I had the opportunity to speak with Rosario Costa, Design Director of LEGO Group, one of the world's largest toy manufacturers originating from Denmark with over 10,000 employees. I asked her about the design work they do at LEGO.
What is your background?
I have worked for the LEGO Group since my graduation from Denmark's Design School, Copenhagen.
A native of Sao Joao da Madeira, Portugal, I hold a master of arts and crafts design from The Design Crafts Institute (Danmarks Designskole) in Copenhagen. My studies also included two years of concentration in industrial design at ESAD University in Caldas da Rainha, Portugal. I live with my family in central Denmark.
In the last 14 years at the LEGO Group I have had a great influence on the LEGO portfolio and have worked both front end and downstream creating new fun, innovative play concepts and experiences for children at the age 1 to 16 years of age.
Between 1999-2005, I was the head of different Design teams, where I was involved in the development of not only new concept ideas and new play experiences but also setting strategic design directions for both toy product and packaging. In addition I have worked with great international designers, marketers and created strong winning teams. I have been focused in the past years on getting different people with different competencies to work optimally together.
Between 2006-2007, I worked with product development at a more strategic level in my role as Creative Director for the Core LEGO products such as Creator, LEGO Duplo, Mindstorms and Technic. In this period my focus has been implementation of a new design for business process tool in the LEGO Group.
In the past 4 years, I have been leading the new product line called LEGO Friends which is targeted for girls. Prior to my work with the LEGO Group, I co-owned a design studio in Copenhagen where I specialized in glass design.
Are you designing some products yourself?
Yes. I have been leading the Art Direction of the new LEGO Friends product line from the very beginning and in this process I am very much involved with the product design development.
How many design engineers LEGO does have?
In Billund, Denmark, there are approximately 150 product designers and 60 technical product engineers. Product engineers are making the technical product development from creative design to manufacturing.
Where is the product development located? Do you have many international employees?
The product development is part of the LEGO mother ship department located in a very small town called Billund, in Denmark. There are many international employee`s working in Billund that commute from bigger cities around Billund. In the LEGO Group, I do not feel that the company is placed in a small quiet town. It is an amazing and exciting place with so many different people coming from all over the world and the official company language is English. In Denmark, there are approximately 3,300 LEGO employees. Out of the 3,300 there are approximately 1200 in production. Globally we are about 10,000. We also have concept labs satellites in other parts of the world like Los Angeles, Tokyo and Munich.
What qualities one must have in order to work for LEGO as a design engineer?
Background as engineer (Bachelor degree) combined with craftsmanship, e.g tool making.
What are the design trends in LEGO?
Rosario: Basically, what it makes LEGO sets so unique is the LEGO System platform, based on the iconic 2x4 brick introduced in 1958. The core idea of delivering a fun and not least creative play experience based on that simple idea has not changed – it is the core LEGO DNA..
However, from the core we develop products for different age groups.
We are not driven by trends as many other industries, however, naturally the way we design and innovate from the core idea helps us to create new play experiences with a new twist that makes LEGO play relevant to children today – and next year… and so on. For example every year we launch a new so-called Big Bang theme. It might be a Ninja Theme or a theme like LEGO Friends. But it is always based on the core – the LEGO System – and construction.
What CAD software and engineering tools LEGO is using?
Primary: Siemens NX (Solid Works+Pro Engineer)
Has the raw material changed over the years?
Essentially the basic raw material has not changed since the early 60’s, where ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) replaced Cellulose Acetate as the raw material. ABS is much more stable and solid. ABS is still used today.
How do you come up with the new designs and concepts?
Rosario: Most of the times its starts with a need from our Management. Based on that we have a Design for business process implemented in the company that helps us come up with ideas and concepts in a fun and effective way. We also come up with lots of ideas when playing and observing children. In the LEGO Group we have great experience with doing lots of validation sessions with our consumers during product development. We do also test products and concepts in different parts of the world.
How do you select which ideas and concepts are suitable? You have children in your offices playing with the prototypes?
As mentioned, we test with our consumers and validate ideas regularly. We select ideas by filtering them through various parameters: business potential, playability, LEGO DNA, attractiveness, etc. And yes, that also means, that we invite children to play with prototypes.
We have our own processes to develop new ideas from. We have a very active fan community that always provide us with a lot of input. We also have more formalized ways of gathering input for new products – an example isLEGO Cuusoo, where consumers and fans can suggest ideas for products and then vote on the project they would be interested in buying.
How long does it take for LEGO to take the product from idea to market?
It depends on what type of product line. We have from fast track type of projects that can take 6 months to more complex type of product lines like LEGO Friends that I have been working with for the last 4 years and just launched this year January 2012 in some markets like US, UK and France.
Are you using 3D printing a lot?
Yes, we use 3D printing to develop prototypes under the concept development phase – but naturally not for the finished products.
For what tasks your designers and engineers spend most their time?
For designers: model design, elements concept design, graphic design, themes concept design. For Engineers: part design/element design, prototyping and parts/elements testing.
Has the design and engineering changed in LEGO over the years? Can you please describe how?
Yes. We are much more professional and business minded at the LEGO Group today. We have driven our element complexity down by several thousand elements, and as designers we have become more creative within the new frames. A limitation does not mean less creativity! Today we do involve our customers and consumers much more during concept and product development. We are also more profit oriented. Today we are expanding our global production set-up which is good but also it give us some challenges like for example, we need to be more streamlined and specific on how we specify and communicate our products.
What is the biggest challenge in your work related to design/engineering?
Rosario: Sometimes it can be difficult to make a slip between my job and private life time because I love my job so much that I can become a workaholic.
What do you think about GrabCAD?
I think it’s a very interesting Community for sharing ideas and Innovative concepts.
Thank you for this interview and good luck with your future projects!
Some facts about LEGO:
- Over the years, approximately 560 billion LEGO elements have been manufactured.
- LEGO® bricks are manufactured at the Group’s own factories in Denmark, Hungary, Czech Republic and Mexico.
- In 2010 more than 36 billion elements were made, equivalent to approx. 68,000 elements a minute – or 1,140 elements every second.
- During the moulding process, the plastic is heated to 230-310°C until its consistency is about that of dough. It is then injected into the moulds at a pressure of 25-150 tons, depending on which element is being produced. On an average, it takes five to ten seconds to cool and eject new elements. The moulds used in production are accurate to within five my (= 0.005 mm), and the accuracy of the moulding process means that only 18 elements in every million produced fail to meet the company’s high quality standard.
- In the manufacture of LEGO bricks the tolerance of the knob is 2/100 mm.
- All LEGO® elements are fully compatible, no matter when they were made during the period from 1958 until now or by which factory.
- There are 915,103,765 possible ways to combine six eight-stud LEGO® bricks of the same color.