Thursday, July 15, 2010

TBs TechTalk 02 - Chating with the LEGO Technic lead team

Some time ago I was in Billund to attend the 'LEGO Idea Conference' and managed to meet the LEGO Technic leadership team. Monica Pederson as the product line Marketing Manager and Ricco Krog the Technic Design Lead.

While it was an excellent opportunity for a nice and interesting conversation, we also had the kick-off for an interview to present here at TBs , sometime later in our "TBs Tech Talk" section.

...and that time arrived today.

Meanwhile Monica left this position, to take a new challenge inside TLG, and got replaced by a new colleague. Guess we will know more about him, his background and ideas, soon via the LEGO Technic Blog.

Hi Monica, Ricco,

Let me first thank for the opportunity to meet you and have accepted for a short conversation in Billund, the last time I was there in April.

Now a few questions with you, to share with all the LEGO Technic fans community. 

TBs: Hi Monica, we know that before working as the Marketing Manager for the LEGO Technic Product Line, you had an equivalent role at DUPLO®.

Probably unless you have moved to MINDSTORMS, hardly you could have made a bigger change within LEGO range of products.

How did it happen? Can you tell us about any other functions you may have had inside TLG before? 

Monica: In the LEGO group we encourage people to move around and try different things. This way you learn all the time and can use this knowledge to continuously improve the way we work. The “Marketing Function” in LEGO in general is the same no matter which product line you work for, and we can hence move around and try out new things – all of which have different challenges. When I moved to LEGO Technic I was very happy to try something completely different from a product perspective.
Before I started in the Product and Marketing Development I worked as a Resource Manager in the In-house Agency at LEGO.

TBs: Working with all those skilled Technic designers around, do you play with the Technic bricks? Do you sometimes build any of the new Technic models yourself? 

Monica: Sometimes I build a model when the building instructions are being finalized, and sometimes not until the products have launched, but at some point or another I build all LEGO Technic models that are launching a given year. I really enjoy “getting my hands dirty” and try to build each model, this way I feel I always know all the models. 

TBs: Fans perceive there is an alternate pattern on the release of the largest Technic set year after year. It looks one year TLG releases a real large flagship and the year after another large but not so iconic LEGO Technic set, is released.

Are we perceiving it right? If so, there is a commercial or any other reason for following such market strategy? 

Monica / Ricco: The perception of LEGO Technic only providing major flagships every second year seems to only be a perception among the AFOL community. In LEGO Technic we have no such strategy. When we look at future flagships, we have to look into several aspects:

1. The rest of the assortment (products from previous years still in the assortment, and recent products that have just left the market)
2. The size has to make sense from a model perspective
3. Overall strategic directions from the Leadership Team
4. Feasibility – can it be done by our Designers within the frames we have at our disposal (new elements, profitability, time etc.)
5. Model iconicness – do the kids recognize the model, if not, we cannot use it 

So we do not look at it from a major - or not a major flagship perspective, as there are so many other elements at play. I can assure you that we will take all the above aspects into consideration for future flagships as well and there will be no “not major” flagship years (at least from our perspective).  

TBs: Hi Ricco, you have joined TLG in '96, the year when the Technic Shuttle was released. Have you been within Technic Product Line since then, or did you have other jobs inside TLG before? 

Ricco: I have worked as a designer on many different product lines, from LEGO DUPLO to LEGO Technic. I joined LEGO Technic in 2007 as a Design Manager. Before LEGO Technic I was one of the designers behind the Power Functions system and elements. 

TBs: As the creative lead for the Technic products, you are responsible with your team to decide which new models and parts, TLG will release in the market.

Is it a difficult process? Do you maintain a long term roadmap from which you pick the potential next year releases? 

Ricco: Every year has different challenges and some years are more difficult than others. We do not have a big matrix that we pick models from. But every year when we start working on new strategies for the next launches, we have a big board with the current assortment so we make sure the new assortment is made up of new and differentiated models. We build about 40 concept models every year. These models are tested with kids and from these tests we pick the next year models. 

TBs: How challenging it is to conciliate the designers proposals to develop new models, with the market requirements?

There might be some models which never got your approval, or is not under your decision role? 

Monica: Often the development process starts the other way around. I - together with Ricco and Søren (the Project Manager) - sit down and lay out the overall plans for LEGO Technic. We then decide on certain assortment structure based on the strategic challenges we have ahead of us. All this work is then transferred into “concept model briefs” and the Designers will build approx. 40 different concept models matching different sizes and prices. Like Ricco mentions we test these models with kids, and only after these results do we decide which models should go to market. 

TBs: Which was the first Technic model with which you got involved? What have you done for it? 

Ricco: I designed some of the elements for LEGO Roboriders which at that time were considered as LEGO Technic products. 

TBs: Which is your favorite Technic set ever? And the most useful Technic part? 

Ricco: I think the 8275 remote controlled Bulldozer is a milestone in the development of the LEGO Technic product line, as it was the first model to use the Power Functions system. When it comes to the most useful LEGO Technic part it gets very hard to choose a specific element, as they are all needed to be able to design the models. If I had to choose it would be the gears, without them it would not be possible to create the functions that characterize the LEGO Technic product line.

TBs: LEGO SYSTEM and Technic are extremely well designed and powerful building systems. What does impress you most, in terms of Technic building system capabilities?

Ricco: Stability and functionality. LEGO Technic models are more sturdy than the LEGO system models, you can play a bit more roughly with them. LEGO Technic offers more functionality than many LEGO System models.

TBs: As an adult, what would be for you the perfect size for a LEGO Technic set?

Ricco: We are constantly doing a lot of concept models in different sizes, it looks like biggest models like the 8258 Crane Truck is about the limit for a LEGO Technic model, if they get much bigger some of the elements will not be strong enough to carry the model.

TBs: This year we made a quite successful challenge at TBs with your great support. Shortly after you have decided to start a series of challenges at towards the Technic youngster builders, where the AFOLs somehow ended involved either.

Can you make a balance on how this initiative as developed so far? Does it have fulfilled your expectations and objectives? The Technic AFOLs are demanding to play a stronger role in this. Do you have plans to answer this demand in the future?

Monica: Let me first state that the LEGO Technic Challenge that is currently running on the LEGO Technic website was developed at the same time as our models were developed, so it had been in the pipeline for quite some time before the TBs reverse challenge.

The purpose of the building competition was to get kids to free build with LEGO Technic – to get them to see what they can do with LEGO Technic. But we also wanted to set some limitations, most of the model should be built with LEGO Technic elements and it should be within a certain theme.

Admittedly, we do not have as many kids entries as we could have hoped for, but that could be due to many different reasons e.g. that the LEGO Technic challenge is not being communicated actively off-line as other LEGO initiatives sometimes are. We are however very happy to see all the entries as they all mean that someone has been spending time digging into their LEGO Technic elements to create something unique.

But of course we also acknowledge the many adult entries that we see. The same goes for them, that it is a pleasure to see how LEGO Technic takes up a place in their “spare time” activities and that they also spend time to create that “one model” to try to win the competition.

Knowing that there were a lot of questions regarding the kids’ vs. adults’ entries and the general reaction in the AFOL community, we will of course make sure to take that into consideration if any future competition initiatives will be made.

TBs: Monica, we know now that you are moving to work at a different LEGO product line. Do you want to tell us something about your experience working with LEGO Technic?

Monica: It has been a pleasure working for LEGO Technic. The team of Designers and Building Instruction Developers are extremely dedicated to making high quality models and building experiences and I have been very impressed with their commitment to LEGO Technic. But it has also been very exciting getting to work with the adult fan community, to follow your discussion and reactions to our models. It is extremely rare that a company can get so immediate and true reactions to their products – but we can! And that has been a great experience as well. I wish you all well – and will still be following you on-line.

TBs: And about what you are going to do next?

Monica: I will have to investigate much more about vehicles in the future as I will be moving to the LEGO Racers. I have some very exciting things in the pipeline and cannot wait to get much more involved in that product line.

It was been fantastic to have you working close with the Technic fans community. Monica, we wish you the best success for you in the next challenge in your career, and for Ricco that he won't loose any bit of inspiration leading the designers team to delight us with ever better and interesting models.

Thank you both!


Junkstyle Gio said...

It's is always nice to read something about TLg and it's designers.
But then again i do think that any scoop we all be waiting for are kept in secret.

Rohan Beckett said...

Great interview...

It would be very cool, if, after a couple of years or so, they release a few detailed photos of some of the concept models that didn't make the cut.

Sure, it didn't end up as a sellable set... but you can bet the rest of us technic fans would love to examine them in detail, and try to build/replicate them.

in that same theme.. I sure do miss the Technic Ideas books... maybe they could do a similar thing online these days?

Also the 'combo' ideas.. where you got ideas, or instructions of models you can build, with 2 or 3 of the smaller sets.


Anonymous said...

Good interview! I hope they do another benhind the design video, this time for excavator, it gives a nice look how they designed it.

Al said...

Great interview, I always like having these little peaks into the inside and it's so nice the designers always seems so willing to oblige.

I know it would have been pointless to ask what may be coming in the future (supercar? longer pneumatics?) so out of the questions you were left with you asked some really good ones.

Randy said...

I would like to see TLC give some of the top technic AFOL a shot with some of their creations. I would love to see crowkiller's lamborghini gallardo or murcielago released in orange or some of sariel's amazing work. industrial designer also has some amazing things since he left lego.

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