Blog - What we learnt about design from Lego

Blog - What we learnt about design from Lego

Throughout 2015 and 2016, our company, Integra, participated in a Design to Business (d2b) program that was targeted at design-led businesses, working with them on how better design considerations could be incorporated into all elements of the business, from the boardroom through to the factory floor.

Part of this program involved a design study visit by the CEOs and owners of these Australian businesses to Denmark – a country renowned for its design brilliance – where we spent an intensive four days meeting with Danish thought-leaders from the likes of Velux, Fritz Hansen, Falck and the Danish Design Centre; understanding their approach to design, and evaluating why such an approach had made them successful across all facets of their business.

The d2b journey and the trip to Copenhagen enabled us, at Integra, to reset and realign our whole business culture with our values and design-led philosophy by bringing all areas of the business up to where we were thinking.

One of the companies that brought us into their confidence was Lego, a name that is internationally recognisable, having grown 400 percent over the last decade – and that’s despite cutting back one-third of their products to remain focused on the Lego block niche.

We arrived at Lego’s Billund production facility where David Gram, Business Director of Lego Futurelab, played host, and offered us an admirable level of transparency and frankness in explaining the way Lego had both found success and overcome obstacles to build its iconic brand.

“We see ourselves as a design company,” confirms David Gram. “It’s Lego but what we offer has never been seen before."

Futurelab has the enviable task of inventing ‘future play’. They scout for new target groups, markets, technologies and business models. They co-create with consumers and customers, going as far as ‘camping out’ with families to really understand what their customers want. What Futurelab demonstrated was Lego’s commitment to research before rushing off on a tangent with designs they may want to produce but that could fail in the marketplace.

In order to foresee disruption, Futurelab documents insights and identifies patterns by – quite literally – writing them on cards and then pinning them on what they call a ‘Direction Wall’. Pattern workshops are also run regularly to continually foster this way of thinking.

Following a tour of the plant, we were struck by the fervent level of attention to detail in all areas of production, materials supply, automation, logistics and management. This came together with one simple objective in mind: to create the perfect Lego block.

Despite the company’s size, Lego always takes a ‘think big but start small’ approach to everything, even in the way you’re greeted at their facility – it feels like a small family business, rather than a corporate giant. Such intimacy can be found at all levels of Lego, which means employees are watchful of the company’s bottom-line like it is their own money.

The way Lego cares about those who work for them – in fact, everyone who comes in contact with their business – is a crucial aspect of their culture and something we’ve personally taken to heart in building a culture unique for Integra. Lego is also not afraid to outsource and extend their respect to suppliers. They outsource what they cannot do, as well as what they should not do, proving that an awareness of your company’s limitations is a strength, not a weakness.

David Gram summarised Lego’s steps to self-disruption as (i) prove it (ii) internalise it (iii) scale it and (iv) be a rebel. “Be a diplomatic rebel,” were David’s actual words. You should only break the rules if you understand them first. A diplomatic rebel knows how to make other people shine and build a tribe of followers. Diplomatic rebels also understand that not everyone will think their project is great.

“We dare to fail and don’t splash the cash,’ explains David. “We do this by pretending we are a small start-up.” For Lego, it is about getting the ideas on the table and getting to prototype at the lowest possible cost. They then experiment with pilot launches in small, remote markets before committing any new product to wider release.

(We’ve already spoken about the importance of ‘incremental innovation’ – i.e. not getting to the masterpiece with one stroke – in terms of Australian manufacturing in a previous article about the ideas boom).

While ‘international’ is the word that comes to mind when discussing Lego, the company is unashamedly Scandinavian in its appreciation of design, and the importance of good design. Something as functional as Integra’s sit-stand desk would be exhibited in a gallery and not just on a showroom floor.

Across the few days we experienced soaking in Danish innovation, we could see design in everything they did. Design is something that definitely runs culturally deep in Nordic countries. If we can build even a little bit of Lego into our Australian businesses, we’re onto a good thing.

You’re welcome to get to know more about Integra’s by visiting www.integrasystems.com.au and dropping us a line.

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Published in Blog
K2_WRITTEN_ON March 03 2017
Written by Erika Hughes