Everything I know about design I learned from Legos.

My name is Jack, so yes, I was so pumped every time this Lego commercial came on:

I remember sitting in my room for hours with a giant bucket of mismatched pieces from about 50 different sets. I never liked following the instructions. As soon as I ripped opened the Police Station set on Christmas 1991 I couldn’t wait to use the blue pieces in a spaceship I was building.

You can just picture what a rebel I was, one-size-too-small Spiderman pajamas, chucking the well designed instructions behind the couch and building whatever I wanted, however I wanted. Pound sign IDOWHATIWANT.

Fast forward 30 years and here’s how Lego’s still influence me as a designer today:

Grids

Grids

The great thing about Legos is there’s a built in grid system. You can build masterpieces with pinpoint accuracy by making sure this side has 3 and the other side has 8 (loved those long ones). You could plan out the foundation for house, by counting the blocks ahead of time, so by the time the house was built, it was perfectly symmetrical. Using grids in design has helped me develop powerful systems with strong structural foundations.

Color theory

Grids

Wish you had ten more red 4x2’s? Too bad, times were tight in the Zerby house so some Christmas’s I didn’t get the enormously expensive Lego Firehouse (It was $45,000…not really). I had to figure out how using a combination of white and red, with green accents, could actually make my latest creation look pretty cool. Other times, I wanted to see if I could use every piece in my bucket, so I would have to coordinate colors to match as best I could. In my design career, I’ve always tried to step out of my comfort zone and use colors and combinations I haven’t tried before. The possibilities in design are endless so don’t get stuck using all reds…mix it up.

Constraints

Grids

Sometimes I would spend hours digging in my giant Tupperware container looking for a specific piece vital to finishing my Lego Picasso. Turns out my sisters had stolen it and were using it as a tea cup in their Barbie Playhouse. After several deep breaths, I realized I had to make do with the pieces I had. Sometimes in design, you won’t have all the resources you need to complete a project, so take some deep breaths and use the resources you have. Either that, or go steal it back from your sister, but we all know how that turns out.

Iteration

Grids

Every time I built something with Legos, there was a tiny voice in my head that said “you really want to knock this down don’t you?” I would try to ignore it, but the urge to destroy my creation was overwhelming. It’s as if I knew the inherit temporary nature of Legos; that in order to build anything new, I had to tear down what I had just built. That’s often true in design. You can’t get too attached to a design, because eventually you’re going to want to tear it down and make something new and better. That’s when I loved to fall in the love with the process and not the outcome. Side note - I also knew if I didn’t knock it down, my sisters would DEFINITELY knock it down while I was sleeping…

 
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