CREATIVE PLAY LAB
My time within LEGO's product innovation and business disruption unit.
What is it?
The Creative Play Lab (CPL) within LEGO's Product and Marketing Department is the product innovation and business disruption unit, whose mission is to "build radically new, big, and fun LEGO® experiences that delight and inspire the builders of tomorrow."
On a day-to-day standpoint, it meant we would prototype, build, and test new consumer experiences, products, business models, marketing strategies, shopping experiences, technology — anything that could potentially impact new products and product development in the future. With a heavy focus on research, rapid development, and testing, we paired insights and research with company strategy to develop everything from proof-of-concepts to market pilots to full-blown products.
CPL Output and Culture
Example projects done by CPL:
- LEGO Hidden Side
A spooky ghost-catching AR-enhanced playtheme
- LEGO Forma
A pilot in rapid development
Some interviews that give an idea into its culture:
CPL's processes are that of agile iteration cycles using SCRUM, where prototypes are created and evaluated quickly to learn whether or not it makes sense to continue work. If the answer is yes, the cycles gradually grow longer as more and more hypotheses are verified and prototypes become more complex and teams grow in size. At some point, they are piloted at small scale and, if successful, handed off to a production team to turn into a "real" product. In general, the shortest projects last 2 weeks, while the project I worked on the longest lasted 1 year.
While in the department, I took a number of training courses on how to implement and drive SCRUM, and acted as SCRUM master, product owner, and team member in a variety of projects.
Starting points for projects within CPL were wide and varied, but in general consisted of at least two of the following:
- an insight (emerging trend, behavior change, new technology, etc.)
- a target demographic
- some kind of company-wide strategic direction
When I first entered LEGO, my work was focused on a tech-based experience within the still-in-development DC Super Hero Girls theme. Though that AR experience was cancelled, learnings carried into later AR projects. From there, I branched into a number of different projects. I've worked on more tech-heavy to no tech at all. I've worked on projects for young and old, for boys, girls, and all genders.
MY ROLE WITHIN CPL
As a Design Manager Specialist:
- Identify and conduct necessary research
- Start and direct new projects
- Take on the position of Design Lead on a variety of projects
- Lead multi-disciplinary teams (including designers, project managers, marketing and biz dev, researchers, and engineers)
- Contribute to the strategic direction of the department
- Develop and implement new processes that improve design effectiveness
- Contribute and lead skill-building and personal development in the design team
In practice I took on a variety of roles in CPL. In some projects, I was a lead, in others I mostly helped shaped the design process before moving on. I have come onto a project temporarily as a specialist to help put out fires, and in some I just helped with coding or graphic design.
Even as a design leader, my role went from hands-on experimenter and prototyper to the person who spends most of their time in meetings trying to get stakeholder buy-in while handing off the day-to-day design work to the highly talented team.
I've given a talk on how to visually compose for film, I've helped design communal spaces, I've run roleplaying to help people better understand future scenarios, and, of course, I've built models out of LEGO bricks.
TOOLS LEARNED AND USED
While I used a wide variety of creative tools while working at LEGO (everything from the Adobe Suite to Unity to post-its to paper prototypes), most of the new tools and methods I learned were directly related to things beyond the design. How to manage a team, how to lead workshops, how to surround an experience with a business mode, etc.
- Design leadership and team management
- Creating and modifying new design processes
- Managing stakeholders and partner collaborations
- Product/experience strategy
- SCRUM and tools to manage it (Jira)
- Business Model Canvas
- Group Design Thinking Methogologies