Did you play with Legos as a kid? Do your kids play with them? Probably billions of those colorful little plastic bricks have been sold worldwide. (And I’ve personally stepped on at least 100 barefoot in the middle of the night – ouch.)
Recent articles on the company reveal that while the tightly engineered, “click-fit, clutch power, plastic bricks” are unchanged since their invention in the late 1940’s, Lego has been giving a lot of thought to how the toys are played with, at least by little girls.
The company’s name comes from two Danish word “leg godt” meaning “play well.” Per the website, their Mission is to “Inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow’, with a Vision of “Inventing the future of play.” Certainly a good start, for boys and girls…
Building with Lego bricks has been shown to assist children in developing spatial, mathematical and fine motor skills, allowing the use of imagination for hours of quiet, independent play. A good set of skills for boys and girls…
Now my daughters played with Legos a lot. They loved the castles, the Robin Hood forest, the city, the outer space sets…they had no problem being girls playing with Legos. Despite “being for girls and boys” as listed in Lego’s top ten corporate characteristics, the company focused on the market for boys, doing very well, topping $1 billion in annual sales worldwide. They’ve made periodic attempts to create “girl” Lego kits but didn’t put much thought into it, in my opinion and experience. And predictably the “pink” sets didn’t do well at all. My own daughters pretty much ignored the sketchy “Paradisa” kits in the 1990s, preferring the richly detailed sets I mentioned above.
Is boxy “ Minifigure Man” a hit or a miss for little girls? Lego researchers learned to their shock that the iconic man was a flop with girls. The all purpose plastic man with his swiveling legs, yellow jug head, and painted on face just didn’t cut it in the world of girl play.
In the research reports, the Lego team said boys tend to play with the minifig in the third person. Girls saw the minifig more as an avatar, projecting themselves onto her. Lego is now going to introduce 29 mini-doll figures, who will be 5mm taller than the standard minifig, with more curves. There will be five main characters, with names and backstories (Remind anyone of the American Girl doll series? Just a tad…).
According to the Lego anthropologists, girls need harmony (a pleasing, everything-in-its-right-place sense of order), friendlier colors, and a high level of detail. Boys tend to be “linear” – building the kits exactly like the picture on the box, maybe even racing against the clock to see who could build faster, while girls prefer to take breaks along the way, to start storytelling and playing before the kit is finished.
The Lego team does have some concerns about the fact that to break down stereotypes about girls playing with legos, they are reinforcing other stereotypes – girls need pretty and pink in their toys. Additionally, kids pick up on the cues in television commercials and elsewhere as to who plays with what. “Legos are for boys,” said many little girls the company surveyed, even as they happily played with the new Lego Friends line.
My own daughter, now grown, says, “I’d like to know what little girls they were talking to. All that stuff about harmony, order, blah blah. My fav games involved dinosaurs and time travel and shark chases and rogue centaurs. I even made my Barbies jump off buildings.”
Major department stores in the U.S. plan to display the Lego Friends in the girls’ toys sections, not with the massive classic Lego kit displays.
So will this new iteration of ”Legos for girls” – pastels and curves – work better than previous efforts? Is it really even needed? What do you think?
*Quotes and statistics drawn from “Lego’s Billion Dollar Girl,” by Brad Wieners, Bloomberg Business Week, 12/19-25/11, or from the LEGO corporate web page.