Design Classic #2: Lego

Lego is the ultimate toy – a design classic that effortlessly blends a simple form and function with the potential to realize the creative imagination of youngsters. In its 46-year history, the Lego brick has never been bettered.

A design classic has to feature two, key elements: a stunning simplicity in design, and a longevity that sees it live on in the public domain – and Lego delivers on both counts. Lego was founded in 1932 by Danish toymaker Ole Kirk Christiansen, with the name “Lego” being adopted in 1934 as an amalgamation of the words ‘Leg godt’, which means ‘play well’ – and also ‘I put together’ in Latin. And, while the company is famous for its socket-based, brightly colour Lego bricks, these didn’t actually debut until 1958.

Lego bricks have gone on to be a huge success, and an ever-present example of great design. The bricks themselves are the ultimate in simplicity – single, robust plastic blocks that connect quickly to other bricks, allowing children to build and create anything their imagination directs them to.

Yet, these humble bricks belie some complex features. Each is accurately manufactured to two-thousandths of a millimetre, and subjected to up to 150 tons of pressure when in the mould. The company has made over 23 billion bricks – and reckons only 18 bricks per million are duds. Not only that, but since 1958, all Lego bricks are fully compatible, irrespective of when they were made – making them the ultimate in terms of backwards compatibility.

Playing god

It’s their use in both play and in helping challenge and teach young minds that Lego bricks excel. The facts are mind-boggling for such a simple object: there are 102,981,500 ways of combining just six, eight-stud bricks of the same colour – meaning as a creative play toy, its design is breathtaking.

But Lego isn’t just about building. The bright, primary colours appeal immensely to children, and the open-ended nature of Lego means that it develops self-expression, allowing children to be curious, and to explore ways to reach their goal. Today, Lego is still as strong as ever, and while new versions have been released by the company – such as Lego figures, Duplo for small children, and Lego Technic – the appeal and sheer functionality of the standard, eight-stud Lego brick has never been surpassed.

Lego has been a design inspiration for years – and barely a month goes by without someone, somewhere revealing the latest gob-smacking use of Lego bricks, from building massive portraits of Einstein through to a life-size cars and even aircraft.

Lego has enjoyed much success with licensing deals – from Star Wars to Bob the Builder. Lego characters – such as this ultra-cool Darth Vader – help bring the Lego universe to life, and show how the Lego concept can transcend topics and media.

Nikki Barton
Creative director - Nykris,

While Lego has moved on considerably since my childhood, it remains instantly recognizable for its brightly coloured, studded-brick design. Lego has carefully followed its brand values from day one to stimulate creativity and encourage learning through the act of play. And it’s designed to last – each new kit must work with kits from previous years, a rare principle in the 21st Century toy market. Despite tough competition, Lego has found creative ways to stay ahead, including a wide range of fan and community-based Web sites. I believe the key to this design classic is in its relevance to a wide audience. As long as people have imaginations, Lego will remain a classic.

Jules Stevenson

Yes, Lego does have pretty colours, and yes, those little figures are very cute; but what truly makes Lego a classic is its ability to challenge you to use the creative side of your brain in a genuinely fun way – a task that school, TV, Zoids (mix-&-match my arse) and a host of other ‘educational toys’ never could. It was the bright colours and chunky feel that endeared Lego to everyone and, shock horror, even girls got in on the act. These simple pieces of injection-moulded plastic have allowed millions of people to build worlds, to engage their brains with conceptual thought, and bug their parents for Space Lego. I can’t think of anyone who grew up building/smashing/ eating Lego that doesn’t have fond memories of it.

Willow Tyrer
Designer - Digit London,

Who can honestly say they would turn down a bike that could become a plane that could turn into a moon buggy and then transform into a pirate ship and continue on to the limits of your imagination? This is why Lego is the ultimate toy. Those basic, bright-coloured blocks sport a bold personality; one that is ultimately customizable by any young creative mind. For all the young designers of tomorrow, Lego is the friend that will evolve as you evolve. Lego stands firm, you can abuse bits, you can lose bits, break all the rules, mix up bits, and then, at the end of the day, knock it to bits and start all over again. There are endless possibilities.

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