When and why did LEGO include progress bars in instructions guides? [Feature]

LEGO fans are extremely passionate and look into details of any slight changes that the LEGO Group introduces in all aspects. The latest visual change on the instruction booklets has led a few fans delighted and curious, especially on identifying when these first started to show up.

While we don’t know exactly when the first mass produced set it was introduced in, most fans agree that it started to appear in instruction booklets for most sets produced in 2022. The simpler design of the progress bar is LEGO round stud on a thick line that extends from edge to edge at the bottom of the printed page. The more fun looking ones are represented by Minifigures sliding across the timeline from one page turn to another.

Details in the design

The LEGO group is never one to skimp on details and always that extra thought put into anything that’s produced. The design of the progress bar on the LEGO 10777 Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse’s Camping Trip bar spans across two pages when the physical booklet is spread out. The progress bar is slightly darker tone on the left of the Minifgure and a lighter shade on the right.

With two instruction booklets to build the complete set, they each feature a different character for indicators of the progress bar. In this case, Mickey and Minnie walking from left to right at a side flat-profile view. At the end of their journey, they turn to face the front.

Not all progress bars are created the same or as customised to the two booklet format above. The LEGO 76217 I am Groot build features a simple 1×1 round stud in place instead of a Minifigure as the progress indicator

The LEGO 75325 The Mandalorian’s N-1 Starfighter™ shows off the side profile and an isometric view of the Mandalorian minifigure throughout.

Questions and more questions – but why?

How does it add value? Isn’t the number of steps already a measurement of completion? What about page numbers? Isn’t the thickness also an indicator of progress? Why do we need yet another visual guide?

Here are some potential insights:

Not all LEGO sets come with numbered steps on each page, especially the ones targetted at younger toddlers. The Mickey and Minnie set showcased above is one such example. The ones that do come with steps printed – rarely give a good sense of time to completion compared to the feeling of the diminishing number of page flips remaining while handling the physical booklet.

With the proliferation of digitisation of all things, one other potential benefit for this visual indicator are for builders that use the downloaded pdf instruction guide. As a builder who prefers using the digital instructions propped angled on an iPad display within the peripheral vision, this is a useful feature to indicate the level of anxiety before the significant other arrives home LEGO building experience is complete (or perhaps to pause and set aside for another day).

From a human-first approach to product design, the methods discussed so far, Number of steps, Page Number indicator or thickness by feel do not give a full start-to-end indicator in a single glance as would the progress bar.

Beginnings – possibly the first progress bar featured?

The earliest non-mass released LEGO set that features the progress bar is found on the 2019 LEGO Employee Exclusive 4002019 Christmas X-Wing.

It’s not only the first set that we know of but also has a unique candy-cane pattern featured and at the end of the journey a LEGO Christmas tree awaits the Yuletide Squadron Pilot. This take my vote for the most unique design in of all progress bars I’ve come across thus far.

5 visual cues to identify a LEGO build in progress

Whether it’s something we’re conscious about, there are now 5 ways to give us an indication throughout the journey of a LEGO build. We can use this now collectively to get a better feel of where we are in the build progress.

  1. The Progress BarNon quantifiable – Single view that indicates a start and end point but without an exact measurable point. No secondary action required to determine progress from a single glance during a build.
  2. The Step NumberQuantifiable – Requires additional action to identify the last step and to recall in short term memory during the build
  3. The Page NumberQuantifiable – Requires additional action to find the total number of pages and to recall in short term memory during the build
  4. The Number of BagsQuantifiable – Various sized bags and piece counts do not necessarily give a good indicator of a linear effort estimation
  5. Thickness of BookletNon quantifiable – A  cue by feel to estimate of number of pages remaining to completion

All previous means of identifying progression will require multiple cues (i.e current page _and_ total number of pages). The progress bar is one that gives an immediate indicator of progress with a start and end point in a single glance as a visual cue, with the number of bags coming in close behind (and assuming the bags are always within view during the build stages). Combining all the approaches with the new progress indicator can only enhance the user experience to gauge progress and completion of a build. Is it useful? It’s a resounding yes for me, as I always have build-anxiety on how much more effort does it take to get to the finish line.Montage of instruction progress bars from various LEGO themes – City, Disney, Avatar, Friends, Ninjago, Star Wars, Super Heros, Monkie Kid. 

Is there more to look forwards to?

It’s always delightful to look at the evolution and changes that LEGO adds to enhance the play factor and this is yet another nice touch. Is there any earlier set prior to the Star Wars Employee exclusive that featured the progress bar that we missed? Or is there one that has a different design approach? Share it in the comments below, we’re glad to hear from you on what we’ve potentially missed. If you’re form The LEGO Group and want to share with us a little more about the design principles – I’d love to hear from you!

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7 comments on “When and why did LEGO include progress bars in instructions guides? [Feature]

  1. prototyp_works

    The round-plate progress marker appears in the Lego née Lego Builder app for newer non-pdf-based instructions as well. (There the bar itself is treated like an inset track which fills with smaller studs, so yet another rendition of the concept)

  2. Peter

    Interesting, this type of instructions were used in the LEGO Dimensions series. The instructions for building the extra character/vehicle were shown on the screen with the progress bar.

  3. Spaceship!

    The 2019 Christmas X-Wing employee gift was indeed the first instance. Employees were also sent a link for a survey to provide feedback on the new features of the instructions (especially regarding the progress bar). I believe their was an incentive of winning another Yuletide X-Wing for a lucky few.

  4. Ed

    I think the progress bar is distracting and superfluous, so I dislike it. I hope they keep it relegated to sets for younger builders.

    Something that doesn’t take up the entire width of every page would be better, if the feature is really needed for digital manuals.

  5. Keenan

    If the progress bar is unique to each booklet doesn’t that defeat the purpose?

    Since booklet thickness tells you how far you are through each booklet already.

    If the progress bar showed overall progress across all booklets that would actually be useful since it can be hard to judge how far through the instructions each booklet takes you

  6. Legoinsel

    what petschelta said.
    I see the idea of inclusion but at the end the instructions can’t get dumbed down any more by now. I’d rather see less steps to the finished model, less paper, less weight and less ressources.

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