Tag Archives: Opinion

Announcing the Brothers-Brick.com Terms of Service [Editorial]

Somewhere during our tremendous growth over the last couple of years, I feel that The Brothers Brick has taken a bit of a wrong turn. Yes, there are things we could do better, but no, I’m not saying that we’ve done anything wrong.

Rather, our audience has shifted from the people we first began blogging for — adult fans of LEGO like ourselves — to a vast silent majority and an active minority of apparently younger LEGO fans. Let me say this once and for all: The Brothers Brick is written by and for adults, as well as for those who are capable of behaving like adults.

As I said last week in my editorial about not posting leaked poor-quality photos, I want our contributors and readers to lead the LEGO fan community toward a more mature, constructive, informed level of discourse.

Over this past week, I’ve been more than a little disappointed in some of the comments our posts have received. I expect more from our readers than vitriolic furor over our straightforward coverage of the LEGO fan community’s reactions to the inauguration of a new president. And particularly confusing (and hurtful) have been those comments assuming that The Brothers Brick is our “job” — when in fact each of us gives up our spare time to do this. For free.

I frequently get home from my real job at near 8:00 in the evening, and then I spend the next three hours poring through my RSS feeds, answering your e-mail, checking forums, and blogging what I find. And that’s just weeknights; I probably spend more time per day on weekends. It’s hard work, even when I only find one or two things that are “blogworthy” in a day.

Still, we do this because we like to, not because we’re obligated to.

I never wanted to codify any rules about how I expected Brothers Brick readers to behave, but with intervention seeming like it’s necessary more and more frequently, I’m today announcing the Brothers-Brick.com Terms of Service.

As a legal document, the Terms of Service page is long, so here’s a summary of the most important points:

  • You must be 13 years old to use the interactive features on Brothers-Brick.com.
  • Don’t be a jerk. Play nice.
  • We don’t guarantee availability of Brothers-Brick.com now or in the future.
  • We reserve the right to take whatever action is necessary to keep The Brothers Brick a civil, safe place for all our readers.
  • We reserve the right to change our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy at any time.
  • The Terms of Service now encompasses our existing Privacy Policy.

The Terms of Service are not up for discussion, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t interested in hearing your thoughts in the comments on this post. Let us know what you think, and don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions.

No! We will not be posting the leaked late 2009 LEGO set pictures [Editorial]

By now, most of you who don’t rely exclusively on The Brothers Brick for your LEGO news have probably encountered all the grainy, blurry photos marked “Confidential” circulating on Flickr, Brickshelf, and elsewhere. With no specific policy in the past, we’ve pointed you to these now and then. We ourselves have never been a source or conduit for such leaks, of course, but we are a LEGO news site, and we’ve felt that these were newsworthy enough to share with you.

With this post, I’m announcing that The Brothers Brick will no longer be posting pre-release set lists, retail catalog scans, leaked prototype photos, and other very early LEGO set news. That doesn’t mean you’ll get less LEGO news — we’ll continue to bring you all of the high-quality information that you’ve come to expect from us, such as high-res box art, release dates, pricing, and other important details.

Here’s the thing. Solving LEGO’s information security issues isn’t up to consumers like you and me; the LEGO Group needs to figure out how to keep confidential things confidential. Nevertheless, LEGO frequently asks fan sites to remove leaked photos, explaining that these leaks can enable other toy makers to come out with competing products earlier and hurt LEGO sales by making fans hold off on buying sets now in favor of sets later. (For the record, The LEGO Group has never attempted to exert editorial or any other kind of control over The Brothers Brick. Update: Okay, not just once but twice.)

But none of that is why The Brothers Brick won’t be posting links to these scans and photos.

When photos of the Power Miners sets were first leaked, the comments about them were nearly universally negative. When higher-resolution photos became available, opinions started to turn, and with the actual release of the sets, it feels like many of us have actually found a lot to like in this new theme.

It can be fun to say, “How much do you think it will cost?”, “Do you think it will be available here in Mozambique?”, “Wow! Is that a new X piece?”, and the standard “Meh.” Following the comments on the most recent set of leaked images, I see this pattern repeated over and over.

Discussions about very early LEGO news are speculative at best and frequently seem to be proved wrong in the long run. Therefore, I believe they add little value to the conversation taking place within the broader LEGO fan community. I’m announcing this decision in an attempt to raise the level of discourse between all of us LEGO fans. By focusing on reliable, high-quality information rather than speculation, I believe we’ll have more interesting and relevant conversations here on The Brothers Brick.

Who am I to dictate what you talk about and how you talk about it? I’m just a blogger and a LEGO fan, but I hope that The Brothers Brick and you our readers can lead by example with the sort of mature, thoughtful discussions we’ve been having lately with the Power Miners designers.

So, what think you, dear readers? Cop-out? Cave-in? Sell-out? Or can you get on board with this? Let us know in the comments on this editorial.

10 (other) LEGO blogs you really should be reading [Editorial]

As several of us spend more time away from the computer getting ready for BrickCon in less than two weeks, the creations we don’t blog begin to stack up. But remember, The Brothers Brick is not the only LEGO blog on the net!

I believe the LEGO blogosphere is better when there are lots of us out there highlighting our favorite LEGO creations and linking to each other. For those of you who are readers, though, all those links in our side bar probably look pretty overwhelming. Where to start?

Here are just a few of my favorite LEGO blogs:

  • Klocki: Marcin “Hippotam” Danielak leads my favorite LEGO blog, available in three languages — Polish, English, and Portuguese. If it’s not on The Brothers Brick, it’ll be on Klocki.
  • Young Spacers Association Blog: This blog excels by breaking many of my silly “rules.” Their irreverence makes reading YSAB a genuine pleasure.
  • VignetteBricks, MicroBricks, and MinilandBricks: Where some bloggers do one thing and do it well (or not), Bruce does three things well, highlighting the best vignettes, microscale, and miniland creations.
  • LegostyleLog: The only personal blog to show up on my list, Izzo’s blog is worth reading because we just can’t blog everything this prolific Japanese builder creates.
  • Brick Town Talk: LEGO Town creations deserve more exposure, and Brick Town Talk does just that by highlighting all of the fantastic buildings inspired by Cafe Corner.
  • BioniBlog: When there’s a great Bionicle creation to be blogged, it’s sure to find its way to BioniBlog. We just wish Ean had more to blog…
  • TechnicBRICKs: The Brothers Brick focuses mainly on SYSTEM creations, so Technic creations sometimes fall through the cracks. Read TechnicBRICKS to find out what you’re missing from all the talented Technic builders out there.
  • The NXT STEP: Kid-friendly and educationally focused, The NXT STEP brings together the best LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT creations and news from around the Web. With a contributor list longer than some blog’s blogrolls, there’s always something new to see and learn on The NXT STEP.

So, readers, what’s your favorite LEGO blog, and why?

Flawed visions in defining LEGO as art [Editorial]

Sometime or another, you may have thought about LEGO as art or even participated in a discussion. In this Brothers Brick exclusive editorial, LEGO Ambassador Roy T. Cook (aka Imhotepidus) challenges our popular views on LEGO art. As a university professor who teaches logic, philosophy of mathematics, and the aesthetics of popular art, Roy looks at the subject of LEGO art from a different perspective and makes an argument for our misperception of LEGO creations as art. I dare you to read his potentially controversial essay:

I have spoken at Brickfest (2005, 2006) and Brickworld (2008) on the topic of LEGO as art, arguing that LEGO creations can be art. In addition, I have argued that in order to be an artwork, a LEGO creation needs to incorporate three elements:

  • Form: (the creation has to display some minimum of building skill)
  • Content: (the creation has to express a message, emotion, etc.)
  • Context: (the creation has to be situated in a larger historical or traditional context)

I am not going to rehash these arguments here – a number of you may have already heard them – especially those of you who also frequent the Research and Development section of Classic-Space.com – and I can return to these issues in the comments if appropriate. Instead, I want to suggest that we, as a fan community, are thinking about LEGO the wrong way, at least if we want to take the idea of LEGO as art seriously.

I think that the problem with the way that we think about LEGO as an art form is easy to locate, and can be illustrated by a simple example: At Brickworld 2008, a travesty occurred: My own “MOC the Line: The Man in Black (and White, and Bley)” won the Best Artwork category, while Nannan’s “Cry of Dreams” came in (a very close!) second. (No worries, however, since Nannan went on to win the coveted Judges’ Award!) Now, I am not claiming that this was a travesty out of some misguided, false modesty (since I do think that my mosaic was pretty frickin’ cool), nor am I even saying that Nannan’s creation was necessarily better (I’ll let others make that sort of judgment). What I am saying is that my mosaic had no business being judged in a Best Artwork category at all, since it isn’t an artwork to begin with. Unlike Nannan’s creation, my Johnny Cash mosaic doesn’t come with a message, or express an emotion. At best, it is a technical achievement showing off a new method for creating mosaics. This doesn’t mean it was bad, or that it had no value – it just means that is wasn’t art. The fact that it was in the Best Artwork category at all shows that we are thinking about LEGO artwork the wrong way.

The problem, more generally, is that we, as a community, equate LEGO artworks with LEGO creations that resemble other art forms. Thus LEGO mosaics, LEGO sculptures, and perhaps LEGO vignettes get grouped under the technical term ‘Art’, regardless of whether they actually satisfy the criteria for being artworks. At the same time, many other creations which do seem to satisfy the criteria for being artworks – that is, they express a substantial message or emotion, etc. – are not included under the ‘Art’ heading simply because they fall into some other well-established theme or category. It is worth noting that this very blog – yes, the blog that was nice enough to invite me to write this editorial – makes this mistake in the way it categorizes posts. Just click on the category called ‘Art’ if you don’t believe me! :)

A few more examples:

When LEGO artist Duane Hess (Legozilla) was asked to participate in the Denver Art Museum’s “Best Spring Break Ever” this past March, members of the public were invited to help him assemble a LEGO mosaic recreation of Marsden Hartley’s painting “The Bright Breakfast of Minnie

After all, what better way to display the potential of LEGO as an artistic medium than by using it to copy a masterpiece in another medium (insert sarcasm here)? Of course, I am not denying the value of having simple, hands-on activities that engage the museum-going public, and it is likely that this sort of consideration, and not philosophically deep considerations about the aesthetic status of LEGO, motivated choosing this particular activity to be part of the exhibit. Nevertheless, identifying LEGO art with LEGO creations that resemble artworks in other media does little to advance appreciation of LEGO as a unique art form.

Even more appalling, in my eyes, is the ‘achievement’ of the Little Artists, John Cake and Darren Neave. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the work of the Little Artists, Cake and Neave have carved out a niche for themselves in the British Modern Art scene by recreating major works such as Damien Hirst’s “Shark Tank” and Salvador Dali’s “Lobster Phone” in LEGO (Shark Tank, Lobster Phone).

This pair have somehow become the most important LEGO artists alive by subverting the very idea that LEGO is an art form at all. As a result, the most important LEGO artworks in the world, at least in the opinion of the art world itself (Little Artists’ creations are included in the permanent collection of the Walker Gallery in Liverpool) and in terms of their price tags (the work of the Little Artists is collected by Charles Saatchi), would seem to be cute LEGO spoofs of other, important, artworks. Again, we have the idea that LEGO artworks, and in particular, great LEGO artworks, are those LEGO creations that resemble (or, in this case, are flat-out authorized forgeries of) great artworks in other art forms.

To head off at least one sort of angry response, I should make it clear that it is not the creations of the Little Artists that I find appalling – on the contrary, many of their creations are quite clever. What I find appalling is the critical reaction to these works, and the detrimental result that reactions like this have on serious thought about LEGO as an artistic medium.

What we have yet to grasp, as a group (and as a society as a whole), is that LEGO is an artistic medium unto itself. LEGO creations need to resemble neither great paintings nor great sculptures in order to be great artworks. Of course, there are strong analogies between creating with LEGO and sculpting (thus, Nannan’s creations can often be fairly characterized as ‘sculptural’), but there are also differences. We should not make the mistake, however, of thinking that the more sculpture-like or painting-like a creation is, the more artistic it is.

I will conclude this essay with a call to arms. Instead of mindlessly categorizing particular LEGO creations as artworks merely because they vaguely resemble masterpieces in other art forms, we need to begin to think hard about what makes a LEGO creation a great work of art, or a work of art at all. There is little reason to think that the criteria we discover will be the same, or even all that similar to, the criteria for being a great painting or great sculpture. At any rate, we won’t find out what the similarities, if any, are unless we spend some time thinking about these issues.

Of course, all of this depends on the assumption that LEGO is not only fun, but can also be a medium for creating works of artistic value. At LEGO events I often run into builders who are antagonistic to this idea, typically for one of two reasons: First, some builders seem to think that thinking hard about LEGO as an art form will somehow take the fun out of building. This line of thought seems mistaken to me, since there would appear to be no reason to think that one cannot both enjoy doing something and think hard about how it is, or should be, done. Second, I get the “But it’s just LEGO! It’s just a toy! You’re taking this all way too seriously!” reaction. Of course, on one level this reaction is correct: If no one begins to take it seriously, then it will remain just a toy, and neither we nor the public will have any right to treating it as anything more. On the other hand, if we do begin thinking about the status of LEGO as a medium for the creation of art, and we develop the critical tools for evaluating and critiquing LEGO models in virtue of their artistic qualities (and not merely in terms of how complicated the SNOT techniques are, or how swooshable they are, or how cool they are), then eventually we will accumulate the theoretical ammunition necessary to convince the rest of the world that what we do is (sometimes) serious and worthy of their attention. And that wouldn’t be a bad thing, would it?

In short, Roy has urged us to re-evaluate our definitions of LEGO art. As a start, I’ve inserted a variety of LEGO creations throughout this editorial to stir up the idle brain juice inside our heads. How do you judge if a LEGO creation is a work of art? Is there a clearly defined boundary that seperates LEGO creations from LEGO art, or is there a massive gray area? If LEGO is meant to be a medium for creativity and imagination, then wouldn’t every LEGO creation be a work of art? Let your voice be heard!

[poll id=”11″]

Should LEGO release modern military sets? [Editorial]

Warning: This is an opinion piece, and may not reflect the opinions of my co-bloggers, The LEGO Company, or custom-accessory producers (whose products appear here for illustration purposes only). This post may also include external links to opinions and facts you may not agree with, so read the whole post and share your own thoughts in a comment.

We feature so many LEGO military creations here on The Brothers Brick that all those fighters, battle dioramas, and tanks have their own category. There’s also a lively discussion going on among commenters in the LEGO City 2010 post. Between Independence Day last Friday here in the United States, my own pacifist upbringing, and this recent discussion, I’ve been giving some serious thought to the convergence of LEGO bricks and the military, and the differences between realistic and fantasy violence.

Desert Soldiers on FlickrI myself have built plenty of LEGO military creations, most frequently to illustrate the most accurate historical use for custom accessories I’m reviewing. I’ll also admit that like many males, I have a strong fascination with things that go “Boom!

In responses to questions from Gizmodo readers, here’s what a LEGO Company representative said recently:

Q: Are there any chances that Lego will ever start producing modern day warfare Lego, with tanks and helicopters and what not?
A: We have a strict policy regarding military models, and therefore, we do not produce tanks, helicopters, etc. While we always support the men and women who serve their country, we prefer to keep the play experiences we provide for children in the realm of fantasy.

Some LEGO fans argue that LEGO has, in fact, released military-themed sets in the past:

And of course, there have been elements of conflict throughout many of LEGO’s themes, going all the way back to the earliest police and castle sets of the 1970s. More recently, LEGO has even included realistic-looking guns in Wild West, Star Wars, Batman, Indiana Jones, and other themes.

This leads to the obvious question from another Gizmodo reader:

Q: Why did they changed the founders rule to never make gun like elements?
A: The company still has a no gun policy when it comes to realistic or military play scenarios. However, in order to stay true to the strong licensed properties we incorporate to the Lego portfolio, we need to stay true to those properties and sometimes that involves including weapons. In our own play themes, some element of good vs. bad conflict is typically considered to provide for role play opportunities. In those instances, the setting is very clearly a fantasy world.

The distinction makes sense to me. Most 10-year-olds aren’t going to mistake a set that includes dinosaurs and a four-wheeler with a lightly-armored Humvee avoiding improvised explosive devices. Similarly, dwarves fighting goblins, the undead, or even each other are unlikely to evoke images of coalition forces putting down the insurgency in Fallujah.

If LEGO were to create sets based on the military, that begs the question, “Which military?” LEGO is a global company. If they were to design military sets, which countries should be represented? Royal Danish Jægerkorpset (special forces) or HDMS Absalon? American A-10 Thunderbolt (with depleted uranium flick-fire action!) and M1 Abrams tank? Russian R-36 ICBM (with pop-out MIRV warhead action!) and Sukhoi Su-27?

Extraordinary RenditionOr perhaps LEGO could take its inspiration from the military history of the past 100 years. Would you buy an Allied flamethrower set, with Okinawan civilian minifigs in caves ($29.99), or a Dresden Firebombing playset with limited-edition Kurt Vonnegut minifig ($49.99)? Modular Hanoi Hilton and Ho Chi Minh’s bunker? Something from the War on Terror, perhaps: An Al-Quada training camp set with Osama bin Laden minifig, camouflaged Navy SEAL, and inbound cruise missile ($19.99) or extraordinary rendition set with unmarked CIA jet, compliant third-world diplomat, and abducted French-Algerian shopkeeper ($39.99)?

How about a LEGO Third Reich theme, with an impulse-purchase Adolph Hitler for $2.99 and a LEGO Auschwitz for $89.99?

“An Osama bin Laden minifig?! LEGO Auschwitz?! That’s going too far. Andrew, that’s patently offensive!” Exactly. War is not fun. War is not play.

Ultimately, the job of every military is to conduct war (whether defensive or offensive), and I believe that war is wrong. There are those in every government who would have its citizens believe that the lives of people who don’t look like us, live somewhere outside our borders, or don’t believe the same things we do are somehow less valuable than our own. And therefore, it’s okay to kill our fellow human beings to achieve the political goals of these leaders.

Applying this philosophy to my LEGO hobby, I don’t believe LEGO sets that depict realistic or modern military themes — including soldiers, military vehicles, and historical conflicts — are appropriate for children ages 5 to 12. Other toy companies certainly don’t agree, taking advantage of patriotic fervor and every boy’s fascination with guns. And yet, this is one of the very reasons I respect LEGO and their no-military policy. They stand apart from the rest.

On a more practical level, LEGO’s largest market is Germany, a country whose 20th-century history has left many modern Germans without much of a taste for war. LEGO is also a global company. As my somewhat outlandish list of potential military sets illustrated, how could LEGO possibly choose which countries to represent?

Martin Luther King, Jr. minifig on FlickrI’m probably not going to convince many of you that pacifism or nonviolence is always the most appropriate political response, but I hope that I’ve made you think, and that perhaps some of you can understand why I personally hope that The LEGO Company never changes its no-military policy.

Thanks for reading. Without further ado, sound off in the comments and vote your conscience in the new poll.

[poll id=”9″]

Lego is communication: summing up

Over the last six weeks, we’ve been on a fun ride. Through a series of posts we’ve been exploring our chosen medium from a communicational point of view. In case you missed it, here are links to the other instalments:

0. Introduction
1. Context: the message
2. Context: the audience
3. Tools: Design & build, with case study #1
3b. Case study #2
3c. Case study #3
4. Tools: Presentation
5. Other
6. Summing up

I’ve argued that all LEGO models can be considered messages (post #1) to an audience (post #2), designed (post #3) and presented (post #4) in a way that enhances or dehances the models’ effect. Deathdog exemplifies this brilliantly in a comment on post #1. His creation was bashed at Classic-Castle. To Deathdog, the people there misinterpreted his model – which really just means that they interpreted it differently than he did. Not wrongly. Time to either a) appeal to a different crowd, or b) create the next model so that they interpret it the same way he does. (The hidden alternative c) “educate” the existing audience is not only rather time consuming, but also ethically dubious.)

Analyzing your own builds like this, and the builds of others, help uncover flaws they might have. But remember, as I wrote in the disclaimer (post #5) – following this “guide” like a mindless drone will only result in good models. To create the great ones you have to add your own kind of magic. I’ve just preached for one way of thinking that could help you hammer out your build better.

It’s a way of thinking professionals have been using for ages – successfully, even – but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect.

Before I started to actually write this series I sat down and thought about what I wanted to achieve with it all. I divided the readers of this blog into three categories:

  • Active builders
  • “Sleeping” builders
  • The interested public

I assigned each of these groups one core effect I wanted to achieve, and ranked their order of importance. The things I learned from doing this let me decide how to present the thoughts. From least important to most important (you might be surprised):

3. “Sleeping builders”
Sleeping builders are those who might become a LEGO builder, but perhaps don’t realize it yet. I wanted to, with luck, wake some of you up. The Brothers Brick showcases a lot of nice models every week, and that combined with some food for thought can make for an interesting stimuli. I cannot describe the joy I felt when Alan R wrote:

Hey,

I’d just like to thank you for this series, and this blog in general.

From when I was around 5 until about 2 years ago (when I was 14) I played with LEGO non-stop, but then for whatever reason, I fell out of love with it, and took a long hiatus. However, thanks to (for a large part) this blog, I recently restarted my building, and am really happy to have done so (especially with 3 months of summer looming ahead).

I just recently finished an approximately to scale LCVP (WWII Landing craft, think D-Day), in a large part due to this series’ ideas of “message/ audience/ build”

As my audience is mainly me (but showing off to my friends b/c i’m proud of my work), I dunno if I’ll set up a flickr acct / MOCPages acct and share it with the world, but that’s not the point. Thanks in a large part to this blog, and especially this series, I went from vaguely thinking about LEGO once-a-month to actually getting back into the thick of it, and I’m really happy to have done so.

Thanks

Thanks for writing that, Alan. The best of luck to you in your LEGO endeavours. Don’t hesitate to let us know about the things you’ve built in the future, if you feel so inclined.

2. Active builders
Those that are already “in the thick of it” are active builders. I wanted to show you a new way to think about your models, away from all techniques, greebling, SNOT, studlessness, (and SNOTlessness!) and whatnot. I wanted you to see a bigger picture and get you to understand that if you want to, you really can do whatever with the medium.

It is you who have been most active in the discussions, as expected. You’ve questioned me, agreed with me, helped me twist and turn the arguments, and reminded me of things I forgot. In the end you made me think, both as a builder and as a communicator. Just how I like it. Thank you for that. I hope I made you think as well.

1. Interested public
Paradoxically, the people I considered the most important to reach are also the ones most likely to scroll past these posts: the interested public that mainly comes to see the fantastic models featured on TBB. This group constitute the bulk of our readers. What I wanted to show these people was that while LEGO is a toy, it is also a serious medium for expression. Even though most of you in this group don’t read these posts as carefully as the other two groups, just knowing that serious discussion is being held make you perceive LEGO differently – if only at a subconscious level. And nothing says intelligent discussion like lengthy written ramblings.

Now I’d like to your input again. This type of post was a first for The Brothers Brick. If I have my way it was the first of many meta-theoretical posts, but it was also a way for me to establish a framework in which I could post more concrete tips on building, presentation and much more on a regular basis. Tell me: do these kinds of posts belong on this blog? Why? Why not? What would you like to see discussed in the future?

Thank you for reading this far.

LEGO is communication: other

Welcome to the almost final post in the series where we’re looking at LEGO models from a communicational point of view. Start at the introduction and read all of the other posts. It’s fun stuff.

This is going to sound crude to most of you. It’s true though. If you’ve followed this series from the beginning you know that even if you do it consciously or not, your MOCs function like I say they do. They are messages directed towards an audience, designed and presented in a way that either strengthen or weaken the intended impact. That’s all there is to it.

If you always structure your building like I imply you should in this series, you achieve three things:

  1. Good MOCs
  2. Boredom
  3. In the words of Keith Goldman: Boilerplate

“So wait a minute. You tell us to think about things a certain way, and now you’re saying we shouldn’t do that? What gives?”

I said that I was going to teach you how to build great models. And that’s what I’ve done. I’ve put into words and structured up what you probably already sensed, but maybe couldn’t specify. But now that you got this basic knowledge, it’s easier to think about your building and evolve it further.

And that’s what’s really going to make you a better builder.

This is the last “true” part of this series of posts, since the next one will just be a summary of the discussions we’ve had. This post is short, but important. It’s essentially a big disclaimer.

Remember that reasoning on aspects like this series of posts does will get you on your way. But like good things in general you can’t exactly pinpoint what it is that make good LEGO models good. I personally believe it’s magic.

Magic is hard to create, but once you do – man. The feeling is indescribable, just like the results. Magic doesn’t happen when you stick to the conventional middle ground. You have to venture beyond for that, go where others haven’t, try the things others wouldn’t dare to. It increases your odds of failure, but also your odds of success.

LEGO is a creative medium. Structure your thoughts, but be creative.

And that’s the end of this short but important post.

Lego is communication: Presentation

This is the fourth post in a series of six where we’re looking at LEGO models through a communicational point of view. Feel free to read the introduction, first, second and third post to get you up to par before diving into this one – it’ll help. Also, I’m sorry for skipping the promised case study yesterday. I caught the flue and didn’t have much energy to write. But I wouldn’t miss this post for the world – this is the good stuff!

After looking at design and build last Monday, it’s time to present your creation to your target audience. Ideally, you should adjust your presentation to further strengthen your build (or adjust your build to strengthen your presentation, depending on what you’re out to do). We’re going to exemplify how presentation affects your message by looking at how it’s done online, but a lot of it is applicable to live presentation as well.

When you present your model, you can do three things:

  1. Dehance your model
  2. Enhance your model
  3. Neither

Obviously, you want do number two. Different groups have different guidelines, so as we said before: make sure you say what you intend to in a way your audience accept.

I’m mainly a space builder. When I took my first stumbling steps online, LUGNET had just started to break down, and it wasn’t long before Classic-Space was founded. The site has been around for a few years now, and is starting to get a set of informal rules on how a model should be presented there.

Let’s have a look at those who dwell there and the informal guidelines on that site as a case study.

  • For starters, the site is all about space and science fiction. Trains and castles shouldn’t expect to get a whole lot of replies.
  • Many people there are adults, or in their late teens. A grown up behaviour is expected.
  • The site is very building oriented. Interesting custom models is a high priority.
  • That also means “furthering the medium” – interesting building techniques, creative shapes and colouring – is important…
  • … as well as individuality.
  • Science fiction leaves a lot of room to disregard realism. So what if the engine is too small? If it looks cool, you’re on.
  • Building focused means little space to tell everyone about your personal universe in a long back story…
  • … and means you should put up clear pictures that shows your model well from plenty of angles.

So, to dehance your model on Classic-Space, you would write a five-page long back story with lots of details on the fictional technical construction of your small generic space fighter. It probably belongs to some obscure faction you made up (that you’re trying to get everyone to build in), and uses pre-molded guns on a studs up construction. Your pictures would be taken with a cellphone or a webcam, have a lot of clutter in the background, be poorly lit and out of focus. Oh, and it’d be your first time posting there too, and you would be acting like you’re the end-all answer to LEGO building because your mother said you were sooo good.

If you want to enhance your model on Classic-Space, do the opposite. That doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed success, but it places your message in a much better position to make an impact on the crowd there.

Do a separate analysis on your target audience.

Taking pictures of your models has almost become an art in itself in the LEGO community. It’s pretty obvious how to dehance a model – said blurry, out of focus and poorly lit shots are sadly too common. Here’s a random picture from MOCpages that tells us nothing:

This model seems like a start. A more skilled builder could’ve at least offered advice on how to improve it – but when we see nothing, we can do nothing.

Neutral pictures would be those that show your model well, on a non-distracting background. Have a look at Don Wilson’s (ThePaleMan’s) Thundertank:

Great photos help convey the feeling of your model. Mark Kelso’s recent piece Apocalypsis: A journey inward takes model presentation to a whole new level:

Here the actual build, though stunning on its own, is nigh secondary to the presentation.  I only wish that he had created a custom website for it rather han putting it up on MOCpages. Too much distracting clutter there.

To see more cases where presentation influence the build, comparing the Brick Testament to “ordinary” castle customs (these by Aaron Andrews, aka DarkSpawn) will yield interesting things. Note how construction suddenly become a lot less important and carefully planned scenes matter more.

If you’re going to present your model live, you have basically the same things to think about as when presenting online: How do I best convey my built message to my audience? Except now you can consider another factor: interactivity. Should your audience be allowed to touch your model or not? That might help you connect with the audience, and lets them see play factors. No playing can create a distance. Think how you best support your model’s purpose: if you consider it a toy and built it for your kids, then maybe it’s a good idea to somehow enable people to play with it. If you want it to be considered art or a sculpture you should probably put it behind a fence.

And that concludes the bulk of this series. Next Monday we will look at a few other factors that can affect how your build is perceived by your audience before summing up what we’ve learnt.

Lego is communication: think about your audience

Hey. You’re reading a series of posts were we’re looking at LEGO models as messages, not just pretty sculptures. I’d recommend reading the introduction and the first part before diving into this one. It’s worth it.

Last time we looked at how the label we give a message affects it. The conclusion? That you put pictures in the minds of your audience already when you say “look at my fantastic alien sculpture!”

Today we’ll peek at how different audiences perceive things differently. After all, knowing what you want to say isn’t enough to be able to say it; you also have to have someone to say it to. And hey, if you do – why not analyze the audience and customize the message so that you’ll make a good impression on them?

I believe that all builders at one point or another must ask themselves for whom they build. Who will see this MOC, and how? Why will they see it? Do I care what they think? What do I have to do to make an impact on them? What kind of people are they?

Designers, writers and communicators world wide define their target groups. This is arguably the most important thing to do before you construct a message. They jot down traits that define their target group – they learn the demographics of that group. Age, sex, education, hair colour, skills, language, dominating hand, married, single, job… anything you can think of are potentially important demographic traits.

Whoah. Easy there, big guy. Too. Much. Information.

Yeah, absolutely. Demographic data is important, but it’s incredibly hard to know which differences that matter. But here’s the good news: you probably already know most of the things you should about your target group. You just have to keep in mind that those are the ones you’re wanting to awe. Or annoy. Or whatever your goal is.

Let’s make an experiment. Have a look at this picture of Peter Reid’s gorgeus LL-142 and write down the five first things that pop in your head. If it takes more than 20 seconds, you’re thinking about it too much.

My thoughts were:

  1. Whoah, neat.
  2. Dig the colour blocking.
  3. Nice greebling.
  4. But it seems he ran out of pirate hooks – he’s missing one on the front.
  5. And the x-pod is integrated pretty well.

I’m a 23 year old male Swede, semi-blond, both parents alive, adult fan of LEGO for six years.

I asked my friend to do the same. Here’s what she got:

  1. Ooh, blue.
  2. And chunky.
  3. It has a lot of dots on it.
  4. Looks like a fish face.
  5. A fish face that’s smiling, even.

She’s a 22 year old female Swede, dark hair, lost her mother when she was eight, likes LEGO but last touched a brick when she was twelve.

Which of the demographic traits I listed best explain our different results? Pretty obvious, isn’t it?

One could make a mind map to properly layout this information, but remembering this second point in case takes you pretty far: different audiences expect and appreciate different things depending on their background. Keep this in mind, use your gut feeling for your target group and do some trial and error, and it shouldn’t be too hard to find out how you should express yourself.

Next Monday we’re finally opening the toolbox. It’s time to look at some of the design and build choices that you can use to get your message across to your audience.

Lego is communication: context

As said in the introduction, we are looking at LEGO models as a communicational message. This means putting MOCs (My Own Creation – LEGO custom models, remember?) on the same level as writing an article in a magazine, talking to Santa Claus, or creating a serious work of art. LEGO is just another medium. But what does that definition bring?

Well, all of these activities are done in a context. They play on a field with a set of obstacles they must overcome, and how well they do that determines if the idea behind the message is successfully delivered or not. Determining which these obstacles are will affect your choice of tools (which we will discuss later in the series).

I’ll divide contextual relations into two parts here: the message (the actual MOC) and the receivers of the message (the audience). Today we’ll focus on the first of the two: the creation.

A friend of mine once told me that “In order to say something, you have to have something to say”. It’s one of those phrases that are instantly quotable, and there’s actually much wisdom in this: you cannot express your thoughts if you do not know what you think. It’s highly likely that the Arvo brothers made pretty good research before building that awesome Alien sculpture.

There are conventions here, which we’ll illustrate with a farfetched scenario. Imagine that the Arvos didn’t create this sculpture. Imagine that they named their headphones “H.R. Giger’s Alien” (which they absolutely could, in theory). Would it be a smart move?

Not really, no.

While it would’ve provoked a reaction, the sculpture wouldn’t make a lasting impression on us, the audience. It would’ve clashed with the general consensus too much. If we saw the headphones (and assuming we had seen the movie as well), we simply wouldn’t agree that the Alien looked like that: we wouldn’t take it to heart because the Arvos strayed too far from our perception of the real deal. (And considering how geeky many of us in the community are, that would’ve been instant legocide. Assuming the Arvos care about that sort of stuff.)

It’s one of those tricky things to balance: artistic vision versus general consensus. After all, a MOC can in theory look like whatever and be named whatever, but if one labels a model as an ‘old-school pirate ship’, the viewers will expect it to be made of wood, sail on waters and be commanded by bearded drunk men who say “Yarrr”. If the old-school pirate ship is tall and square with cubes of warm ice in it, consider labelling it ‘building’. Same goes for exploring steampunk or how to best build a certain loco.

Point in case: know that you’re starting to communicate already when you decide what to build. People like labels, it lets them understand what is going on.

Next week we’ll have a look at the people you want to talk to – the audience.

Lego is communication

I’ll admit it: like Tyler, I’m a legoholic. Few things make my stomach tickle more than seeing a good custom LEGO model, or MOC (standing for My Own Creation), as those of us in the hobby call it. But really, what is it that makes a good MOC good? Is there a way to find that out?

Yes there is. And I’m going to teach you how to be a LEGO building God. Or at least how to suck just a wee bit less.

I know what you’re thinking: “Linus, come on! Good is in the eye of the beholder!” and “Good is dependant on which building style is ‘in’ at the moment!”. And you know, I agree. But if we stop looking at MOCs as pretty sculptures and look at them from a communicational point of view – analyze them as a message from an author to a viewer – we can actually see pretty interesting things. We won’t understand per se why Nannan’s wicked Black Fantasies are so fun to look at, or why Michael Jasper’s furniture is so fascinating, but we can structure our thoughts regarding them a bit better – and in the end, begin to understand why they make an impact on us.

And so, in a series of six posts starting with the next one, I’ll be outlining one way to look at how a LEGO message is constructed. I’ll start with the broader perspective, discussing contextual relations (don’t worry, it’s not as boring as it sounds) and then work my way down to the design & build, presentation, and other factors. I’ll publish the new instalment every Monday.

My goal with this series is to get you thinking. During these six weeks I hope you’ll chime in with objections, thoughts and examples in the comments section, and if that’s the case the sixth and last post will contain a summary of our discussion, links to references and other goodies on the subject. Could be fun, yeah?

Since we’re heading deeper into the serious LEGO world in these posts, it’s inevitable that I’ll use some of the lingo the LEGO community has created. I will explain the stranger words as they come up, but don’t be afraid to ask about a term you don’t understand or let me know when I do it too much. All of them are in this LEGO acronym guide too if worst comes to worst, but as said, let me know.

All of these posts are mainly based on my own experience and knowledge, of which you can read more on my about page. This type of series is also a first for the Brothers Brick, so don’t be afraid to voice your opinion about that too. And while we’re at it, feel free to give me a holla’ regarding grammer and speling too.

Phew, I think that’s all of it.

Now, let’s get to it, shall we? Tomorrow we’ll start with the the most important part of it all: the context. Dun-dun-duuuun.

This post is part in a series of six discussing LEGO models from a communicational point of view, updated every Monday. Here are the other instalments:

0. Introduction
1. Context: the message
2. Context: the audience
3. Tools: Design & build, with case study #1
3b. Case study #2
3c. Case study #3
4. Tools: Presentation
5. Other
6. Summing up

You are a community

Yes, you, readers of The Brothers Brick!

Over the years, our readership has grown from a handful of dedicated readers to tens of thousands of you out there on the Web. Many of you are active in other LEGO communities, both online and “in real life,” but a vast majority of you probably don’t know what a “MOC” (My Own Creation) or an “AFOL” (Adult Fan of LEGO) is.

And we’re cool with that. We love the fact that you find what we do interesting enough to subscribe to our feed, leave lots of comments, link to us, send us suggestions, and even support what we do by buying LEGO.

As a LEGO Ambassador over the last year, I hope you feel that I’ve represented you well, passing along news from LEGO and sending LEGO your feedback and suggestions.

As we move into the 2008-2009 LEGO Ambassadors cycle, I’m happy to accept Nelson’s nomination in the original announcement about this new process.

However, I’d like to open things up to all of you to make suggestions about who you think should represent The Brothers Brick (as an online “AFOL Community Group”) in the next cycle of the LEGO Ambassadors program.

So far, here are the people who’ve been nominated here on The Brothers Brick:

Here’s how this is going to work:

  1. Between now and May 10 at 9:00 PM Pacific Time, please add your suggestions for people who you would like to see nominated as a comment on this post.
  2. On May 10, I’ll tabulate all of the nominations, and all of you can vote on who you want to see represent The Brothers Brick.
  3. If necessary, we’ll have a “runoff election” to narrow the nominations to three people.
  4. On May 24, once the people have spoken (that’s you!), we’ll submit our three nominations to LEGO.
  5. So, without further ado, let the nomination discussion begin!