Directing a Design Career Arc


Eric Tscherne, the VP of Design at Wicked Cool Toys joins the Gearheads on the fiftieth episode! You may know Eric as a legendary Hot Wheels Designer, having created some of the most memorable models in the modern era, but he’s more than the sum of those die cast wonders. We discuss the early days as an intern at Mattel, to being a part of some very successful lines like PAW Patrol (yep, the Nickelodeon show) working as Design Director at Spin Master and Upper Deck, and working with licensed toy lines like Monsters University and more.

This may be the first time that a podcast has gone masterclass on crafting a Design career arc. And doubles-down by hosting not only a seasoned pro, but his mentor as well. A lot to learn on this one.

We’ll be having Eric back, as his career and accomplishments warrant a much deeper conversation. In this episode, we’re concentrating on the beginnings of a successful Design career arc, and the manner in which an aspiring student or Designer can follow their passion. The timeline here is centered between 1996 and 2005, and gets into the value of having Design-minded management, a passion-centric company culture, and what it takes to follow a dream. A lot to be learned and inspired by. HUGE thanks to both Eric and Carson for taking the time to sit and discuss these often overlooked topics and aspects, and we hope that they help you in your career planning. Please feel free to hit us up in the comments with any questions, and we’ll work to get them into future installments of this series.


  • Our fiftieth episode celebrates a twenty-year friendship between Eric and Carson
  • Eric’s design sensibilities are noted as early as first grade
  • A life-long fascination with cartoons and toys
  • “Toy cars” and tuners/mini-trucks versus the typical hot rod stuff
  • Alex and Brian’s Catholic school days come back to haunt once again
  • Finding early guidance at the Cleveland Institute of Art
    – Life Drawing classes
    – Animating on an Amiga
    – Discovering Automotive Design in a basement
  • “You’ll never amount to anything if you draw pictures all day.”
    – The hopes that a former teacher is buying Paw Patrol toys for her grandkids
  • The hurdles involved with following a dream or passion
    – Relocation
    – Investment of time and energy
  • On interning at Hot Wheels/Mattel
    – Working alongside legends like Larry Wood
    – The first Carson Lev/Eric Tscherne project with Wings West
    – Having a mentor who appreciates and recognizes talent… and utilizes it
  • Getting to imagine future cars without restraint
  • Matchbox VS Hot Wheels
  • The mad rush begins for the lost Hot Wheels Probe (and not just the funny car versions)
  • Walking through the door at Mattel/Hot Wheels for the first time
  • Building and utilizing the morgue file
  • The gas station conference room
  • Having art on possibly one billion pieces of packaging (drink that in for a moment)


  • “Muscle Tone” and the GM Hi-Tech Performance Magazine fifth-gen Camaro article
  • When toy design influences real-world automotive design
    – Uncorking the design crew to inspire fresh thinking
    – Creating a brand that reflected the consumer’s personality
    – Was “Pony Up” an influence on the new Mustang
  • On having wanted to be a car designer to being able to via die-cast car design
    – “Do t! But make it red.”
  • The ’64 Riviera story
    – The Jesse James/Chip Foose connection
    – “I’m also certain that yours doesn’t have purple windows”
    – The Monster Garage “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Scions” episode
  • The importance of being able to translate ideas/thoughts into a sketch
    – Sketching in the moment is the universal design language
    – Bridging language gaps and transcending barriers with visual design
  • The right brain shift/artist’s trance
  • A typical day in the life of a Hot Wheels Designer


  • When management inspires and fosters creativity in their staff
    – Working under the legendary John Handy
    – Problem-solving
    – Working with the “next big thing” and brainstorming
    – Brian suffers a Scorchers flashback
    – The 100,000 square-foot Design Center… on steroids
    – Moving from concept to prototype in a week and under one roof
    – “You were never starving for inspiration”
    – Supportive, design-minded upper management and its importance in success
    – How this relates to having an idea or concept fairly evaluated
    – “Cool hunting” and “trend-finding” missions alongside structure and compliance
  • How the Toy industry relates to betting
    – The importance of trying fresh ideas and not fearing failure
  • The genesis of PAW Patrol
    – Allowing creatives to just “go at it” versus a committee mindset
  • On communication between teams and how to navigate the terrain
  • Turning stress to inspiration
  • The reality of Industrial Designer as problem solver
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Brian Stupski

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