Nu-skool stationery

Kids can now brighten up maths class with dinosaurs, dalmations or Boyzone on their pencil cases. Amanda Lake looks at the new term’s must-haves.

Just mention buying new felt tip pens, rulers and set squares at around this time of year and school kids start trembling. New stationery supplies mean a new term is approaching – and fast. But whatever your children are into, be it Manchester United, Boyzone, Barbie or Pooh Bear, there is going to be a stationery kit they absolutely must have.

Browsing through the shops, it is surprising to find how stationery sets have developed in recent years. Ranges are quite large and more often than not include pencil cases, ring-binders, notebooks, lunch boxes, school bags and other paraphernalia. Big opportunities for design consultancies, you might think – but, because most of the products are made under licence to the retailers, visual ideas tend to come from collaborations between them and the manufacturers.

Fun-loving cartoon animals tend to be a big hit and appear in a number of outlets, and still-fashionable animal prints continue to line the shelves. Animal Instincts, an exclusive range by Woolworth’s, for example, has developed over the past few years. This year the range has three new images, all designed by children in a competition run by Woolworth’s in conjunction with the Young Telegraph: a “designed by children for children” philosophy.

Monsters rate highly too. Scary Monsters, an exclusive WH Smith range developed from its Bugs stationery set introduced last year, is doing well. The Lost World, the Jurassic Park movie spin-off, is another current smash.

But just how do retailers exploit the school market for 10-16-year-olds? Carole Bent, brand design manager at WH Smith, says: ” You need to tie down a brief that will satisfy your target audience. You have to tap into the attitude and develop it from there. In the Scary Monsters range, for example, we had to decide how scary or how fun-loving they should be, how we were going to use the images and the types of colours we should use. You have to get the right feel.”

Film merchandising and popular teenage bands are other obvious areas for retailers to focus on. Current icons include Barbie, Star Wars and 101 Dalmatians – although there doesn’t seem to be a Spice Girls range… yet. These are often the biggest-selling stationery ranges as they have such broad appeal, although there are growing numbers of niche and cult status ranges around, including Diesel and Dr Martens.

Bent points out that even if stationery is aimed at kids, it should have a general appeal. Not everyone who buys the products is at school. She cites the new, Bright range within WH Smith’s long-standing New Term products. “We spent a lot of time predicting colours to pick up the latest trends,” she says. “There are a lot of vibrant colours like lime green and orange in the range, though we also include safer colours like blue to have a wider appeal. Kids can buy into what suits them.”

No matter what style of stationery kids choose, it’s guaranteed to be covered in marker pen by the end of term with “I love ?” and “Ginger Spice is fit”. Truly personalised!

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