Case study #3: “But I don’t build like you say I should!”

If you’ve been following the series of posts where we’re analyzing LEGO models as communication, chances are you’ve not quite agreed with me – perhaps you don’t recognize your own building style in what I write. That’s to be expected. But today I’m going to show you that regardless if you follow the model I’ve been building up or not (which you most likely don’t), your MOCs can be analyzed with it, which is what the model is meant to do.

The very talented Ralph Savelsberg (who is no stranger to TBB) left the following comment on Tuesday’s case study:

Interesting. I’ve been following these posts for a few weeks now and have thought about a few things. I’m not sure how much of this is applicable to the way I go about building.

I don’t fiddle around with pieces not knowing what to make with them in advance. I may look at a particular new piece and recognise it as something that I can use for one of the many projects that I always have in mind.

I don’t know what message I try to convey with my MOCs. I don’t think I am normally addressing anybody in particular with any of them, except when I build something with a public display in mind or for a competition. I’m mainly enjoying myself. I’ve been building with LEGO since the time I first could put two bricks together and I don’t go about building any differently now that I happen to share pictures of my models with the rest of the world, although I of course do enjoy it when people like my models and incorporate people’s suggestions.

I’m not sure whether it was Peter Gabriel who said that he makes the music that he likes and if other people happen to like it too, that’s a bonus.

Based on this comment, what I know of you and your models and through your interview on Gizmodo, I’d like to try to place your building in the model I’ve been describing. You actually follow it quite clearly – and even pointed it out in your interview quite well. I hope you don’t mind, Ralph. I greatly admire you as a builder.

To refresh our memories: Ralph is most known as a master at building real-world aircraft with great detail. Here’s part of his collection:

Wicked, right?

Here’s what I’ve been saying we all do:

  1. We work in a context. That means we send out a message to an audience. This is the most important thing we can know about our work, as it dictates…
  2. Our design. I argued that shape and colour was two of our most important factors, and that they must correlate to the contextual information we have. All of this tells us…
  3. Which techniques we use.

And that’s the story so far – at least until next week when we’ll look at presentation. More on that on Monday.

  1. Ralph, your message is the easiest thing to decipher. You don’t build vague images from your imagination – you try to create a scale model of an aircraft. This gives you a very clear set of rules to obey. When you say that you don’t build for an audience, I’d disagree. It may feel odd to consider it, but you can be your own audience. That might make the building easier or harder depending on what standards you hold yourself to. A two-year old who builds for himself might be happy to slap two 2×6 plates on the side of a 2×8 brick and call that an airplane, but you obviously wouldn’t settle for that.
  2. Based on this information you create your design. In order to get the shapes proportioned correctly – which is an important requirement to convey your message, and I suspect, to satisfy yourself – you put it on paper. Deciding on shapes and colours is pretty easy since you’re trying to re-visualize something that already exists.
  3. This decides what techniques you use. I know you’ve gotten comments by some that think your models have too many studs showing. Indeed, the prevalent design tendencies in the LEGO community goes towards making LEGO models not look like made by LEGO, however ironic. But you don’t do that because a) you can capture your intended shape and proportions better with a studs-up construction, and b) you, as your primary audience, don’t mind the studs.

By using the model we can get a basic picture of why you built your crafts the way you did. And by using this analysis on one’s own model we can see flaws with a build-in-progress. We all do this. The thing is that most of us do it without knowing so. Our mind is beautiful in the sense that once you put words on an abstract concept it’s easier to think about that concept.

13 comments on “Case study #3: “But I don’t build like you say I should!”

  1. steven marshall (AKA) Steven1980

    I myself build real-world things like ralph and I can tell you this for nowt it’s much more harder than building something from your own imagination, but hay if it’s not a castle or some sci-fi theme nobody gives a crap :0)

  2. Mad Physicist

    As indicated by my name on flickr, I’m not exactly a social scientist, but I reckoned this was going to be interesting. I don’t mind my comments being used as an example out in the open at all. I’m a little flattered actually and if my comments serve to get the point across, all the better. I hadn’t looked at myself as the audience, but I realise that there is a lot to be said for it, so consider me convinced. Of course, I am influenced by knowing that people look at my models, certainly in my choice of subjects and in the way I present them online.


  3. Paul Lee

    Much like your idea about Peter Gabriel, what it works out to be, is that you are the audience as well as people who like what you like. That it is safe to say, there is an audience that happens to be a fan of scale model aviation and Legos. You speak to them. To us, really. Because your work is so brilliant, it grows your audience too. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has come to appreciate your planes and I’m not the only one who has a healthier respect for non- snot building.

  4. ColourSchemer

    I definitely agree that we all build for an audience. Without realizing it, I had re-evaluated who my audience really was, and poof! I stopped posting pictures.

    For some time I thought my audience was other builders. But it became clear that what I had to ‘say’ was boring and uninteresting to that audience. Realizing that I like what I build, and no one else was listening, I stopped wasting my time trying to take photos.

  5. Josh

    ColorSchemer – I’ve done the same thing. I’ve built many things of which I never bothered to take pictures. They were built for my own enjoyment, education, or what have you. So I definitely agree that, at times, you are your own audience.

  6. Louise

    I would say that Ralph’s aviation models are an excellent example of models that work on two levels.

    The first level is one I can appreciate them on — very clever, nice looking models with excellent details that look swooshable. I know nothing about aeroplanes so I have no idea how like the real thing they are, nor do I particularly care – unless Ralph isn’t happy with the result, in which case, I care that Ralph cares as Ralph is the main audience!

    The second level of appreciation is that of the “connoisseur” of military aviation, who can appreciate the likeness to the actual craft and all the details of it. These are the people who would notice, and care, if it wasn’t quite right.

    Futhermore, I’d argue that the AFOL term “MOC” isn’t a good description of models whuch as Ralph’s and Steven Marhshall’s. “My Own Creation” sounds like “this came off the top of my head” — I think a better term would be “My Own Scale Model” (MOSM), but unfortunately that doesn’t make an easily pronounceable acronym.

  7. steven marshall (AKA) Steven1980

    I find there is definitely the need to please the wider audience when I am building. I am always thinking to myself whilst I am building “This is good , will people notice??” or “will people think this colour looks better?”

    Building for myself I could quite happily build an entire fleet of Bedford vehicles of differing utility and in as many colour variations as my brick collection would permit. However by the third one I was overwhelmingly aware of the audience getting ready to slip into a coma at the prospect of yet another bloody Bedford and so, even though I really wanted to keep building them, I stopped.

    I know I build for myself, I enjoy it, but am I really building for the acceptance of others when the models I build are not the ones I want to build for my own satisfaction with the end result?

    In the end, however the good feeling comes, it is that which we build for, be it the acceptance of our own standards or the appreciation of others even the pleasure of building alone, it makes us feel good in some way. This is the only message I need, If I build I feel good…….. I’ll keep on building.

  8. Gambort

    Steven> In response to your first point I do both quite frequently and I disagree that either is harder or easier, they’re just different. While reproducing things forces you to find solutions to mimic complex shapes that you otherwise wouldn’t bother with in a free-build it also frees you from the hassles of ensuring that the overall form is pleasing and that the details ‘work’.

    When it comes to appreciation I think the choice of material counts far more than the choice of prototype or free-build. I bet if you reproduced the Aliens APC with the level of quality you put into your cars you might find yourself on Boing Boing.

  9. steven marshall (AKA) Steven1980

    my point with the first message was that people who build ‘real’ things don’t get as much interest. People class it as just copying and lacking in imagination. When my own and other peoples similar work is blogged I get no response, but as soon as a minifig vignette comes on or a castle they gets about 10 comments. Don’t get me wrong I like the castle theme and all the others but I’ve said all this before in other threads.

    In my experience…I do build from imagination too….I find the ‘real’ stuff to be more difficult. This may be just my experience. I find the lack of constraints to make the imaginative build easier.

  10. Paul Lee

    @Steven Marshall

    Hey, I don’t build “real” things. Mostly Mechas and cave racers… and I don’t get comments either. Probably because I suck. But it isn’t just the “reality” people who don’t get feedback. Plus you get featured frequently on Brother’s Brick. That’s some interest. Think also, with the beautifully realized models you make, there isn’t much to say. It’s not like most of us yahoos have anything insightful to say about cars, and the building technique is solid. With imagined stuff like Mechas, anybody can chime in with their two bit opinion. Castle stuff and all that is just more broadly accessible. But it doesn’t mean your stuff… and others likt it… doesn’t knock our socks off.

  11. Mad Physicist

    First of all, let me thank all of you for your nice comments. I may be my own audience, but it’s great to know that other people like what I do. I am sure Peter Gabriel appreciates his English mansion and the several million Pounds in his bank account too ;)
    I don’t think that building models is harder by definition than building things you invent yourself. On one hand there are a lot of restrictions when building a model, but on the other hand you don’t really have to come up with a aesthetically pleasing design of your own. The latter requires different skills and creativity. In the online LEGO community there probably are more sci-fi and castle builders than models builders like Steven and myself, but I for one certainly can’t complain about the attention my models are getting and Steven’s fantastic car models are also well-known and admired.

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