LEGO lessons: discovering the right block should be messy

Young children have creative superpowers. We lose most of our creative capacity as we grow, neurologists tell us.

So I was intrigued by comments from designers at LEGO and IKEA about how children create and play.

Two key creativity insights are that children prefer discovering the right block from a messy, mixed pile of blocks (i.e. no sorting first) and that play stories don't necessarily stop when the blocks are put away.

The comments come from a short interview with these designers in the Italian media that a friend forwarded me. They were promoting the October launch of a LEGO+IKEA product collaboration called BYGGLEK. It's basically a LEGO storage box with a pegged lid for preserving half-built creations.

The idea of the box is to make it easy to start-stop-restart play without the realities of life (i.e. clean up!) interrupting the storyline.

Also, by design, the inside of the box doesn't have any dividers. All the blocks are one happy, messy mix. It's about discovering, not just choosing, the creation's next block.

Since the comments were translated from English into Italian, I was a little wary of re-translating their words back into English.

Instead, here's what Rasmus Buch Løgstrup, designer at LEGO Group, said in the press release announcing the collaboration last year:

“There’s a conflict between how grown-ups look at organizing and how children look at the creative play... Adults sort by typology - socks going into one drawer and belts into another. Kids sort by story, clustering it into different pieces, where you can have a half-built space ship. And in that, you can find the one piece that you need. What if we could turn that perceived mess into something wonderful?”

My 11-year-old confirmed the notion:

I kinda of think it's the point of LEGOs: looking for the pieces. If you can't find the piece you're looking for, you'll probably find something better.

As a communications professional used to packaging structured messages, I'm intrigued by the notion that disorder fosters discovery and creativity.

I also appreciated this comment from IKEA designer Andreas Fredriksson:

“We know that children continue the story building in their minds long after they have stopped playing with their toys. So we asked ourselves, couldn’t pause and play be a way to enable quick play?... That would make quick play easier and then build on the play that is continuing in the child’s mind anyway”

Undoubtedly there's a lesson there about designing our spaces to drive our creativity or productivity. But really I just liked the image of stories living on in the minds of children.

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