Playing with Legos®

On a recent FaceTime session with my five-year-old niece I was proud to report that I played with Legos at school this week. Yeah, my school is pretty cool.

Since then, I have been left wondering what it means that a five-year-old identifies with my day while I am still left struggling to convince some of my client’s executive teams I am doing more than playing with their money. Eager to gain insight into this question, I searched for a way to explain how designers balance the benefits of play and the design attitude within the context of more traditional business attitudes.


In a way, ‘playing with Legos’ is an analogy for the way others see Design Thinking. What some don’t see is when designers ‘play with Legos’ we are not replacing seriousness with play, but rather using play as a compliment and a method of visual communication (Michlewski 2015, 107).


During Katja Tschimmel’s workshop in the M62 methodology of Design Thinking, my team had many ideas both in our minds and on the Post-Its® covering the walls. Yet, it wasn’t until we began to visualize and play that we were able to work through more complex issues of our idea such as:

  • How was the concept different in each of our minds?
  • How would implementation work in a real environment?
  • What tools would be needed to implement the idea?
  • How would the stakeholders interact with one another?

In this fashion, playing with Legos was much more than play; it became an essential communication, innovation and experimentation tool. This is not only my experience, but also one shared by fans of the Lego® SERIOUS PLAY® methodology.


Just as playing with Legos served as inspiration, exploring the words and experiences of others reminded me of the importance of theory and research to accompany my learning.

Katja Tschimmel’s paper “Design Thinking as an effective Toolkit for Innovation” provided insight into the role of visualizing methods, such as playing with Legos, in building new perspectives that could otherwise not be realized through standard mental processes (Tschimmel, 2012).

Kamil Michlewski’s book Design Attitude gave me no new methodologies to test, however, it provided three major insights that are equally important to my development as a designer:

  1. This inherent need to prove my worth as a designer isn’t mine alone, it has a name: The professional project. In fact, the design field as a whole is in a stage where it “… strives to legitimize itself in the eyes of other professions, government bodies and the general public in order to achieve a certain social status.” (Michlewski 2015, 7.)
  2. The push for proven over innovative solutions is common. Michlewski explains it is “a direct consequence of consultants being billed on a daily rate and their subsequent need to optimize time spent on any assignment” (Michlewski 2015, 71). Considering my consulting background it is something I will remain keenly aware of and has inspired me to learn more about value-based pricing.
  3. As designers, we are not seeking a singular solution as if it is a rare gem waiting to be unearthed. Rather, we combine our own unique talents, the talents of our team, the insights of those we are designing for and the toolkit of our profession to create something entirely new.

In the end, I am left feeling inspired, reinforced in my career choice and determined to keep playing with Legos despite their misunderstood creative glory.

Ann Padley
Service Innovation and Design MBA Student

Tschimmel, Katja 2012. Design Thinking as an effective Toolkit for Innovation. In: Proceedings of the XXIII ISPIM Conference: Action for Innovation: Innovating from Experience. Barcelona.

Michlewski, Kamil 2015. Design Attitude. Farnham, Surrey: Gower.

3 thoughts on “Playing with Legos®

  1. Great text! Before reading this post I thought that the Lego play was about explaining my team’s idea to the others. But as you wrote: “What some don’t see is when designers ‘play with Legos’ we are not replacing seriousness with play, but rather using play as a compliment and a method of visual communication (Michlewski 2015, 107).”, it was also communication between our team member. This Lego session was not just explaining our idea to the others but also making our idea better. 🙂

  2. I guess that the fact that companies are not used to these atypical creative and visual tools, along with its playful nature, might keep companies wondering about their effectiveness. From my own experience, the best way of understanding its potential is by getting hands on experience with the process and tools, and that is one of the main reasons why I found this Design Thinking workshop of great value.

    I would like to add that we also experienced the same in our team during the workshop, we thought we were all in the same page when it came to the concept ideas, but it was not until we materialized them, in this case using Lego, that we gained a clear understanding of what each other had in mind. “A picture is worth a thousand words”.

  3. Thanks Ann for a insightful text! My group had the exact same problem or at least I had the same worry about us not being on the same page about our concept in SID Design Thinking course 2016. Especially if one has difficulties expressing themselves with graphic skills, visualizing with legos deletes these constrains.

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