A couple of weekends ago we had a family trip out to the Lego Show at Event City in Manchester. I had found out that it was happening a few weeks before, and booked us a ticket, despite having no idea of what would be there. It was a very reasonable price, and I reasoned that if it involved Lego it would be both enjoyable and family friendly, so I took the chance. Plus it was right next door to the Trafford Centre so if it didn’t turn out to be those things we could simply enjoy a little light shopping instead!
In the end it turned out to be a great family day out, and it even managed to change my attitude over something I’ve been quite opinionated about recently…
The new Lego Friends range has caused quite a controversy in the Geek household. As a tomboy-girl who grew up with “normal” Lego and loved it, I was quite incensed that Lego now felt the need to produce a new “simplified” version of Lego aimed at girls. It seemed condescending to me – why can’t girls play with the same Lego as boys?! I had a bit of a rant about this in an audio blog entry a while ago:
The geekdaddy, as I mention in my audio blog, has taken the opposite stance. He sees nothing wrong with it, as it’s basically a way to expand the range of Lego’s appeal, designed to appeal to those girls who don’t show an interest in the current range. We’ve had a few heated discussions around this in our house, I can tell you!
As well as there being some fantastic displays of Lego at the Lego Show (including a Mindstorms robot which holds the Guinness World Record for fastest solution of a Rubik’s cube, and several amazing railways that the geekson could have watched all day!) there was an area showing most of the Lego ranges, with an opportunity to meet the designers behind them. Unfortunately we didn’t get to meet a Friends designer, but we did get to chat to a Ninjago designer who also seemed pretty clued up about the Friends range. I’m going to paraphrase what he said, as I can’t remember it word for word. He basically said:
- The Lego range has changed over the years from when we were little. Back then there were a lot more generic sets, whereas now Lego has expanded into more “branded” sets – City, Harry Potter, Cars, Batman etc.
- This “branding” has alienated a large percentage of little girls, who are now seeing Lego as a “boy’s toy” rather than the universal toy we used to play with.
- The designers of Lego Friends were mostly female.
- Lego Friends uses standard Lego bricks. The range is no more a barrier to creativity than any other Lego set (to demonstrate this he showed us a spaceship and a robot, both made with pieces from Friends sets). The only exception are the mini figures, which are designed to be more poseable than the standard mini figures.
- Lastly, and most importantly, the Friends range is proving to be a gateway into other Lego ranges. They’ve seen people who bought Friends sets for their little girls 4 or 5 months ago when it launched already expanding out to other ranges like City or Harry Potter.
So, according to this designer, the Friends range is broadening the appeal of Lego, and bringing a wider audience to the brand. I must confess I hadn’t really thought about it that way before, but thinking about it now, I can see how Lego has changed over the years, and I’m wondering if maybe the Friends range is not as evil as I initially thought it might be. I have certainly now heard stories from friends who are parents of girls slightly older than the geekdaughter, and they tell me that in a number of cases their daughters showed no interest in Lego until they saw the Friends range. So if the range is fundamentally the same standard Lego bricks, but it’s expanding the appeal and encouraging more children to play with Lego, it can’t be all bad, can it?
At the end of the show we took the geekdaughter to the Lego show at the exhibition and told her we would buy her some new Lego. Up until this point she’s had Lego Duplo, but she decided she wanted to have a go with the “more grown up Lego”. I must confess I was rather pleased when she skipped right past the Friends range and chose a more generic “starter kit” type thing. Admittedly it was in a pink box, but it’s got a good range of bricks in it, and we’ve already done some great creative play with it. She is absolutely delighted with it. I hope that means she’s one of the minority who will enjoy Lego without being sucked in with a specific “girlie” range!
As a family we all found the Lego Show really inspiring, and the minute we got back home, both kids were asking to play with Lego – the geekdaughter wanted to play with her stuff, and the geekson got to play with our Duplo, as he’s not big enough for the normal sized Lego yet. I must confess to being delighted that both children are showing an interest in playing with Lego, as it was one of my favourite toys when I was a kid, and I love that it still appeals today.