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Has LEGO sold out? New York Times interview

Last year I was interviewed for an article by New York Times reporter Jesse McKinley. Jesse – along with his colleague Matt Richtel – was working on a story about the success of LEGO in several non-brick formats. They also wanted to ask a few questions from members of the LEGO community to get some feedback. Besides interviewing me they also contacted Josh Wedin from the Brothers-Brick and Joe Meno from the Brick Journal. 🙂

LEGO Article New York Times - Image by Adam Simpson

The New York Times article was published in the December 23rd print-issue of the magazine, and it is also available online (see here: Has LEGO Sold Out? ). They never quoted me in the article, but they did include a line each from Josh and Joe. Anyhow, what I thought to share with you today were the questions Jesse asked me for the article. They were quite interesting, and I was curious to see what you think, and how other LEGO fans would have responded. Below are the questions and my responses:

How long have you been a fan of LEGO? When did you get your first LEGO bricks?

If I remember correctly I have gotten my first LEGO set when I was six or seven-years-old. My father is an architect and he frequently used LEGO for his models. And my mom, a mechanical engineer, also very much valued educational and creative toys – so the love of LEGO runs in the family. Like many other LEGO fans I have put aside my LEGO sets when I turned fourteen for other interests and pursuits. However I went back to LEGO again as an adult. This phenomenon is in fact so common, that those LEGO-less late-teen/early-adult years are referred to as the “Dark Ages” within the LEGO fan community.

What specifically (and as well as in a more philosophical way) do you like about LEGO? The creative energy they inspire? Their adaptability? The inventiveness shown by LEGO designers?

I’m artistic by nature, and for me LEGO is a creative medium like paint on canvas, clay, metal or wood. However while I could find a blank canvas quite intimidating with its emptiness, give me a bucket of LEGO and I’m instantly inspired. LEGO bricks give a friendly invitation with their bright colors and given shapes. Even though the elements of structure are pre-defined, they still allow unlimited creativity. It is actually quite fun to take a LEGO element and figure out what can be done with it. If I turn it upside down or sideways what does it look like? What can I do with it to bring out an unusual interpretation? LEGO elements get my creative juices flowing even when I’m stuck or tired. I actually never looked at LEGO as just another children’s toy, even when I was a child. It is definitely a lot more than that. It allows one to be creative, work out problems and solve challenges – or just provide an old-fashioned way to play and relax alone, or with friends and family.

In fact, this is another aspect of LEGO I really like; the social and community connections it can build. There is nothing like interacting with other LEGO fans; working on a project, bouncing off ideas, or even just quietly observing others as they create. This kind of art and connection are humanity at its best; refreshing and soothing to both mind and soul. And families building together – either along with parents, or just amongst siblings – create lasting memories.

Do you play any LEGO video-games, read LEGO books, or watch LEGO-inspired TV shows? Have you ever been to LEGOLAND?

I do not play LEGO video-games. They look quite fun, but I’m on my computer for work so much already – for me looking at a screen for relaxation is not so inviting. But I know LEGO video-games are popular. They are just not for me at this stage of my life. I do read LEGO books though. I just browsed through “The LEGO Adventure Book” by Megan Rothrock the other night. Those are the kind of LEGO books I like the most; sharing building ideas and tips from other LEGO builders and artists. It is interesting to see how other people think and use the same elements. I only watch LEGO TV shows online (and I love them!). I actually don’t own a television – by choice. As far as LEGOLAND, no, I have never been. I feel it is mostly for kids. Of course if there would be an excuse – like borrowing a kid for a day to go with me – I would go at least once. But just for myself, I think I would feel kind of out of place. Although I’m sure I would enjoy the LEGO exhibits and would love browsing the LEGO shop.

Do you feel that the newer LEGO products (like those kits based on Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc.) are true to the spirit of LEGO? Are they as creatively challenging/inspiring as the older, simpler LEGO brick sets?

I like both the old and new LEGO sets. (One of the wonderful attributes of LEGO is that elements made way back in the ’60s and ’70s are fully compatible with parts made today.) I grew up in the pre-LEGO Star Wars era, and all my brother and I wanted to build were scenes from the Star Wars movies. Kids are creative and will work with what they got, but it doesn’t mean they don’t want better. It’s not like they can’t see the imperfections, they just choose not to get hung up on the limitations and will fill in the gaps with their imagination. (In fact I believe this is one of the main reasons so many adults are into LEGO; they can finally get the LEGO sets they always wanted as a child!)

As you can imagine, I’m extremely thrilled that LEGO got the Star Wars license. Same with the recently acquired Lord of the Rings license. I can’t be happier! As far as the new sets being less creative, I don’t see that. They just provide more interesting building opportunities. I have seldom found a LEGO-designed set I didn’t want to immediately expand and improve on. So creativity is right there. And I have never seen the LEGO community being so productive then these days. The creations by both young and old LEGO fans are just awe-inspiring!

Finally, some people feel that the newer LEGO sets that come with such detailed instructions kills the fun of trying to imagine and create your own inventions. But others feel they help younger LEGO fans get a sense of accomplishment by finishing often elaborate models, and that the sets can, of course,  always be taken apart and the pieces used for different designs. How do you feel about this?

This is an age-old question that regularly pops up and turns into a thoughtful or even heated discussion. My take on it is that people (young and old) use LEGO in different ways. My brother and I were always free-builders. We built a LEGO set once according to instructions, then either took it apart right away to build something else, or if we considered it worthy, we worked on it to make it better. At the same time, our cousin, who was a bit younger then us, was always a collector. He built LEGO sets once – according to the instructions – then proudly displayed them on a shelf, barely ever touching them again. He was into LEGO, but in a different way. And some fans use LEGO kind of like a puzzle; they like to build the set as a good challenge, and also build all the alternate models the instructions provide, but never go beyond that. Also, there are people who like the LEGO minifigures; they collect them, equip them with different accessories, build huge armies… oh, and not to speak of LEGO customizers who are not afraid to modify LEGO elements by cutting, painting, gluing – creating amazing artistic masterpieces – a heresy in the eyes of “purist” LEGO fans, but it is out there. And it is definitely a popular sub-hobby for some (including me). In summary I would say that as long as there are people with different tastes, and different ways to express themselves, there is going to be different ways LEGO is used.

I don’t see LEGO as being  different then before. It is just providing more choices for fans. And choices are always a good thing, especially in a creative hobby like LEGO! Sets that are focused on basic elements and creative building options are still there in the form of LEGO Creator. These are available for all age groups. There are also LEGO’s time-tested in-house themes like LEGO City, LEGO Castle, LEGO Pirates and LEGO Space that have been favorites of both kids and adults for generations. Licensed sets like LEGO Star Wars, LEGO Harry Potter, and LEGO Lord of the Rings are new addition and simply provide more building and creative opportunities. And there is also LEGO Technic and LEGO Mindstorms for those interested in robotics and engineering. So there are plenty to choose from.

As far as elaborate instructions helping or inhibiting new generation of LEGO fans, I would say it is important to pay attention to the age recommendation on LEGO boxes. They are not set in stone but are definitely there for a reason, and LEGO is very good at judging who to recommend a set for. The elaborate LEGO set with the hundred-page instruction is usually recommended for older teens and adults. They tend to be large, realistic models to satisfy older fans’ taste for perfection and a good challenge. For little kids instructions are a lot less complex and provide steps that will keep them entertained according to their skill level and attention span. And as I have mentioned before, some kids will always build according to instructions, and some will always free-build. Adults can encourage them to expand on their natural inclinations, but should also respect them. LEGO is already an educational toy – let children and adults experiment with it as they feel inspired!

So what do you think? How would you have answered the questions? Do you feel that LEGO is loosing the creative-edge and getting too much into structured building with specialized elements? How did you get into LEGO? Why do you like it? Do you prefer story-based sets or free-building? Feel free to answer any of the interview-questions yourself in the comment section below! Would love to know how you would have responded! 😉

And you may also like to check out the following related posts:

{ 57 comments… add one }
  • studless July 9, 2013, 11:18 AM

    I think that LEGO will never loose its creativity, even if they make specialized bricks, because it is not really the LEGO’s that provide the creativity for all the amazing models you see on flikir, it’s the imagination of the people who build them.

  • Micho July 9, 2013, 12:00 PM

    I totally 100% agree with you Anna. The fact that there has ALWAYS been detailed instructions in the box for a specific model has never deterred anyone from free-building. I don’t see the difference between then and now, except for the fact that you now have more new elements to experiment with, you can still choose to build by the instruction manual or to free-build ANY set you buy. LEGO has not gotten less-inspiring, it has gotten better!!!

    • admin July 9, 2013, 2:23 PM

      Micho, I think one of the issue is that the most advertised sets are specialized, and that’s where people get the impression that LEGO is loosing creativity. I guess the Creator sets just don’t have the same kind of excitement appeal, but they are definitely there providing the same kind of creativity and alternate models as before. But again, since those are not advertised as widely people just don’t know about them unless they run into them at the store. 😕

  • Andy at www.smallplasticbricks.com July 9, 2013, 12:00 PM

    Lego has become much more ubiquitous in recent years with clothing, video games, etc. – but as a business, their bottom line is to make a profit, whether it’s by licensed themes or licensing their own designs to third party manufacturers. They don’t seem to straying too much from their primary focus of building blocks though. I just wish they’d bring the monorail back! 😉

    • Jennifer July 10, 2013, 11:48 AM

      Keep dreaming, Andy! LOL. I agree they are everywhere these days, but that’s really good for the AFOL community because our club shows and fan events have never been more successful.

    • admin July 11, 2013, 10:08 AM

      Yay, to monorail! At any LEGO convention where LEGO reps are present they always get two questions; when will the monorail be back, and when will Bionicle be back? 🙄

      • Håkan July 13, 2013, 6:21 AM

        I can’t say I understand this passion for Bionicle. Shouldn’t you be able to reconstruct any of the constraction themes as Bionicle MOC:s? Naah, revive Fabuland instead. That’s the way to go!

        • admin July 13, 2013, 10:30 AM

          Yay, for Fabuland! I should write a post on my favorite Fabuland MOCs. There are some really sweet ones out there. As far as Bionicle, ask Fikko. He is the expert on the theme. I am planning to write an article though about using Bionicle parts in regular MOCs. I don’t care for Bionicle otherwise, but I do like the parts. They add excellent detailing and greebling to MOCs! 😀

          • Håkan July 13, 2013, 7:54 PM

            I guess a concern is how to integrate that ball-and-socket connection system seamlessly.

            • admin July 14, 2013, 9:16 AM

              You can always find a way to connect LEGO elements. 😉

              • Håkan July 14, 2013, 3:11 PM

                I’m trying to figure out how to connect them as smoothly as possible… I guess the Technic ball joints could come in handy…

                • admin July 14, 2013, 8:16 PM

                  Personally I ignore the ball-joints and connect the Technic pinholes, but I guess it just depends on what you are building. 🙂

                  • Håkan July 15, 2013, 7:00 AM

                    Yeah, but those connection pieces tend to be so big and bulky, I think. Smooth operator.


                    • Håkan July 15, 2013, 7:14 AM

                      …although looking it up, there might only be a small minority of Bionicle / Hero Factory parts completely lacking peg and axle holes. That issue might only hold true with the Ben 10 sets.

          • Håkan July 16, 2013, 4:56 PM

            I think Mega Bloks Smurfs feel rather Fabuland-inspired, although they’re even further juniorized…

  • Fikko3107 July 9, 2013, 1:42 PM

    I sort of agree that LEGO is less imaginative than before. For starters, if a kid from the 1970s wants a Tyrannosaurus Rex model, he ask for a bucket of bricks and assemble a rainbow-colored (or perhaps, if he’s lucky, Monochromatic.) T-Rex, which may or may not be very accurate to a real T-Rex, but then he’ll use his imagination to think it’s a believably good T-Rex. These days, if a kid who wants a T-Rex, he simply asks for that dinosaur HQ set from the Dino theme.

    I, being someone who grew up mostly in an era where LEGO more-or-less stopped being so creative, can really feel the impact of this. (Well, it’s a slightly different case with me I guess, since the only LEGO set I have during childhood is practically a bucket of basic bricks.) This is especially true when it comes to Bionicle sets. Their cracking hinges can actually make a child (like me, for instance.) think they’re doing something horribly wrong by disassembling and mix-and-matching their Bionicle sets.

    As for inspirational pictures…I’ve truthfully never really liked them. Sure, I’m wowed by it, but I’m rather frustrated that I can’t build them because there are no instructions. So although some people argue that it’s a bad thing that this is discontinued, I think some people actually like it that way.

    • admin July 9, 2013, 2:26 PM

      Good points, Fikko. I guess it is now more up to parents to be conscious of which sets they buy for their kids. I actually know a lot of parents who prefer LEGO Creator, but when they take their kids to the store they get glued to the Star Wars sets or something like that. Perhaps it is best to keep the kids home. 🙄

    • Gabriel July 10, 2013, 8:28 AM

      Totally agree about your Bionicle comment! Too fragile for rebuilding. It’s a good thing Hero Factory is much more solid.

      Your comment about the T-rex is interesting. Yes, there are figures for many of these creatures, but people still love to build their own versions. Look at chickens. They made chicken molds for the short-lived Farm theme, but brick-built chickens are still seen in other sets like 10193 Medieval Market Village.

      • Legoman640 July 10, 2013, 9:24 AM

        I agree that there is definitely an improvement with the hinges in the Hero Factory sets. They are quite squeaky though. 😕 By the way Fikko, I totally agree with you about the not getting instructions for certain creations people made.

        p.s. your robot MOCs. -_-

        • Fikko3107 July 10, 2013, 11:37 AM

          In the future, I’ll reverse-engineer them while dismantling them.

      • Håkan July 13, 2013, 6:26 AM

        I MOC:ed me a Bionicle Dino using a foot piece for a jaw. Turned out rather good.

  • Batman is Awesome July 9, 2013, 2:14 PM

    I think I changed my name on this site again….. ( Argh! ) I am half and half free-builder and collector. I will sometimes modify a lego set to look better or not do anything to change it at all. Although, I like free building, like most people. It’s very fun and an easy way to harness imagination! 😀

  • Tom July 9, 2013, 5:02 PM

    As an afol and moc/micro scale builder I rarely buy non creator sets unless im after specific quantities of colours/elements and I can get my money back selling the figs on eBay.

    • admin July 9, 2013, 8:55 PM

      Tom, yes, a lot of LEGO fans do that; sell the minifigs from sets they only want the parts from. Good way to support your hobby. 😉

  • Micho July 9, 2013, 5:30 PM

    The Adventures of Clutch Powers was just added to Netflix… I just saw half of teh movie. I was so excited to see the minifigures and sets I own on the screen LOL.

    • admin July 9, 2013, 8:56 PM

      Yeah, I heard about that! The good old days! 😀

      • Micho July 10, 2013, 12:28 PM

        The invontor’s name in the movie is “A. FOL”. It was a really good movie, you should watch it if you get a chance, there was a few of LOL parts, mostly the two skeleton minions.

        • admin July 10, 2013, 12:34 PM

          It’s also on YouTube. I should upload it here as well so we can all enjoy it and talk about it. 😀

          • Fikko3107 July 10, 2013, 6:49 PM

            I enjoyed it too, although I’m still praying The LEGO Movie isn’t going to include so many real sets as this movie did. Some people see it as a one-and-a-half hour long advertisement.

            • Micho July 11, 2013, 11:28 AM

              Oh man! that was the best part for me LOL… yesterday i bought the LEGO Batman movie and I was just as excited when I saw my Batcave in the movie LOL, it’s cool!!!

          • Micho July 11, 2013, 11:28 AM

            OOOOH!!! That would be nice, maybe on a Thursday, teh day you used to do Ninjago 😀

  • legostuff71 July 9, 2013, 5:31 PM

    LEGO has so many choices, that the imagination is almost limitless. I always believe that LEGO sometimes gives us incomplete sets so we(the fans) can grow as builders and as creators. Also, just have fun with it. The only time LEGO will ever sell out is when they stop listening to the fans and that on the top of their list.

    • admin July 9, 2013, 8:57 PM

      That’s a nice way to look at incomplete sets. I will think about that. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

      • Fikko3107 July 10, 2013, 5:23 AM

        Incomplete sets? Whatever do you mean by incomplete sets?

        • admin July 10, 2013, 9:43 AM

          I was referring to legostuff71’s comment that LEGO is not making sets to perfection so we have room to make it even better. Just to give you an example; the inside of the LEGO Modular Buildings are usually barely finished/furnished. This give us a chance to use our creativity to make them better and more complete. In fact, I have never come accross a LEGO set that I didn’t want to perfect because I percieved it as unfinished; be that castles, or vehicles or space-ships; there is always something to add or modify to make it better. 🙂

          • Fikko3107 July 10, 2013, 11:38 AM

            Oh, so IMPROVABLE sets, not INCOMPLETE sets…

            • admin July 10, 2013, 12:33 PM

              Well yeah, okay, improvable is fine. But as far as I’m concerned they are incomplete. 🙄

  • D.B. Bricks July 9, 2013, 8:52 PM

    Hey Micho, I was browsing BrickLink and found this seller he sells kingdom minifigures for a cheap price.


    • Micho July 10, 2013, 12:24 PM

      Hey, thanks for the heads up 😀 … nice to know I have friends who got my back on here 😀

  • Gabriel July 10, 2013, 8:35 AM

    LOL! That NY Times article. AFOL = Adult Friends of LEGO? Sounds like we’re a bunch of anonymous benefactors or something.

    As a child I don’t remember ever free-building. I was too much of a perfectionist. I liked the sets the way they were, but I didn’t just let them sit on the shelf: my brother and I played with them a lot!

    As a scientist I have been taught in recent years that presenting data is boring without context. You need to have a story to frame your research or else nobody cares. I think this is how I feel about LEGO. I like looking at cool creations on MOC pages (for example), but when people write back-stories about those creations I am really drawn in. I would love to get into brickfilms to share MY stories, but I am still just experimenting. Maybe someday.

    • Gabriel July 10, 2013, 8:38 AM

      Interestingly, this is why I liked Bionicle so much. In fact my brother and I wrote a whole back-story about the Throwbots/Slizers including the planet’s origin and inhabitants, etc. So naturally we were thrilled with Bionicle’s deep and engaging story!

    • admin July 10, 2013, 8:46 AM

      LOL! I never noticed (about the AFOL reference)! Your experience and your preference with LEGO is another proof that there is so many ways to play and build with LEGO and we can all get along. I guess we are friends and we are also friends of LEGO. The NYT was right after all. 🙄

  • Legoman640 July 10, 2013, 9:50 AM

    I totally agree with everything you said there! :mrgreen: Except the Legoland thing. I went to Legoland Florida when I was away in Orlando. My mother,my brother and I were there. Driving over there was hard! It was our first time driving over there! We got lost almost everyday! 😆
    Unlike the Bahamas where you have to drive on the left,we had to drive on the right!

    Legoland is for adults as well, even if they’re not interested in LEGO. They have rollercoasters and everything! I went on The Technic and the wooden rollercoaster.

    They had a room were you could build your own Hero Factory figure, and a room where you could build your own LEGO car and race it.

    There also had this the Miniscale of Florida or something like that. 😕 It was pretty cool. They also had LEGO dinosaurs,people,minifigures(life sized and small),foxes,squirrels,and even lions,deers,and elephants! It was great!

    By the way, high five for Admin’s parents! Oh,wait,that’s impossible. 😆

    • Fikko3107 July 10, 2013, 11:41 AM

      I agree. Legoland is enjoyable by all ages, especially the Miniland.

    • admin July 10, 2013, 12:32 PM

      Thanks for sharing that! Don’t worry; I will make it to LEGOLAND one day. It is only 2 hours from me, and your sharing made me want to see it more! 😀

      • Legoman640 July 10, 2013, 3:43 PM

        Really? That’s great! :mrgreen:

      • Fikko3107 July 10, 2013, 6:52 PM

        The stores is also pretty cool, but I guess that’s just from the viewpoint of a boy who have never seen an official LEGO store until I went to LEGOLAND Malaysia. Well, you might argue that it’s not quite an Official LEGO Store, but one way or another, I’ll see it soon…

        • Legoman640 July 10, 2013, 9:04 PM

          I’ve never went to a Lego Store. 😥

  • de521 July 10, 2013, 3:27 PM

    After reading the entire article I now hate the New York Times.
    Plus I want the writers to step on a LEGO brick.

    • admin July 10, 2013, 3:44 PM

      LOL! I don’t know Matt, but Jesse is actually a nice guy. I have been in touch with him since the article. He may come around. Or if not, I may send him a LEGO brick to step on as punishment. 😉

  • Darkon July 10, 2013, 10:06 PM

    While Lego has not lost any of it’s creativity and probably never will, it has gotten greedy recently. Lego prices have sky-rocketed in the past five years, and the focus has moved somewhat from the sets to the minifigures. Just look at how overly detailed their recent themes have been getting, and I’m not just refering to the licensed ones. Chima went a little overboard, and I can’t help but feel that some of the other themes have become too complex. The thing I hate most that Lego has started doing with their themes, however, is that in recent years every set contains at least one exclusive minifigure. I hate having to buy every set in a theme just to get all the characters! 🙁

    • admin July 11, 2013, 10:03 AM

      Darkon, there is a really good article which analyzes the price of LEGO over time. See here: http://therealityprose.wordpress.com/2013/01/17/what_happened_with_lego/

      The bottom line is that price didn’t change if you take into consideration the change in the value of money. But I do agree that LEGO has been catering to, ad taking advantage of, the minifig-mania. And, whent overboard to some extent. Hope they are smart enough to get back to balance. LEGO is after all a kids’ toy, and kids should be able to (for example) collect all four TMNT characters without spending a fortune. 😕

      • Håkan July 13, 2013, 6:33 AM

        Lego isn’t making minifig sets anymore, as in the 80’s and 90’s? They were great.

        I could imagine a six-fig pack with all separate Turtles and weapons, Shredder + Splinter or alt. April O’ Neill with a camera. Perfect!

        • admin July 13, 2013, 10:34 AM

          Hakan, this has to do more with license agreements than anything else. Hasbro owns the license for making action figures for most themes, therefore LEGO can’t sell minifig packs in licensed themes that Hasbro is also involved in. It would turn into an ugly lawsuit – not worth it. LEGO still nice enough to give ups battle-packs in licensed themes like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, which are basically minifig packs with a bit of extra stuff. 😉

          • Håkan July 13, 2013, 12:03 PM

            Aahh, thanks for the info. Still, there should be more minifig packs even for the in-house themes. Classic!

  • ColdGoldLazarus February 24, 2014, 3:26 PM

    While Lego’s expansion into other media has sometimes been jaw-droppingly weird to me, I don’t think that that’s really had a negative impact on the core building aspect. And as for creativity, I quite agree with you that the instructions have never been a deterrent to making your own thing; my younger brother completely bypasses them most of the time!

    My own style has been of the “Build according to instructions once, then go wild.” Occasionally, I’ll pull the instructions back out and attempt to rebuild the original model, but that’s more just to make sure I haven’t lost any pieces. (unfortunately, with my present environment, and the still-lingering effects of my Dark Age period, these sessions usually end in frustration, but still.) I’ll usually shelf most custom models for a while, then either come back to them for a re-vamping (either with new pieces or a new idea on how to build it) or they’ll slowly disintegrate as I pull pieces out for other models – not before snapping some pictures, though.

    • admin February 24, 2014, 5:15 PM

      Nicely stated, thanks for sharing! Do you share your pictures online?

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