and anywhere and literally at any time, day or night. I’m always running around the office shouting, “I just had the most amazing idea!” Everyone then rolls their eyes and holds their breath – what is it now? Last time I said that, we bought a school bus!
D*S: Do you have a favorite project that you’ve worked on? Or one that you are most proud of?
Michelle: That’s like asking me which child is my favorite. I would say I’m most proud of the relationships we’ve developed with our artists. The diversity and creativity of these people are what truly make our brand unique and beautiful and I’m so proud of each and every collaboration. I do have one very favorite artist and friend, Michelle Romo. She has created some of the most amazing products, window displays, giant monsters and whatever other crazy things we ask her to create for The Land of Nod. She is a prolific artist and the kindest, most lovely person you could ever meet. That makes me happy, working with nice people to make beautiful things.