Friday, June 3, 2011

TBs TechTalk 06 - LEGO Technic Building Instructions - Raise your questions!

Once more TBs is going to run an interview with a LEGO Designer.

While collecting inputs for a previous interview, regarding the 8043 Motorized Excavator, there were a few questions specific to the building instructions design process. At the time we decided to leave them as a topic on its own, for a later interview. That time has now arrived!

Again we decided to involve the community in the process, and let you suggest your own questions, related with the LEGO Technic building instructions design process, or any other strictly related question.

Jeppe Juul Jensen (Pepe) was for some time producing building instructions for the LEGO Technic products (probably he always got some other hands to help, but that's something we could also ask...). Despite he is actually also designing some sets from the LEGO Technic portfolio, he is probably still the right person at the LEGO Technic Team, to address with this topic.

Please feel to ask as many questions as you like, by commenting to this post.
In the meantime we will prepare our own questions and wait until next Friday (10.Jun) to gather all your inputs as well.

Although, you should be aware of the following remarks:
  • The TBs editors team will prepare their own set of questions and select among your inputs those questions that will be forward to the Technic Designers.

  • The questions will be grouped by similarity to prepare the final set, hence not all them will make into the final set of questions to send.
    Also the questions will be selected by relevance and questions that likely could not be answered by the Designers, will be dropped upfront. Obviously we refer to questions somehow related with future products (either new sets or new parts) and eventually others as well (depend on what is being asked).

  • TBs team members will do its best to consider all your inputs into a reasonable amount of questions, but of course there is also a limit to the total number of questions we should send.
    There is always a subjective judgment on the selection/gathering criteria. By leaving your questions, you are accepting these will be considered but may not find their way into the final set of questions.

  • After all and regardless of the amount and questions to send, it will be up to the Designers team to select those they will want to answer (if not all of them).

This is again a great opportunity for most of us, to get the right answers to many of our questions from ever.
So please don't be shy and ask!


Felix Schiffler said...

How do you start?

Conchas said...

Just drop here the question you'd like to see answered, if you have one.

M. Redepenning said...

"Isn't it possible to release instructions for designs that didn't quite make it to a set? I'm sure there must be some amazing models in the cellars somewhere..."

Felix Schiffler said...

Do you sometimes change the model a little bit, for example to make it easier to put together?

Conchas said...

@M. Redepenning

I imagine that if a model doesn't get selected to become an official set, most likely it will never go through the BI design process, as it is the most economical way to run the development and manage valuable resources.

Dave said...

"Like LDD 4.1, can the outlines of black parts be highlighted in white, to make them easier to see when there are numerous black parts joined together?"

"Why do small Technic sets have several small booklets to complate the "A-model", instead of one complete booklet?"

onlnguitar said...

What process goes in to determining the instruction steps and build order? How much input and collaboration is there from the designer of each set?

Mike K said...

These are more like suggestions, but I'll phrase them as questions!

Would it be possible to add "validation steps" in the middle of large sets? When building the 8043, I made a mistake that wasn't apparent until the end. Problem was in the large gearbox and fixing this required removing the arm, etc. Validation steps would allow users to test the gear chains before going further!

Also, would it be possible to add some insights to the instructions why the various parts work like they do?


merLEGO said...

My question:
I read somewhere that you seperate a model by hand to make steps and then make the steps digitally. If you still do so, how do you know where to begin? And what to do next?

merLEGO said...

Is there any difference in making instructions for an A model compared to a B model?

Allanp said...

I really miss those intruction books that were available some years ago, like the 8888 ideas book. Have there been any plans to, or would you ever revive these?

Allanp said...

Why are many instructions split up into as many as four separate books in some cases?

Allanp said...

I understand that instructions need to be easy to follow, but is it really necessary to have so many one and two part steps. 8856 was complete in 24 steps and personnaly I think it is a much more enjoyable build for it.

Allanp said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Allanp said...

Sorry for the muliple posts guys, keep thinking of new questions after I post!

Anyway, have you ever had to change the design of some part of a set because suitable instructions could not be made?

Juat wanna say the instruction you guys create are amazing (even if they are a little too simplified with tiny steps) but they are still amazing and i'm sure they are a big reason for TLGs success and well worth their obvious expence and quality. Just look at meccanos instructions, they are a bag of shit! (pardon my language, I should have censored the M word!)

Ryan said...

- Do you create instructions by reverse-engineering a model(that is: taking it apart and maybe take photos).

- What influence does the designer have on the instruction process?

- Will you guys ever tackle the problem of distinguishing black and drak grey?

- why are some instructions printed better than others?

- Why did you decide to put instructions online in such a low resolution?

- Is it true you make instructions by building each step and placing them on a table (so for a 100 step set you have 100 progressive mini buildings)?

Conchas said...

We're getting a great set of question! :D

@Mike K
As far as I remember sometimes we have such "validation steps" or better said validation instructions.
Maybe we could or should have more of them. Probably the best way to put the question.

"Sorry for the muliple posts guys, keep thinking of new questions after I post!"
You're welcome, keep asking. ;)

Brian said...

- Has the TLG ever considered (or would it consider) developing instructions (PDF or LDD) for models developed by non-TLG builders?

- Have you thought releasing about "partial" instructions? That is, developing "instructional" instructions which highlight key building techniques and/or different ways to accomplish some tasks?

Daniel said...

What software do they use? I know they use Maya, but to what extent? When building each model, do they use seperate software with automatic constraints (similar to SR3D and LDD), or do they simply use a Maya parts library, or do they somehow make use of Maya API to keep bricks from overlapping? It would be interesting to know exaclty what they do with what software.

(I know their automatic rigging/constraints can't be very advanced, because only the very simplest models are properly rigged in their animations. For example 8043 did not have moving gears, and 8070's gears were completely wrong.)

Rohan Beckett said...

I'm curious as why instructions need to be broken down to such tiny steps

1 part per step is surely 'dumbing' it down a bit too much?

Technic doesn't have the same audience as Lego City, or Star Wars.

I would hope that the Technic audience could handle a few more parts per step.

If they are small pins, in awkward spots - why not just highlight, or use arrows to indicate their location?

If you must keep it super-simple... it'd be fun to produce alternate instructions, as a PDF download, for us advanced builders, who prefer instructions 80's-90's style, with 20+ parts per step, and <30 steps for a whole build! ;)

I'd also love to see more than 1 B-Model... you guys should hire some of the Creator designers!

And if only 1 B-Model.. then how about a few more 'ideas' on the last few pages, or back of the box!

Pep Andorra said...

What tools do you use to produce building instructions ?

Who decides if a step should be divided in several steps?

Captainowie said...

I'd like to add my support for a question regarding the apparent 'dumbing down' of the building instructions. I understand the need to be explicit to allow the kids to build the models with minimal assistance, but one part steps does seem a little much. Compare with for example, from way back in 1977. In step 5, there are 4 pins added to the model, but only two of them are visible. It is left to the builder to infer the positions of the other two. Perhaps instructions that make the build process a bit more challenging could be produced for those models aimed at the adult market?

java.lang said...

Maybe I repeat some questions here, but these are the questions (and suggestions) I'd like to raise:

More suggestions than questions:
- Will you consider including the length of studded beams too in your instructions? I already wrote an email to TLG about this issue in 8421. In my oppinion it is just as hard to tell the length of a longer studded liftarm as for a studdless one by looking at the small parts list. They did great in adding the lengths and 1:1 pictures, but obviously forgot to do so for studded liftarms too. This was the case for 8421 and still for 8275. (Maybe they already do so for the latest sets in the meantime)

- Will we ever be able to tell appart black from dark gray any better? This is often very hard and sometimes needs very good light when building. Some of my colleagues even had to replace parts in the middle of the model because they used the wrong color...

- Why does it seem that TLG tries to ship as many booklets as possible, with the last booklet often just a 'few' pages thick?

- Will the quality of the downloadable instructions ever increase? At the moment they are terrible - especially for the A-models (often it isn't easy to guess which part to use next). Even for the B-models the quality sometimes is quite bad. Since the downloads should actually replace a paper version here this seems a big loss.

- Why did you ship the latest instructions (e.g. 8043) packed with a cardboard all of a sudden? Don't get me wrong - this is great, but why did you finally decide to do so? Was it a lot of customers complaining about folded pages or stickers attached to the instructions?

- Are the sub-modules created by the original builder or identified as such by the one who creates the instructions?

Allanp said...

Black and dark grey could be better distinguished by having the black parts black with a white or grey outline.

Ricardo Oliveira said...

This is more a suggestion, but...

Have you ever considered shipping digital instructions, instead of paper ones?
LEGO could ship a CD (environmental care) with exactly the same instructions as in books, but in which you could actually rotate and choose the best 3D perspective for each step, like you can do in LDD.

The instructions could also be adjusted to the level of expertise of the builder, by including more/less details about beam lengths for instance, bigger/smaller steps, etc.

Allanp said...

Gotta have a book IMHO.

Erik Leppen said...

Not entirely Technic-related but one thing I have always wondered is, why do so many non-Technic sets NOT have the measurements of Technic pars in their instructions the way Technic instructions have? Many sets of e.g. Alien, Star Wars etc. have small amounts of technic parts in them. However when using Technic axles their lengths aren't in the instructions! Why not? I would say this is very confusing for people who mix parts from different sets.

Also, to what extent are the set design and instruction design linked? I.e. when designing the model ITSELF (not the instructions), how much thought does go to the building process and are concessions done to easify the building process? Or are set design and instruction design separate, to ensure an optimal set design?

Who decides the build order in instructions, and how is this decided? Does the set designer have anything to say in this? I.e. modularity (compare 8448 to 8880).

How many revisions are there for instructions? In what way is the difficulty of the building process tested? And what is the level of difficulty you aim for? Is it really true that putting more parts in one step is confusing for Technic's target audience (boys ages about 7 - 16)?

If you were to design new instructions for an old set like 8880, what would you do differently now? Would there be more steps? More modules? Would the build order change? Is it true that the same number of parts require more steps in the studless age than in studded?

Erik Leppen said...

Offtopic (hence separate), but why all of a sudden does TechnicBRICKSs Blog require registration to add a comment?

Jetro said...


The answer to your last question is here:

santi said...

I like Mike K's suggestion of adding insights into why some mechanisms were built in a particular way. That would totally enhance LEGO's educational value. Like, having a little explanation of the way the mechanism works in the real machine. Although I understand it might increase the cost of preparing the booklet :)

Marin said...

How come there's only a few pieces per step when there was quite a bit of them (per step) in old sets (20 years ago)?

Robotica said...

Q?) Why are books breakdown the way they are (not logical), like more on number of pages?
1 book for A and 1 book for B models, is more logical.

q?) How about an I pad app to download your own books?

M. Redepenning said...

@Robotica and others: I'm pretty sure the instructions are split to make the books thin enough to be stapled instead of bound, and the splitting is done at certain page numbers so that the books are easy to make.

Mark Bellis said...

1. Definitely need to sort out the black vs. dark bley visibility issue. Either that or never include the same piece in those two colours in any set.

2. There are many cases where one sub-assembly is a mirror image of the one in a previous stage. In sets 20 years ago these used to be done together as pairs but now they add to the number of steps instead - 122 steps in 3 books for 1000 parts is too many steps - 8 parts per step and in reality only 2 or 3 parts per sub-step for sub-assemblies. I know to look ahead, pick twice as many parts and make a mirror one as I make the first one but it seems instructions have been dumbed down. Was this just to shave 2 years off the starting age group for a set because it's sometimes patronising for those of us with significant experience, making a build take longer than it should. I accept that too many young Technic fans might do it for only 4 years (10-14) before it becomes "uncool" and they enter a dark age (hence the reduction in starting age) but even so...

3. As a partial antidote to "patronising" bits, could you make a single parts box at the start of each sub-assembly, so that we could try making it with only the picture to look at, rather than plodding through the 2-3 parts per step? This would allow us to build in our heads as things are really built. I find myself looking through the sub-assembly stages, counting the axles and pegs so as to fetch the total number in one go.

4. Since the advent of studless construction, sets are more about "create one side frame, make many sub-assemblies, create other side frame". This is different from the stud-rich construction that saw more upward building. Has studless construction made instructions more difficult to create, or has it directly increased the number of stages?

5. I prefer the numbered bags system because having the same piece in 3 bags (2 of the bags being the same to reduce SKUs and the other bag adding the extra one for an odd number in the set) is annoying when I try to find them whilst building from the instructions. Any chance you could specify an even number of each type of piece in each set, perhaps using any left over ones from an odd number in the main model as an even number in the second model?


moz-geek said...

Can you talk about what goes into justifying a new part? Is it easier to just add a variation or logical extension (the 11 axle, for instance) than a completely new part (like the portal axle parts)?

Do you start with more than one use for the part, or do you just try to add options for later? In other words, does someone explicitly say "and how else could this be used"?

Will we see the train speed controller used in a technic model?

How far ahead do you plan for things like the electrical systems? I'm using my fourth generation of Lego motors now, and it bemuses me that so many changes have happened, but at the same time that the changes are so slow. The leap from the old 4.5V motor-with-cross-axle-hole to the new XL motor and IR variable speed is huge, but we still don't have proportional control for steering. Likewise, the failure to use modern high-efficiency voltage converters means that rechargeable batteries don't perform as well as disposable ones, leading many Technic modellers to use disposable batteries. Are these things considered, or is simplicity and cheapness overwhelming even the possibility of that discussion?

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