Thursday, March 4, 2010

Q&A with Cecilia Weckstrom of The LEGO Group

Cecilia Weckstrom is an innovation and consumer experience specialist at The LEGO Group. She heads up the Consumer Insight & Experience Innovation team there. Indirect Collaboration's Tim Lillis interviewed Cecilia about incorporating customer insight into the product design process.

So, you're in charge of the Consumer Insight & Experience Innovation function at the LEGO Group. What does that mean?

I oversee all the work on gathering insights from our 1:1 connections with consumers all over the world and based on this insight and on co-creation with consumers we improve existing LEGO experiences and define new ones of what LEGO could be in the future. We want to be driven by those who love LEGO for what LEGO is and thus, knowing what is important to all these people is important and the only way we can remain sustainably successful as a company.

Lillis: What are some of the successful and unsuccessful ideas generated by this group?

Weckstrom: Mostly in my experience it is not a matter of unsuccessful or not – more about timing. We have a few examples where we were far ahead of the market (LEGO Studios for instance) where the idea was great, but ahead of its time so wasn’t as successful as it could have been had we launched it a little later. Timing is not just in terms of timing in the market-place, it is also about the rest of the company. The successful ideas are ones that become platforms for value creation, and ultimately not just within the company but including the community too.

Lillis: Is the Design By Me program related?


Lillis: Are the kits generated as part of Design By Me available to customers besides the one who designed them?

Weckstrom: Yes, but at the discretion of the designer. E.g. you have to choose that option when you upload your design.

Lillis: There is such a robust worldwide community of LEGO builders, has this community unofficially steered product design at the LEGO Group? That is, not through your official programs, but through the company's observations of LEGO culture.

Weckstrom: Absolutely – LEGO is a movement driven by the passion, urgency and creativity of an ever-expanding community. We are part of this ecosystem and are just as influenced by it as the community is by what we do.

Lillis: What are some of the most surprising uses of LEGO bricks that you've come across?

There’s more every day. Latest one is this Lego Cubestormer robot that solves Rubik's Cube in sub-12 second. Robots born with the sole purpose of solving the Rubik's Cube are nothing new, but we're pretty sure we haven't seen one crack the code.

So much of what people do with LEGO Bricks is determined by the imagination of the end user. Is there a balance to be struck between designing pieces with very specific (or branded) functions versus pieces that can be used more universally?

Weckstrom: We prefer designing universal elements ahead of specific elements. In fact, when you as a LEGO designer (I was one when I first started out working for the company) come up with a new piece, you have to ‘justify’ it’s existence to the element committee, a group of LEGO ‘Yodas’ as I like to call them (no they are not small and green with big ears, but very wise and care deeply about the LEGO System) – their combined LEGO experience is more than a 100 years and they are guardians of the system. The more uses that can be found for a LEGO element you have designed, the more likely it will pass the scrutiny of these experts. After all, the LEGO idea is one of a platform for endless ideas.

Lillis: This may be out of your department, but can you speak a bit to the process and challenges inherent in using a licensed property as the basis for a LEGO kit?

Weckstrom: This really is the expertise of our licensing department and some of our designers. Broadly speaking we will carefully assess whether an IP has a close fit with our company values and work very closely with the IP owner to ensure that we live up to the demands of the license owner and vice versa – that the product will embody the inspiration to build many more ideas than what simply comes in the box.

Lillis: Typically in the product design process, there are models and prototypes, testing, evaluation and design iterations. How does this mesh with your customer co-creation programs?

Weckstrom: There are different ways of doing co-creation – one is simply coming up with ideas and defining what would make a difference to people. That is more about identifying unmet needs and understanding which ideas resonate with people. Going all the way to co-creating a specific product is something we do with some of our Adult Fans of LEGO, who are experts in their domains, for instance Mindstorms - we work in-depth with them and they are part of every step of the design process.

Lillis: In what ways have you used technology in new ways to include the customer in the design process?

We use online panels and forums, but they are really the infrastructure to a much more important thing: meeting face-to-face. In our experience no technology can replace the value of human interaction and for co-creation to really work, you have to start by building relationships and trust with people. That makes communication easier and also makes people feel part of the project team in a completely different way. We all crave the human touch after all.

Lillis: Have you seen evidence that customer-created kits fill a void in your product line? Or do many remain niche products?

Weckstrom: LEGO Architecture is a great example of how a fan-created enterprise on the LEGO platform has come in to completely revolutionalise the souvenir industry and also to become a great product appealing to a different audience that we would normally do. Adam Reed Tucker has designed all the sets, and we are now his supply chain – producing the bricks for him that he then distributes all over the place. A very exciting joint venture.

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