From LEGO fan to LEGO set designer — the Mark Stafford interview [Part 1]

Whether as a kid many years ago or an adult fan today, I know many of us have dreamed of working for The LEGO Group as a set designer. In our interview with Matt Ashton, we learned about one path to this dream job.

In this exclusive three-part interview with The Brothers Brick, Mark Stafford tells us about his own journey from AFOL (adult fan of LEGO) to LEGO Designer.

The Brothers Brick: Firstly, please tell us a bit about yourself.

Mark Stafford: My name is Mark John Stafford, I’m 36, and I’m British. My nickname on most fan sites is Nabii, which originates from table-top roleplaying games. (Though it turns out it’s also Swahili for “prophet”, which is nice.) I lived in The Netherlands (Holland) where I worked as a Marine Cargo Surveyor for five years before becoming a LEGO Designer in Billund, Denmark.

TBB: How long have you been building?

Mark: Since I was four years old. The first set I remember having is the 420/611 police car. I used to turn the two bricks with “police” engraved on them around to make it civilian, and then swap them back when a crime was committed!

TBB: Did you have a “dark ages” and if so, when?

Mark: Oh yeah. A long one. I stopped building when I was about 13 due to peer pressure, my parents telling me it was time to put away my toys and a growing interest in girls! I didn’t return to the brick until I was 26. Though LEGO seemed to stay in my life, two of the guys I shared houses with (one in Leicester, one in London) became avid LEGO collectors and I was surrounded by pirate and castle LEGO for around three years before I finally succumbed to the adult LEGO enlightenment.

TBB: What brought you back?

Mark: Star Wars. Getting the original LEGO Snowspeeder and the X-wing on the same day warped my tiny adult brain and within a year I recovered my childhood LEGO from my parents’ attic and was building MOCs again.

Dan Jassim's A-Wing CarrierTBB: When did you find the online community?

Mark: Around 1999 I was pointed to Lugnet and Brickshelf by a friend. One of the first things I saw was Dan Jassim’s A-Wing Carrier

I immediately needed to get more LEGO!

TBB: Could you list some of your favorite builders and why you like them?

Mark: I like so much by so many people I really can’t answer this because I’d forget people who deserve a mention. Plus some of the best builders I know have never posted a single thing online. For every ten models LEGO Designers build only one or two ever develop into sets that see the light of day, fans would weep to see some of the models that go from PMD to be ground up and recycled!

TBB: When did you first begin working for LEGO? How were you recruited?

Mark: My girlfriend Megan Rothrock (Megs) saw the job advertised online, I sent in my portfolio and was invited to a two day recruitment workshop with 26 others in early September 2006 – eight of us were subsequently offered positions. I started work on the 1st October 2006.

MisterZumbi's Predator BustTBB: Were any other AFOLs recruited at the same time?

Mark: Yep. Adam Grabowski (Mister Zumbi). Though two other active AFOLs were on the recruitment workshop and didn’t make it through at that time. (I say “active” because many of the designers here were fans as kids and the job here is effectively how their “dark ages” have ended.)

In part 2 of our interview with Mark Stafford, we’ll talk to him about what it’s like to work as a LEGO Designer.