Using Lego as a design thinking artefact

Using Lego as a design thinking artefact enhancing the experience and outputs from collaboration and co-creation! How is it that a child’s toy, has become a serious strategy tool used by some of the worlds best known organisations?

Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.’ That means we can all step into the world of design and be designers: designers of change, of an experience, of a solution that responds to a defined business challenge, opportunity or need. One of the key principles of design thinking is Empathy – empathising with humans, end-users, customers – to explore and understand a problem and opportunity, and then generate ideas defining possible solutions. Lego bricks can be used as a plat toy to contribute to design thinking inside a large organisations through the Lego Serious Play toolkit, but also when being used as physical artefacts in design thinking co-creative workshops aiming at delivering a high level physical prototype.

Design thinking is a process which combines both logical thinking and creative imagination in order to build innovative products and services – it is then a natural match with Lego. Lego bricks have been part of the childhood of many people and many adults often enjoy playing with it. It has been a long time since the first time I used Lego in a design thinking workshop to either represent customer figures, demonstrate an ‘as is’ experience or help multidisciplinary teams build together a possible solution – a kiosk, an on-boarding session, a customer support centre. Lego can help to tell the story to project stakeholders and also co-create something tangible with a project team.

Recently I had a chance to facilitate a co-creative workshop in Fidelity’s office in Dublin. The goal was to design a concept for a client experience space/room. Rather than having two teams draw concepts on the flip-charts or canvas, I asked participants to build a concept using Lego bricks and figures and then walk a representative end-user through their ideas. This visual 4D presentation contributes to understanding of ideas and modifies it during the storytelling process. The fear of failure was diminished as the prototype can be modified at any time. While the lego bricks create a 3D prototype, moving Lego figures representing end-users ads a time-dimension. The ultimate goal was to have two physical high level prototypes that uncover some common elements and help the teams to identify the features that are most appealing to end-users, thus ultimately creating one shared prototype that could be then taken for further design and estimation.

The Lego Serious Play set is one of the tools that implement Lego bricks in the design thinking process to help generating innovative ideas and solutions. Using Lego bricks and characters, the team share ideas within the context of organizational strategy. There is entire website dedicated to how Lego can be used during team meetings to communicate visually through storytelling. The site also provides coaching and training on better meeting facilitation. The Lego method encourages participants to learn and listen to others around them, observe and empathise with both our team mates and ultimately end-users or potential customers. The video below shows how the Lego Serious Play establishes how to building a creative learning environment:

The Lego method encourages participants to learn and listen to others around them, observe and empathise with both our team mates and ultimately end-users or potential customers. The video below shows how the Lego Serious Play establishes how to building a creative learning environment:

In a corporate environment using Lego may sometimes be perceived as too playful and not serious enough, therefore introducing this tool for the first time one may come across some cultural barriers, especially when a nature of a project is strategically important and senior stakeholders are involved. Nevertheless, like with many other design thinking methods, you can change the mindset with the introduction of Lego bricks into collaboration and by demonstrating its value in collaboration, engagement, quality of ideas and rapid iterations of your prototype. At the end, Lego is relatively cheap to deliver a physical 3D prototype of a solution that normally would cost must more to produce (time-wise and often given material costs). After an initial workshop a high level physical prototype can also be used to share concepts with subject matter experts or stakeholders who have not had a chance to contribute and get their input. Ultimately it can also be used in end-users focus groups and as a tangible evidence of the ideation that happens within your project.

5 Reasons Why LEGO and Design Thinking are a Perfect Match:

  • It helps you to image alternate solutions and ideate collectively: Design Thinking is about identifying and working collectively within given constraints to arrive at new and better solutions. Lego helps to ideate and create a high level 3D dimensional prototype in a workshop style environment. It also helps to share ideas/ prototypes with a broader stakeholder group.
  • It’s an iterative tool: By building prototypes all solutions are made visible in the landscape, participants can easily see how different builds influence each other and identify disconnects, imagine alternative scenarios or identify areas that are not resolved. Models built can be easily modified on the landscape, connected and combined/ clustered with others.
  • It creates commitment and alignment: Shared models need to get the agreement or understanding from all participants in the room. That achieves a commitment, as the conclusions are ultimately agreed and understood by all, everyone is able to tell the story again and has a common base to take the next steps going forward. It also creates alignments and strategic clarity.
  • It helps you to tell the storytelling: Thinking through metaphors allow perspective shift and generate new ways of understanding things. We understand new or complex things in relation to things we already know. Lego can be used as metaphors as part of its Storytelling, a form of thinking and language through which we understand or experience one thing in terms of another, which allows for one object to borrow the qualities from another object.
  • It’s thinking by doing: Strategy is something you live, not something that is stored in a document. LSP and design is about thinking by doing, about building knowledge by building things, something physical and concrete that is external to us, using the hand as the leading edge of the mind.


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