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Why Lego has lost its creative way

Sunday, May 05, 2024

A model of a film camera in grey and black built from a formal Lego set

A collection of plastic bricks lay before me one wet Sunday afternoon. The Lego set had been lurking on my desk for weeks, waiting for the perfect combination of bad weather and boredom. My creativity would be reborn. Or so it promised.

Dutifully I locked blocks together and watched as it took shape. Each step meticulously illustrated in a thick booklet so there could be no mistake.

Sure enough, after thirty minutes, a new camera sat on the tray I rested on my lap. It looked like the one on the box. As it should. As it always should.

Four weeks later and the model sits on my window sill. I doubt I'll break it apart and rebuild it, even though I still have the booklet. It seems too "perfect" for that.

This is why Lego has lost its way. Sets are now artworks in their own right, seemingly sharing little in common. The "creativity" they promise has gone in favor of follow-the-numbers instructions to recreate the model on the box. A high price is demanded for these sets, which are marketed in a way that eschews creativity in favor of rigid conformity. Follow the plans. Take a photo. Share on Instagram. Hashtag Lego.

All is not lost. I have two sets that defy linear model-making. One is an architecture set, a box of over 200 pieces of white plastic waiting to be formed into endless buildings and shapes. Any spare white bricks that come my way find their way into this box of delights.

A blue model airplane created in Lego, which looks a little like an ME262

The other is a "Creator" box, a huge yellow thing filled with random blocks that have transformed into pick-ups, airplanes and a landscape. It has an instruction book with suggested models, though I have no idea where it is. I might have recycled it.

These are the truly creative Lego sets. They demand imagination and exploration. If something doesn't work, go back and have another go. Finished the model? Great, now break it up and make another one. Photos are optional.

Out there, hidden away amongst the Marvel and Harry Potter and Minecraft (?) sets are these creative gems. Boxes of bricks waiting for someone's ideas to give them shape. Randomness awaiting the application of order.

The next time you want more Lego, ignore the marketing tie-ins and look for the boxes of bricks. I think you'll have more fun for longer.

My name is Ross Hori

I'm a freelance writer, designer and photographer. By day I create articles, features and reports. At night I take photos and write fiction.

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