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.

12 comments on “Lego is communication: context

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  2. thwaak

    I’m in total agreement with you, Linus, especially about labels. I made a conscious choice to stop using the term SteamPunk or even my own invented sub-theme, MagicPunk, precisely because it communicated something to the audience – a preconceived set of ideas that told them what to expect. If those ready-formed ideas were at odds with my actual MOC, it caused a clash with the viewer: A disconnect. I invented terms to represent what I build that is more personal to me and my MOCs, and when I communicate those terms to others, I think the bond is strong between the MOC and those who know what I mean by the term.

  3. Curtis

    I like it alot. I’d like to see more of this. It’s insightful, I will think harder the next time I’m labeling a moc.

  4. Memory

    Why are you referring to LEGO models as messages? Am I being too literal, or is a zombie-busting tank a message? In any case, thanks for the post. I experienced a similar situation whne I pulished my gunship, which was no larger than a minivan. ;)

  5. Josh

    Memory – yes, a zombie-busting tank is a message. Anything you build is a message, as it is meant to convey something to the people who view it.

  6. Bohman Post author

    Dr. X: It’s probably good that it’s weird. That might mean you haven’t thought of these things before, and thus, learn something new :)

    Brent: That’s a great example. Adrian “brickfrenzy” Drake did the same when he tried to build steampunk and got a lot of comments that said essentially said “NOT STEAMPUNK!!1”. That’s why he labeled the Thomas E. Dewey Victorian punk or somesuch.

    Memory: As Josh said, a zombie-busting tank is indeed a message. You’re trying to convey the idea and feeling of a “tank”, and it could be greatly beneficial to think through what you need to include in the MOC to make it feel like a tank and not something else.

  7. Pingback: LEGO Blog: The Brothers Brick » Blog Archive » Lego is communication: think about your audience

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  10. Deathdog

    Agreed, everything communicates. I put out some pics of a castle-ish battle scene (my first) I initially called “The last stand of the Home Guard” and was ripped because I “mixed factions and had a pirate” in it. That got under my skin, because as the creator I had a certain vision in mind that had nothing to do with the sometimes rigid views of castlers. Mind you, I’m a noob and have little to no skill with LEGO at this point, but I’m having fun. As a brickfilmer, and perhaps a modeler, I’m learning, but I can hold my own with the written word when needed. Everything, even poor vignettes and brickfilms, communicates — not everyone gets the message (sometimes).

  11. Pingback: Lego is communication: summing up | The Brothers Brick | LEGO Blog

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