With just under a month until Christmas to go now, it's time to think about Christmas shopping if you haven't already started. With that in mind, one brand which is difficult for many to ignore at this time of year is LEGO! 

For many of us, LEGO resonates on many levels due to the emotional attachment many have towards the brand. For many, LEGO rekindles fond memories of our development as kids, and as a product which made us realise our creative and inventive potential. Speaking from experience, as a child of the late 80s and early 90s, LEGO was a hugely popular product in our household alongside Meccano and K'NEX, and often even commanded more attention than the more revolutionary electronics of the time, the Sega Mega Drive and Gameboy.

Fast forward to 2016, the LEGO brand (established for over 80 years) appears to be going from strength to strength. Very recently, the company (founded in Denmark) opened the World’s Biggest LEGO Store in Leicester Square, London. 

Lego store

637,903 LEGO bricks were used to make a life-size Tube carriage, on display at the new store.

Is LEGO as much about the experience as their products?

As a UX Agency, we understand all about the user experience being about satisfying the needs of the individuals using a product, whether it be (in our case) through a website, or in an application that we deliver. As widely acknowledged, you can’t design the experience, however organisations can always work to ensure that the experience of a product is a positive one. The work of defining the audiences wants, needs and goals can therefore be achieved through a user research process. 

We may wonder therefore how LEGO, a product which is essentially colored bricks, is still so dominant in the market when considering the demand on children for their time, patience and effort to create the final product displayed on the front of the box. Is there a secret ingredient that makes LEGO one of the most successful toy manufacturers around, or is it simply a case that LEGO is as much about the experience as the product itself that their brand has simply played into our shared consciousness over the past eight decades.

How do LEGO go beyond the product to improve experiences?

LEGO offers experiences for it's staff and visitors, and is looking at developing this even further over the coming years, with the expansion of LEGO's HQ by 2020.

The vision to expand LEGO's HQ in Bilund, Denmark.

One of the key experiences that LEGO creates to drive their products is family theme park LEGOLAND, which attracts millions of customers every year. This experience was originally opened in 1968 in the same town as their HQ in Bilund.

In the years that have followed, the park has been replicated in multiple locations across the World such as the park in Windsor (UK) which opened in 1996. 

Legoland_windsor

In the past couple of decades, it is clear that LEGO have stepped upped their efforts even further to wider reaching audience, by attaching their brand to movie franchises to deliver their themed toys for cult films such as Star Wars. LEGO also tapped into the video games market, launching games on PC, Sega and PlayStation in the 90s, then subsequently on Xbox, IOS & Android today. In addition to this, the LEGO Film was released in 2014 which proved to be a hit with many. 

LEGO is clearly working hard to create experiences through a number of mediums to drive attention to its core products. This approach is evidently influencing sales, as in September 2016 an 11% increase in sales on 2015 was reported. 

Speaking to LEGO, it appears that the user centric journey of LEGO is now being amplified further with their UX department 

Over recent months, our attention has been drawn to some interesting UX presentations by Janne Jul Jensen, Senior UX Architect at LEGO. We decided to ask about her experiences of UX and also about her role at LEGO. 

1. So Janne, who or what in particular inspired you to become a UX designer?

I am originally a software engineer, and at some point during my studies, I started doubting if I had chosen the right path. I asked some of my fellow students why they had chosen to become a software engineer, and many of the responses were variations of “Because I think it’s fun to tinker!” That to me, however was not enough reason for choosing a career, I was looking for a higher purpose. I started looking into what specializations were possible later in the education, and this is when I stumbled upon Human-computer interaction (HCI). That specialization made so much sense to me, as it gave me that higher purpose, in the form of being able to make a positive difference for countless IT users, who has to put up with terrible IT solutions every day in their work and free time, even though they are not IT people, and only considers IT a tool. I have not looked back since, and I LOVE what I do! 

2. Do you have any preferences from the UX tools you use? 

My absolute favorite UX tool in the world is a whiteboard and a handful of good markers! You cannot possibly overestimate the power of sketching out ideas and putting a drawing to your thoughts and words, and a whiteboard is one of the simplest, yet most powerful tools for doing this. The same goes for pen and paper. 

I’m not saying that I do not use prototyping tools, eye tracking gear, screen grabbing software and all those other fancy tools, but for each of those, there are countless vendors, and each one seems to have strengths as well as weaknesses, so I do not have a specific favorite in that area. 

However, there is a small Danish start up called Wytepad who has started making “handheld whiteboards” in the shape of a tablet or mobile phone. I think that idea is interesting, because it pulls on all the strengths of a regular whiteboard, while adding an extra dimension, as it allows to pass a sketch around at a meeting, and it gives a more immediate idea of how an idea would work on e.g. a phone, because the size is 1:1, rather than a blown up sketch on a regular whiteboard. (www.wytepad.com).

3. Are there any emerging UX trends that excite you? 

Let me say right off the bat, that I’m very difficult to get excited about trends. The reason being, that they are just that, and many of them will most likely be gone next year, if not next month. And when I design, I do not just design for tomorrow, I design for a longer lasting experience, and in my experience, many of the trends that crop up do not stand the test of time very well. 

Therefore, I would rather say something about what trends we have been seeing for a while, that I think will last and grow: 

  • I think we will continue to see designers become more and more involved in designing the algorithms and decision systems behind intelligent application behavior, to ensure that the behavior is indeed intelligent and does not leave the user with a feeling that they have just been “helped” by a dumb machine which got even the most basic assumptions wrong.
  • I think we will continue to see more and more applications and systems being completely integrated into our lives in a way that does not require explicit interfaces, and that does not require us to explicitly interact with them, but rather interacts autonomously and intelligently with us, based on our behavior. The larger movement here is the reaction to many years of introducing more and more interfaces, where I think we will start appreciating not having yet another interface to deal with.
  • In the interfaces we still do use, I think we will continue to see more use of small and subtle animations. Animations are a powerful tool to nudge and communicate with a user in an otherwise static interface. Like with everything else, however, the trick is to not overdo it, but choose those animations wisely. 

These are just some, there are of course more. 

4. What is the UX event that you always look forward to and can’t wait to attend? 

I actually do not have one UX event that I swear to above all others. I prefer to continuously attend new ones, as I think there are quite a lot of quality UX events, each of which offer something unique, so I get the most out of attending different events every year. 

This year, however, I spoke at the Amuse UX Conference in Budapest. It was a small conference, but I think that paid off big-time, as the quality of the speakers and their talks was very high. They had aimed for quality rather than quantity, and if they keep up the good work, then that is definitely a conference worth visiting. 

Janne presenting "Why UX is not only the Responsibility of the UX'er" at GOTO Copenhagen in 2015 

5. What has LEGO done in recent years to meet what is considered to be "best practice UX"? 

I have only been with LEGO the past year and I was hired as a part of a larger effort to heighten the UX in LEGOs enterprise software. A new UX department with that primary purpose was founded in January 2015, and I admire the fact that LEGO has committed to not only deliver great UX to their customers, but also to deliver great UX to their employees. I think far too many big organizations forget this, but with 18,000 employees in LEGO there is a great potential in creating great UX for your employees too. 

6. What do you love most about your job as Senior UX Architect at LEGO? 

Our UX department is fairly newly founded, and the purpose of the department is primarily to do UX design for all of our enterprise software, and I love the idea of making the worklife for my colleagues better with what I do! Because the department is new a lot of my work this first year has been about establishing, maturing and growing the department as well as integrating the department and UX in general into LEGO Corporate IT. This work has had much more strategic, tactical and visionary elements to it, compared to doing concrete UX work on a specific application, and the combination of being able to do this alongside classical UX work really speaks to me. I love the alternation between the helicopter view of the long term UX planning and the on-the-ground practical concrete UX work. 

LEGO installation at office 2

LEGO installation in our office.

7. What’s your own favorite LEGO product and why? 

My very first actual LEGO set was a seaplane that I got at a very early age. I was much too young to build it myself, so my absolute favorite moment was when I could convince my dad to play with LEGO with me, and have him build it for me. I would look on in awe of his skills, while building imaginary structures out of a lot of the basic LEGO bricks I had too. And once it was built, I would be really careful (as careful as a 3-4-year-old can be) to not break it, as I could not rebuild it myself. 

8. Which LEGO product should our readers keep an eye out for this Christmas? 

I myself am absolutely in love with the Disney castle that came out earlier this year! To see the iconic castle realized in LEGO complete with exclusive Disney minifigures is fantastic, and it has been done beautifully. I bought one for myself shortly after it came out. 

Other sets that I really like are the big LEGO creator sets such as the Sydney Opera, Tower Bridge and Big Ben. I think they are stunning and they to me are proof why you never get too old to build with LEGO's.

Finally, there is the set that came out recently which is an absolute must have for all Beatles fans: Yellow Submarine. 

Lego_yellow_submarine

For the kids, the two themes that never fail to delight are LEGO Friends and LEGO City, and there are lots of great sets in both to choose from in all price ranges...

About Janne

Janne Jul Jensen is Senior UX Architect with LEGO. She specialises in usability and interaction design, and applies her expertise primarily to the internal systems within LEGO. She is a sought after speaker by educational institutions, conferences, the public sector and companies. She also gives courses internally and externally on her topics of expertise and is the founder of the user group Design & Usability, where peers can meet and learn from each other. She is also involved in a steering committee on Women in IT committed to raising the number of women studying within the IT fields.

She has previously worked 5 years with Trifork A/S where she designed apps, such as Danske Bank, Bilka and DSB. Before Trifork, she was a researcher at Aalborg University for seven years, successfully collaborating nationally and internationally with academia and privately held companies on a number of projects, resulting in a number of publications. Furthermore, she has reviewed for conferences and journals and co-organized smaller conferences. Apart from her research, she has taught HCI to undergraduate and graduate students and supervised student projects on these topics. She earned her Ph.D. degree in 2009 and a M.Sc. in Software Engineering in 2003, both from Aalborg University. 

Janne_lego

You can follow Janne on Twitter here.

UX has become serious business at LEGO

Other than the more obvious user experiences delivered by LEGO, it is evident from insight provided by Janne just how seriously LEGO take their users and how important UX practices are to maintaining their brand equity, popularity and profitability.

Want to learn more about LEGO? Watch this Channel 4 documentary, Inside LEGO at Christmas.