Know The Magic Behind LEGO And How It Will Help You Design Better Software.

Look into the design process of a platform that lets you create infinite experiences. See why they lead and innovate after more than 80 years and learn how you can benefit from knowing this and applying the same process to your own product.

This article is an invitation to learn, through a powerful analogy that will resonate with the way in which we develop digital platforms, how important for any product the design process is and how, by seeing this process from a different standing point, we can always take them one step further.


Often times, when we talk about User Experience Design (UX) or User Interface Design (UI), we tend to focus on a final product that solves a particularly concrete problem. It is only a few times that we talk about products that allow other products to be built on top of them. These kind of products are those that we generally call Platforms.

What is a Digital Platform all about?

To make it simple we can say that:

A digital platform is a system that serves as the starting point for other compatible modules to work.

Several applications may be built by combining compatible modules.

* You might also want to check a more general definition at the Wikipedia.

By following this definition we may quickly identify multiple digital platforms, of different kinds and scales.

Examples of digital platforms organized in different verticals: Social, Development, Blogging andCommerce.

They all share a common fact. On top of a base system, multiple interconnected applications have been built and each of them solves a known number of problems. The kind of experience they want to provide is also shared. In the process of implementing and customizing these systems and modules, a wide and diverse set of solutions is generally achieved.

10700 Green Base Plate

10700 Green Base Plate

That is how we can identify this piece at the LEGO store, but even without knowing its part number, we know this particularly interesting piece, right?

This green base plate (or any of its variants) serves as the supporting system for an infinite number of ideas.

LEGO is a system created and globally recognized for its bricks that match perfectly well, are based on modules and open up the possibility to create almost infinite forms and represent countless ideas.

Design Principles

LEGO was created based on a registered set of pin and socket.

Creating things with it is extraordinarily simple. Making two different pieces fit comes natural and the green base plate is not at all necessary in the process of creating wonderful things. Still, it keeps being much more interesting than most of the pieces. The green base plate may be the best representation of space in the LEGO world.

It exposes a coordinate system that enables the positioning of an element in the space with precise coordinates.

Tracing an axis on top of this piece is simple.
Thinking of a direction in which this plane extends comes naturally too.

The same happens when there are two axes that extend to the infinite.

While we use the elements of the system we are in control. We can understand, just by taking a look at the Green Base Plate, which is the length and width of the surface in which we will be working.

We can also define regions where to place different elements.
And trace limits. Contain. Fence. Control.

Those limits can be opened. We can define a rhythm or establish relationships between spaces.

We can also create uniform sequences with evenly aligned elements.

Or instead define uneven, heterogeneous series.

And count on an immensely wide set of different pieces with which to create wild new universes.

Component library

For those of us who work designing applications, web solutions or digital platforms of any kind, the concept of a component library is no news. We are used to relying on them.

LEGO´s component library is huge! And the number of possible combinations even more.

Here is an interesting, trivia like fact. Did you know that six yellow eight pin bricks can be combined or put together in 915 million ways?

So now lets see a tiny, almost insignificant, part of the LEGO component library.

Now imagine what you can do with all those different pieces 😁

Styleguide

This is also a tool that designers are acquainted with.

As we know, LEGO bricks are not just green, or red, or yellow. But also, they are not any kind of green, red or yellow. The color palette is an important part of the LEGO styleguide.

Take a look at the 2016 Color Palette

LEGO® Moulding Color Palette 2016

Design system

Above these two, Component or Pattern Library and Styleguide, there is a bigger concept ruling; the Design System. Amongst other things, a Design System grants consistency across products and allows the product or platform to scale.

These tools and processes, that are frequently used in the design and development of digital products, define in a good way the scope of the product, the way that it looks and works, and they also set a shared starting point so that the design process can be flexible, collaborative and consistent.

Counting on these tools and processes we can create a great variety of things. However, none of the images below will be constructible without the presence of another element that ends up being just as important.

A story to tell

Each LEGO set tells a different story or at least a part of a story, and each of them is also a starting point for a whole new story.

LEGO has become an expert in telling stories, either built internally like Ninjago or licensed like Star Wars.

Ninjago is being told from scratch by LEGO. It´s a powerful story that captured the attention of millions of kids and adults all over the world.

On the other end, we have Star Wars. Who can deny the power of this story? We all want to be part of it one way or another, don´t we?

LEGO Star Wars Characters

For each of these stories, there are also multiple characters. We get to know the different angles of each of them, we love some of them, we despise others. But independently of our emotional approach to certain characters or the stories´ plots themselves, stories, as a whole, are the ones that take the system, the design system, the styleguide, the component library one step forward.

Stories are the engine behind any product or platform.

And when we talk about a platform, as the one that LEGO offers us, those stories may always become new stories.

A platform does not limit itself to entering an existing market — it changes the rules of the marketplace and creates a new market for itself. This is essentially what the LEGO System of Play was designed to do! It was meant to give children (and even adults) the means to create their own play, instead of handing out ready-made solutions. With complete interoperability between any bricks past and present, the LEGO System of Play is the platform on which a whole ecosystem is based. Children of my generation used LEGO not only with LEGO, but also to build vehicles, buildings, and furniture for action figures and dolls. It is this platform aspect that gives LEGO much of its longevity via spanning over generations. — Ville Kilkku

So that is the magic behind LEGO´s Green Base Plate.

Up to now we have seen how this platform relies on some elements that sound very familiar to any designer.

  • A system based on components
  • A wide component library
  • A styleguide
  • A design system

But topmost, and what helps in the expansion of the limits of the platform, a set of stories that serve as a starting point for creating new different scenarios and enable the creation of infinite new stories and experiences.

In this sense, what we have seen applied to LEGO is not that different from what we can define and apply on to our Digital Platforms or products to help them grow as much as we want and need them to.


This post is part of a talk that took place at Infragistics, Montevideo in the context of the IxDA Montevideo Meetups.

Follow the link below and find a recap of the talks in Spanish.


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