Lego, my ego
August 31, 2009 11:16 AM   Subscribe

CareerFilter: How do you become a Lego designer?

We're worrying about my stepson, who is chronologically 16 but emotionally 12 and is going to need some clear guidance on a career path if we don't want him living with us when he's 30. The only thing that he's really expressed interest in to date is being a Lego designer, and I'm curious as to how someone might work towards that.

The kid in question has mid-severe ADHD and dysgraphia and is not particularly academically motivated, so I question whether or not he can make it through college even if he really wants to (he's never said much about that). He IS capable of focusing for long periods of time on something he enjoys, and Lego has always been one of those things. I think he is a kinesthetic learner and has some decent design skills, in Lego and otherwise. He may well be a good Lego designer, but I suspect that it's a "dream job" for MANY people and is probably not easy to secure. What kinds of skill sets/courses/contacts/otherwise might make this a real possibility?
posted by dlugoczaj to Work & Money (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
you get a degree in industrial/product design.
posted by violetk at 11:19 AM on August 31, 2009

dlugoczaj, I'm afraid I probably bear bad news. One of my cousins is a middle manager for Lego, and tells me that by far most of their designers (and they haven't that many) are based in Denmark. As a result, they're primarily Danes, as few people choose to live in Denmark unless they speak the language (it'd be difficult to, especially outside Copenhagen, and Lego are headquartered in Billund).

I guess what I'm trying to say is "sorry". Yours is not an easy situation to be in, and there are no easy outs.
posted by Dysk at 11:26 AM on August 31, 2009

Other than working as a designer for the company, which is very difficult as Brother Dysk mentioned, there have been a handful of individuals (Eric Harshbarger is probably the most well known) who have turned a talent for Lego into a full time gig. This is rather difficult though and requires an enormous amount of talent, not to mention bricks.

Perhaps viewing the webpages of these folks will be some inspiration for your step son. It might also be a good start to investigate careers that require similar skills.
posted by bondcliff at 11:32 AM on August 31, 2009

I have no first-hand knowledge about this, but did a little research because it does sound like a fun job to have!

From Lego's Ask a designer page:
I want to be designer when i grow up. What do i have to do to get the job ??

If you want to become a Lego-designer when you grow up you have to:
1. love Lego and play with Lego as much as you can
2. just be creative and build a lots
3. it´s helping if you have a design education
4. never give up and take pictures of all your creations.

Check out Lego's jobs & careers page. Unfortunately, it looks like Brother Dysk is right, most of the jobs in the US are in sales or operations. I couldn't find any job postings for designer jobs (and don't speak Danish), so I don't know what requirements they might have. You might also look into the Lego Certified Professionals program.

Also informative: multi-part interview with Lego designer Mark Stafford, interview with Lego artist Nathan Sawaya
posted by LolaGeek at 11:39 AM on August 31, 2009

If he can't work for Lego, perhaps he'd be interested in design work for other toy manufacturers. To expand on violetk's industrial design/product design recommendation, look for a school that offers courses in toy design. I know several product design students who do well in spite of having poor reading and writing skills, and I know one designer with dyslexia who's won national awards and was for years the design director of a major US corporation. However, the workload in school can best be described as brutal, and toy design is one of the most competitive areas of the field.
posted by hydrophonic at 12:08 PM on August 31, 2009

Try computer programming - it is like Lego in that you can snap together "blocks" and build something from nothing.

(Speaking as a former kid who wanted to work for Lego and ended up in Information Technology)
posted by jkaczor at 12:14 PM on August 31, 2009

Boing Boing published this interview with Lego designer Bjarne P. Tveskov.
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:30 PM on August 31, 2009

While not a designer, there is the Master Builder position and it is posted in the US. But you're asking a question similar to "How can I be a movie star" and "How can I be a game designer" etc.

One person wrote an article about the interview/hiring process when he applied (and sadly didn't get) a Master Builder job. The article is incredibly detailed and has lots of tidbits that may be helpful to you. the article is on his Livejournal page
posted by arniec at 1:21 PM on August 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

It sounds like your stepson was born to be an engineer. The skills and interests he has could go into making an oil refinery or a robotic assembly line, which are no less cool than a lego model of the Death Star, and a lot bigger.
posted by Methylviolet at 1:25 PM on September 1, 2009

It sounds like your stepson was born to be an engineer.

*sigh* His grandfather is an engineer, and his mother (who didn't finish college, doesn't work, and still lives with him) seems bent on having my stepson follow in Grandpa's footsteps. He's never particularly commented on this, and given my concerns about the fact that he really can't write a coherent sentence and doesn't do his homework half the time, I honestly don't know if he can hack a college engineering program.

His dad and I would love to see him go to a trade school of some sort, but there's some sort of snobbery going on at the other end about that. Given that he really seemed to enjoy--and do well at--industrial arts and CAD during his last school year, I wish that that snottiness would just go away. Trade jobs are in demand and pay well, and I really think the hands-on would be a good fit for him.
posted by dlugoczaj at 1:55 PM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Maybe 3D modeling? I'm not sure if it's a great fit but he might be interested and some basic tools are available for free. Have you considered therapy? I know we say that all the time on the green but maybe he will say something to a stranger that he won't share with his guardians.
posted by chairface at 7:48 PM on September 1, 2009

He's had therapy, on and off for his ADHD issues. It's done some good for his social skills, I think, but not much else. (The last time was a couple years ago when he ended up in a therapeutic school for a few months, after getting kicked out of his regular school while his ADHD med dosage changed. The therapist there never once contacted his father, in spite of the fact that he sees his son religiously every weekend and should be considered an active part of his life. At the agency I used to work for, a therapist would have gotten fired for that.)
posted by dlugoczaj at 8:39 AM on September 2, 2009

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