Lego is one of the most popular brands in the world, known and loved by children and nostalgic adults alike. But few grown-ups buy Lego for themselves. The Danish company wants to change that with a new type of construction toy that is half Lego, half coloring book. Its name is Lego Forma, and it’s designed to de-stress adults and get their creative juices flowing.
Right now, there are three types of adult Lego users. First, you have the AFOLs (as the Adult Fans of Lego call themselves). These are people who love to build sets, particularly the big, complex ones like the 7,500-brick Millennium Falcon, the 3-foot tall NASA Apollo 11 Saturn V rocket, or the 4,287-piece London Tower Bridge. They also build pieces in bulk to create insane models like this 23-foot-long USS Intrepid with fighter planes to scale. Then there are adult buyers who occasionally buy those sets or smaller ones, perhaps for nostalgic reasons. Or they buy models designed for adult audiences, like the company’s architectural series. The third group, much smaller, is made up of professionals, like famous Danish architect Barjke Ingels, who use Lego to build prototypes. In fact, Ingels and his team designed the Lego House in Billund, Denmark, using Lego bricks.
Beyond that, there are lot of adults who aren’t buying Lego. Those are the people Lego wants to lure in with Forma. Lego sees an untapped market in adults who are looking for a casual creative outlet but may not feel comfortable picking up a paintbrush. It’s solid business logic. According to a 2017 study, creativity is an estimated $44 billion industry, up 45% from 2011. Endeavors, like drawing, coloring, and crafting, have become 21st-century tranquilizers for over-subscribed, unfulfilled adults.
The Forma line combines Lego elements–of a variety called Technic, which is more complex than the regular ones–and paper skins that can be colored in whatever way the builder wants. The Lego pieces form a skeleton for the paper, which acts as an organic shell. Then you operate a crankshaft to move a series of gears that make the fish wiggle as it would in real life. And yes, the first models are all centered on fish (more on this later).
Forma’s objective, according to Lego, is to tap into the creativity all adults have and help them relax. Sure, you can do that with any bunch of Lego bricks, but the company believes that combining organic forms and mechanical complexity might appeal to the type of users that would have never considered buying a Lego set. Selling for $46 each on Indiegogo (with a $66 market price), they aren’t as expensive as traditional Lego sets. The base set comes with a Koi fish skin, but Lego will sell other skins–like a shark or a splash Koi fish for $15 each.
I spoke with Tom Donaldson, the chief of the Creative PlayLab at the Lego Group, to find out more about the new line.
FAST COMPANY: What was the process that led to this idea?
TOM DONALDSON: This was more a creative process than a logical process. But underlying it all was a desire to come up with a completely new aesthetic with much softer and organic forms. We felt that while many in the adult audience love our existing range, perhaps there was an aesthetic that might appeal to a different audience, and we felt that fluid, organic forms were something very different that was worth testing the appeal of.
FC: Walk us through the development process.
TD: This was the fastest product ever to get to market from the Lego Group. It started with a serendipitous connection between an individual designer and a marketeer. We give our designers 10% of their time to use as they see fit, and this designer was playing with kinetic sculptures and organic forms. The marketeer was looking at how to evolve one of our product lines and the connection was set. The process was very iterative–every two weeks exploring new designs, new market opportunities and testing with consumers wherever possible.
FC: The project raised $1.4 million on Indiegogo, 1,334% of the original target. Why did you decide to crowdfund it rather than just release it like other sets?
TD: We see this very much in the spirit of open innovation as pioneered by Lego Ideas (a site that lets users share ideas for new products). But that mostly appeals to those who already know us and are already building regularly. We wanted to appeal to those who aren’t yet regular adult Lego builders. Crowdfunding lets us find ways to invite new users to help co-create the future of our products.