ArtWorkPlay with Kenny K: "Action Princesses" (The Haywire Group)

by Kenny Kiernan | 29 Jun 2021

Industry Commentary, Op-Ed

Creating illustrations, characters and packaging for the toy industry and loving it!  ArtWorkPlay with Kenny K is about sharing insights, WIP pics and anecdotes with collaborators from past projects in order to de-mystify the process a bit, and shed some light on how it's done!

Action Princesses™

The project: "Action Princesses" board game packaging & components design & illustration

Client: The Haywire Group

My guest, and co-conspirator: Nan Finkenaur

KK: Nan, I really enjoyed working on Action Princesses with you awhile back - thanks so much for contributing to this article! 

NF: Thanks, Kenny! I was aware of your edgy kid illustrations when I worked as Director of Creative Services at Hasbro Games. I love your style, and always wanted to work with you! After I left Hasbro, I started Adrenaline Design with some friends from my creative department. Over the years we’ve worked with game and toy companies large and small.

At Hasbro, I had worked with Alan Roach*, a leader in the game industry and wonderful human, who had moved to head R&D for Haywire. Alan and Ryan Noonan (Haywire’s Creative Director) hired Adrenaline to design the packaging and logo and provide art direction for the illustration. I showed them your work, and they thought it was perfect for Action Princesses!

KK: Thanks so much, Nan! As I recall, the focus of this game was about undermining the traditional cliche of the "damsel-in-distress" and giving it a modern spin, making it about diversity and female empowerment; the illustrated character "pawn" components were supposed to be influenced by the classic Disney Princess look but with more ethnic diversity, and more edgy. Spunky and assertive, but not overly aggressive - hence the sassy & self-assured expressions and body language. 

I really enjoy injecting energy and attitude into characters and I played around a lot with that here as you can see in my really rough scribbly preliminary sketches, so this was a blast to do. I especially dug the decision to lean toward an anime & manga-influenced art style! love that genre and it's so popular; always happy for any chance to work in this style.

Nan, do you have any particular notes to relate or challenges that you can recall regarding the process?

NF: The project went very smoothly— it was a linear process! I loved your anime style, which straddles that age group where games are becoming a kid-request and parents want that positive message. Empowering girls is so important at every age. Your illustration embodies that confidence and energy we want for them so perfectly. And, having diverse characters helps girls imagine themselves as the one slaying the dragon and saving the prince (finally!)

KK: Like pretty much all art people I'm a huge fan of Fantasy and Dungeons & Dragons-type material, even in a more kids-oriented cartoony form like this -- so designing the Dragon and the Castle were also really fun. 

Another thing I loved about this project is that the illustrations were used for the box cover, but also as playable game components -- so they're really being experienced, and physically played with in the game!

NF:  The dragon character is my favorite! He’s both kinda scary and doofy at the same time. I love his little potbelly.

Creating a package with a diorama of the contents was tricky! You mentioned a challenge earlier, and this was it. It’s cool how the packaging elements unfolded to become a playable game. The art had to fit perfectly for both uses.

While I worked with you on the art direction, I do want to give credit to my partner, Steve Krupsky, and his son Scott who worked on the packaging concepts and design, and the logo options. Lynne Balcom Smith provided editing and production skills.

KK: Great team effort by all involved! Nan, thanks very much to you and your team for being great to work with,

and for taking the time to contribute here.

NF:  It was fun to chat with you about this project! I hope we get to work together again soon. Your professionalism made the whole process so easy. It was a pleasure!


*Alan Roach was well known throughout the industry and a joy to work with. He passed away a couple of years ago, and his friends set up annual scholarships in his memory to support students studying art and/or game design.

About Nan and her company, Adrenaline Design:

We create memorable branding and packaging for toys and games. For over 20 years we’ve teamed up with clients including Hasbro, Little Kids, Inc., WS Game Company, Atari, Think Geek, Spin Master, USAopoly, and more. See our work at, and give us a call to fuel your next project with Adrenaline.

Kenny Kiernan Illustration & Design Studio specializes in the toy & game and children's market, delivering top-quality work for 20+ years for mega-brands (Hasbro, Mattel, Disney, Marvel, Spin Master, LEGO, Scholastic, more), as well as businesses of all sizes, and creating concept art for inventors and product development. Check out for lots of samples of Kenny's work and available services. Connect with Kenny here on POP and onLinkedIn!

toyindustry Toys Design illustration boardgame

Tait & Lily, Inventors of Betcha Can't!