Friday, 18 April 2014

Design Thinking: LEGO & DT (Not just for Kids!)

Design Thinking built using LEGO

I *always* had an obsession with LEGO so please excuse me if this posting is a little bias. For years my relatives and family friends knew every X-mas and Birthday a fail-safe gift was LEGO.

For me LEGO is a great fit for Design Thinking approach and development overall because:
  1. LEGO supports Rapid Prototyping
  2. LEGO is Abstract
  3. LEGO is Creative
  4. LEGO is a Right Brain activity
  5. LEGO is Constrained.
  6. LEGO supports CI (Continuous Integration)
  7. LEGO is Fun
  8. LEGO supports A11y (Accessible)
  9. LEGO is Reproducible.
  10. LEGO supports i18n (Internationalization)
Don't take my word about it. Tim Brown has a whole chapter (Chapter 4 - Building to Think, or the power of prototyping) in Change by Design. To be honest, if you aren't building or prototyping something, you may not be doing Design Thinking effectively. 

1. LEGO supports Rapid Prototyping

LEGO builds are generally fast. There is no waiting for things to dry, no ordering parts, no welding, etc. It's so fast that often it's better to start building than it is to design something on paper (or in a some CAD program) beforehand. Changes can be done on the fly without having to re-architect the whole build.

Lastly LEGO builds are generally transient and don't last forever. It's understood that they get taken apart and put back in the drawer for reuse later. Therefore builders are less attached to a specific prototype, a key component to good rapid prototyping. 

2. LEGO is Abstract

One the best things about how abstract LEGO creations can be. People know it won't look exactly miniature real-life replica, like how LEGO mini figures all have the same head-shape and no knees! (Actually the Yoda LEGO mini figure doesn't bend at the waist and is quite a bit shorter than other mini figures, but you get the picture...)

Prototypes often have a low-fi feel and therefore invite user feedback which is core component of Design Thinking.

3. LEGO is Creative

When MOC'ing (My Own Creation) LEGO you are really building something from your own imagination. Kids never just sort or sit and admire LEGO bricks. Everyone around a random pile of LEGO seems to consciously or subconsciously starts to build things. It's like doodling.

This what I call the 'Reverse Entropy of LEGO' effect. Few LEGO fans can stand still and watch LEGO just sit there.

4. LEGO is a Right Brain activity

Without getting too technical, LEGO building is more a Right Brain process, like drawing vs. say writing. For those that traditionally favour Left Brain activities, LEGO building helps encourages Right Brain usage for a more Full Brain approach that can foster new ideas and ways of thinking .

5. LEGO is Constrained

Somewhat counter-intuitive, but for Design Thinking one great feature is that LEGO is constrained. While Desirability is the first pillar tackle, good Design Thinking designs optimize Desirability, Viability and Feasibility.

LEGO only has 6,800 unique pieces (down from 12 ,000 a few years back) and for projects we are usually constrained even further to the pieces we have at hand. Working within these constraints helps us get familiar with this pillar of DT (Feasibility) and often fosters even more creativity!

6. LEGO supports for CI (Continuous Integration)

Just like some software tools, LEGO supports backing-out recent changes and trying new things. You often don't have to destroy a whole build just to try out a small change. So unlike a painting or drawing this fosters continually updating, refining and trying new wacky ideas!

Parts can even be built separately and added together easily at the end. Integration with LEGO is always fairly easy, as generally all LEGO blocks fit with other LEGO blocks, it's a fully compatible system.

(Also, as an Agile/SCRUM Master coach, you generally *always* have something to show. =) Even if it's a few block at the end of a sprint or iteration!)

FYI - This happens to me *all-the-time* at home. I'm constantly tweaking and trying new ideas out even on old builds I have displayed. A great idea comes to mind and I'm never afraid to try it out because it often only takes seconds to reverse it!

7. LEGO is Fun

The most common verb action for LEGO is 'play', even more than 'build', 'designing' or 'creating'. Maybe it's great childhood memories, but it's rare that you have to convince someone to 'play' with LEGO. When we use LEGO in Design Thinking workshops, I don't think I've ever heard anyone call it 'work'.

8. LEGO supports A11y (Accessibility)

LEGO is Accessible. Anyone can play with LEGO. Most people are usually attracted to LEGO. I have a few sets on my desk at work and they are *always* a conversation starter. LEGO with it's Duplo lines is a toy that a person at any age can enjoy. While not everyone is a master-builder, almost anyone intuitively can start to put LEGO bricks together. You don't need years or weeks of intensive training and like drawing it seems every child is drawn to it.

9. LEGO is Reproducible

While MOC'ing (My Own Creation) is often tough, rebuilding an existing model is much more accessible. Unlike painting or drawing, it's quite easy to reproduce a LEGO creation, given the finished product.

Like an '3D Printing' process, it's possible to have an exact replica in your hands anywhere in the world almost immediately. Every replica is also exactly the same.

10. LEGO supports i18n (Internationalization)

LEGO is international. It sells pretty much everywhere in the world and seems to be quite universal in it's appeal. Started in Denmark, it's still family owned and as of 2013 was the 2nd largest toy manufacturer (behind Mattel). Like IKEA, LEGO instructions have no words and meant to be understood in any market.

Germany is the #1 LEGO consumer, followed by the US. On average everybody on the earth owns about 86 pieces bricks  LEGO. *Yikes*. I own a lot more than 86! ;)

So go, get your boss to order you some more LEGO for the office! Go ahead and dig out that LEGO bin and tell your spouse you're putting in some overtime!

Hope that helps,
Wayne Pau 

p.s. I've tried my best to use "LEGO" as the plural. For those *particular* enough to notice, the plural for LEGO is not legos. I believe it's supposed to be 'LEGO bricks'. This is called out in the 'Fair Play' guide on the LEGO site in the section "Proper Use of the LEGO Trademark on a Web Site".

Another site, Brick Brothers in their glossary has gone and said it's like 'sheep', which is both the singular and plural form as opposed to 'sheeps'. 

:) More than you wanted to know right?