It began, as these things sometimes do, with a childhood passion.
One of my earliest memories is of kneeling on the floor at the back of my bedroom making LEGO cars – it was in version 1.0 of my bedroom as I grew up, before new furniture and decoration. I must have been about 4, or 5. I had a castle, knights, some space stuff including base boards with little moulded “craters”… lots of fun as a child.
When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
I’d long known that many of my friends and colleagues have remained huge LEGO fans (Cerys has just blogged about her interest; Ben made some fun timelapse videos of building his Christmas present). For me, a key moment was Roo‘s 3 minute masterpiece of a paean to the medium at Interesting in 2008, embedded here for your enjoyment. Listen to the audio slidecast – closest you can get to having been there, and Roo did a wonderful (and amusing!) job.
Also, a memorable talk at the CRIM Crystal Ball Conference in Montreal in April 2010 (at which I also spoke) came from then Professor of Innovation at LEGO Group, David Robertson – a tale of Rebuilding LEGO, and how the company had saved itself from bankruptcy by refocusing on its core values and customer needs. It was a fantastic story and I was rapt.
More recently, I went along to the Internet of Things meetup in London last month, and was delighted to see Ken “monsonite” Boak – creator of the Nanode, a fantastic UK-grown prototyping platform akin to Arduino – use LEGO as his metaphor for a talk exploring Open Source electronics. Ken was kind enough to pop his slides up on Slideshare today, so you can take a look. He’d just been out to get some LEGO the previous weekend…
That talk was more-or-less the moment when I realised – I needed some LEGO. I wanted some. Both as a way of seeing where things had gone to, and to help me to prototype things, and just… well… just because! I’d already started to use dioramas featuring minifigs in a couple of presentations recently and had good feedback, so I figured that was another excuse 🙂
So, on Saturday I decided to dip back into my passion for LEGO. It started with a bucket of bricks from the nearest toy shop… but then I noticed the LEGO Star Wars sets with slight discounts… and I figured well, obviously I’d need some wheels of some kind so picked up some City sets… and some of the foil-bag Minifigures…
The splurge quickly developed into a binge via a @darachennis-inspired trip to the LEGO store in Westfield White City on Sunday… picking-and-mixing bricks from the back wall, and signing up for the VIP program. There may be no hope left for me…
So what have I learned?
- Minifigs are brilliant. The aforementioned David Robertson gave me his business card, his details printed on a minifig resembling him, in Montreal in 2010 and that reawakened my interest. When I was a kid they all had the same pair of staring eyes and identical pleasant non-threatening smile, but the range of looks and expressions now available make them as much fun to customise as the full sets.
- People talk about the beauty of Apple’s designs – both inside and outside of the product (not that I’ve ever cracked open an iPhone to look inside). LEGO is blocky and “harsh”… but the designs and assembly process is beautiful. Assembling little cars and other sets on Saturday evening, following simple pictorial instructions, I realised that every piece had a place and it all fitted together wonderfully, perfectly. That (re)discovery had me as delighted as an adult, with a more architectural and design-oriented brain, as I was as a kid with the sheer enjoyment of being able to build and modify things.
- In my opinion, all kids should be given some LEGO, and allowed to build the models from the boxes themselves (much though I’m sure as an involved adult I’d be itching to take over!). I’ve blogged recently about my excitement for the maker culture, and this is really where it can all begin.
- I need to keep an eye on my bank balance, and a check on my excitement. I love it, but I bought it for “professional” reasons… 🙂
Last week, the UK Government announced that ICT courses would be replaced with Computer Science, including a programming element (one of the campaigns I’ve been passionate about). At an event from The Education Foundation in London the next day – The Future of Technology Education – I was privileged to hear one of my personal heroes Ian Livingstone (of Fighting Fantasy books, Games Workshop and Eidos fame) speak and refer to “digital Meccano” – and I owned Meccano as a child too. He also highlighted the need to combine science and art to push the digital boundaries.
Here’s what I think: we should be giving children a choice of physical LEGO, Meccano, and other toys; encouraging their creativity and building skills; and helping them to bridge between both the digital and physical worlds. No child should be excluded, and none should be pushed down a particular path. We should be supporting and helping every child to discover their passions and explore them; recognising that not every individual will want to program, or draw, paint, build, or write – but never belitting anyone for their talents or interests.
I’ve rarely been as excited about the future than I have been right now!
 as a child in in the 1980s I owned significant numbers of the Palitoy Star Wars figures and vehicles. Whoever thought of combining LEGO and Star Wars is a genius – so much MORE FUN than the original, inflexible, non-customisable toys. So much more interactive, and through the video games, adding a humorous new twist on the Star Wars saga. LOVE.
 … I never had the Millennium Falcon or the Death Star, though… always wanted those…