What do adults want from their LEGO experience?

Travel back in time to January 2019 with Blocks Editor Graham Hancock, who shared his reaction to LEGO FORMA and thoughts about what adults want from LEGO products…

The LEGO Group is soon to launch LEGO FORMA, a new theme that has started life as a ‘crowdfunded’ product on Indiegogo. One basic set builds a fish frame using Technic elements, with a special foil cover then added that represents a specific species of fish. Different covers are available as add-on packs, with additional options expected if the theme takes off.

LEGO FORMA is more of a creative project than a toy, and more about display than play. The young adults we speak to tell us they still feel the urge to be creative,’ explained Kari Vinther, Senior Marketing Manager and Head of Creative Play Lab Pilots. ‘We want to help them rediscover the joy of building that children possess and unleash their imaginations for a couple of hours.’

While the product itself looks perfectly fine and it is nice to see organic subject matter being tackled in a LEGO set, something about this smells fishy to me. Creativity, display, joy of building – are those not traits found in existing sets?

The thing that feels off about the build is that it is finished with the skin, hiding the LEGO brick interior – what is the purpose of a LEGO model, if when complete it uses a skin to hide the bricks beneath? It may as well just be a model or crafting project that does not utilise plastic blocks.

This column first appeared in Blocks magazine issue 51. If you take out a subscription to Blocks, the LEGO magazine for fans, you’ll get a free digital subscription that includes every single issue we’ve every published thrown in. Find out more here.

Clearly LEGO FORMA is not targeted at the usual adult LEGO fans seeking brick-filled boxes. For years, the understanding has been that adult consumers buying for themselves are in the vast minority – the LEGO Group produces toys for children, who make up almost the totality of the end user.

Things have changed, as research shows that the number of adults buying toys for themselves is increasing. That group reportedly accounts for one in 10 toys today, meaning that companies such as the LEGO Group are turning more attention to this mature market. It is still a minority, but a growing minority.

Even if that market is growing, and more adults are finding themselves buying toys – and specifically LEGO sets – is it growing enough that it can be divided up into many different subcategories? Is the reason for adults who have not picked up a LEGO set since childhood because they could not buy a LEGO fish and attach a skin covering to it?

In recent years, LEGO collectors beyond the age of 16 have been better catered for than ever before – the Creator Expert modular line, the Star Wars Ultimate Collector Series line and occasional treats for Marvel and DC fans offer builds that could not possibly be intended for children, given their size and complexity.

But what drew them into LEGO fandom in the first place? It was not hyper-detailed sets designed for adults, it was play sets designed for children. It was a desire to build something that was intended for children that they could find joy in, be that through creativity, stress relief or connecting with childhood.

With LEGO buying and building becoming more and more popular, as being a ‘geek’ continues to build cultural capital, it is likely that more adults will be drawn into the impressive current range of sets that look like they are built from LEGO elements. Few grown-ups who are inclined towards fun would avoid 70620 NINJAGO City, 21313 Ship in a Bottle or 71043 Hogwarts Castle. With such amazing sets constantly being released, it is amazing to think that a theme such as LEGO FORMA is deemed necessary.

Perhaps the hope is that LEGO FORMA will prove to be a gateway, enticing new fans who will be drawn to the water- dwelling creatures before finding themselves exploring the LEGO Store for further products. Yet it seems that if a certain type of consumer is not being reached, it is either because they have no interest, or because existing marketing efforts are falling short. Plenty of current and past LEGO sets are visually appealing enough to draw in new collectors.

The LEGO Group should use the new transparent ethos to try new products, but should be wary of overthinking what works for adults – all things considered, it is the same thing that works for children; fun, engaging products. If LEGO sets become too consciously orientated towards adults, the magic formula that overgrown children know and love may be lost.

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