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So much to unlearn!

(Written by William)

When we exit the Dark Ages and become AFOLs, we all must face a startling realization. We don’t build as good as we think we should. Sure there are some exceptions to this rule, but many of us have trouble building in some way. The following areas cover the major deficiencies we encounter.

Color Blindness

We are enthralled by a nicely colored model. There are sleek lines and subtle choices that make something look right. Then we discover that learning this technique is not a simple thing.

We either end up creating models that are unstable or only look good from one side. This is a common problem for many adults. When we were young, we didn’t have the choice to use specific colors. Therefore, we built with what we had. Now that we have the income to make decisions on color, we find it is a new skill we need to acquire.

The best way to start is by making mono-color models then use small pieces to decorate afterwards like icing on a cake. Eventually you can begin seeing points in your construction where a different color would look better.

Leaning Tower of Everything

Stability, where did it go? When we think back to our early days, we remember things we built that would be sturdy and withstand the rigors of play. As adults, we find that buildings are like fragile eggs the crack open at the slightest pressure.

What we fail to realize is the complexity we crave as adults did not exist in childhood. Many of our early creations were built straight-forward without the need for functionality in everything. Tables were just a few bricks put together. If we did build some functionality into a design, it was very simple but effective.

Much of this problem goes away when we become more familiar with building techniques. Just by purchasing and paying attention to the construction of the official sets we can find ways to satisfy our adult desires in a LEGO creation.

Imagination Station Shut Down

Inspiration is probably one of the biggest walls for an adult fan. LEGO makes it look easy with clever designs and novel ways of using pieces. Even as children we can remember trying to build some off-the-wall things. However, as adults we are stymied when asked to build on the spot.

What we tend to forget is that as children, the experience of everything was new. There wasn’t a day that didn’t go by that we failed to learn something. Therefore, in our LEGO creations we did not have the sense of “No” that exists as adults.

A good example of this is animals with wheels. As a child, this is a perfectly acceptable invention. As an adult, we must rationalize how it makes sense to us. It could be okay if the wheeled beast was a stage 3 prop or an advertising gimmick in a used car lot.

This need to rationalize is a brand new experience that adults have compared to children. For this reason, when we become better, the focus of our creations are more elaborate. Getting there won’t come over night.

This need for reason demands us to put our imagination in a box that we then have to think our way out of. This whole process puts a massive filter over what we think is acceptable to create.

The best way to move through this stage is practice building creatively. Take a handful of pieces and put them together randomly. Once you’re done with that, begin building off of it to make the random construction look like something. This will combine our rationalization needs with our long lost imagination.

My Pieces Are Broke

On occasion we are frustrated by the fact that certain pieces don’t do what we want them to do. A corner could be too sharp or the plate needs to be longer. Many of our creations as adults seemed to be blocked because we only have what’s available and not what we want.

As children we let our imagination fill in the gaps. However, this is unacceptable for an adult builder. We can’t have a train that connects five different ways between cars. We need it to look a certain way and that is that.

Unfortunately, the only cure for this is to experience more LEGO elements. Over the years LEGO has created so many parts in so many colors that they cannot produce them all in a year. Therefore, there are new pieces coming out every year as well as old pieces that have not been seen for some time.

The fact is, the thing you want is probably out there. On the other hand, it is also possible that someone has figured out a solution to your problem with a clever building technique. You can find the answer to these things by communicating with a LEGO User Group (LUG) either online or in your area. LUGs are a great way to collectively tackle a problem that is beyond a single individual.


This is not an exhaustive list of what stops adults from building with LEGO. In truth, this is not the list you need. Rather, begin giving yourself reasons why you should build. What you should take away from this is that many of the issues we have can stem back from our childhood perceptions.

We can only address these issues by regressing back to a child’s level. By examining the differences between our needs then and now, we can then move forward with understanding why building can be so intimidating.

The end result in many of these issues is that children view LEGO as a toy. Adults, on the other hand, view LEGO as a medium of expression. The nice thing is that both view points are correct. 😉

{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Alain Mélançon May 19, 2011, 11:09 PM

    Great post!

    • Will May 21, 2011, 2:00 PM

      Thanks! 😀

  • Maxx May 20, 2011, 9:24 AM

    Fun to read, informational and very recognisable 🙂

    To add to your piece, this is why I often build WITH my kids and/or only use a handful of pieces to start my MOC with.
    So I can later add the “Icing”.

    • Will May 21, 2011, 1:58 PM

      That’s a great tip. The way I do it is that I take a few pieces to create a specific element and then end up building a huge castle around it or something. But the principle of starting with just a few bricks is the same.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • brickmaster May 20, 2011, 12:40 PM

    Your post makes me realize I’m not alone! Thanks for that!

    • Will May 21, 2011, 2:00 PM

      That’s the worst thing for an AFOL to feel – alone. The problem is that we see all these AFOLs who have achieved building remarkable MOCs, but we’re kind of ashamed to talk about our early trials. This might be reason enough to create a builder’s anonymous group where AFOLs help each other trying to get out of the rainbow builds and poorly stabilized constructions.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • waverider June 5, 2011, 11:15 AM

    Great points, especially about the difference between how children and adults approach the Lego hobby differently. Now I want perfection in my MOCs, whereas as I child I was just playing, using Lego as a medium for my unlimited imagination.

    • Will July 4, 2011, 3:12 PM

      It’s amazing how much more you want out of LEGO as an adult, especially when adults can afford to build in a high level of detail. This seems to both hinder imagination and amplify imagination when we gives ourselves permission to use it. I think understanding these points may make it easier for some to bring out their creative side as adults.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Ike May 7, 2013, 3:29 PM

    great article, I love the pictures!

  • K August 2, 2013, 4:33 PM

    Great post. tyfs. There are no local LUGs in my city. =\

  • Eduardo December 27, 2013, 11:49 AM

    I was touched and inspired by this post. Thank you very much! Time to look at my small collection and put pieces together.

    • admin December 27, 2013, 12:47 PM

      Eduardo, I’m glad the article helped. If you like, you can subscribe to daily updates and inspirations, or just stop by whenever you feel like. Welcome to our community of LEGO enthusiasts! 🙂

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