On Tuesday, January 12, a Designer Roundtable centered on Flower Bouquet 10280 was held by the LEGO Engagement Team. Moderated by Sara Skahill (from The LEGO Group), set designer Andy Ward Grubb took questions from the following LEGO Recognized Fan Media representatives:
Graham Hancock of Blocks Magazine
Chris Wharfe of Brick Fanatics
Jun Heng Wong of Brickfinder
Joe Meno of BrickJournal Magazine
Matt King of The Bricks King Podcast
Andrew Bulthaupt of BZ Power.
Richard Jones of The Rambling Brick
Megan Lum of The Women’s Brick Initiative
A transcript of the roundtable was made and is presented here. Questions and answers have been edited for clarity.
There’s been a recent focus on minifigure models. How did how did you address that in terms of designing the bouquet, since it is a change in terms of thinking?
I guess it would be a lot of change for a lot of people here focused on minifigures. My background, before I started here at The LEGO Group last year was at LEGOLAND. I worked first in the model shops, and then as a general creative designer for over a decade. So, I actually had a fair amount of experience with models at lots of different scales, including some flowers, although these are quite different. Coming in fresh, it was not a big leap for me to just start thinking about objects in a one to one (scale) and how we could do them. That was actually was a great way to start off, because it was something new.
Did your experience at LEGOLAND also help with the organic nature of this design?
It’s a personal love of mine, as I’m sure it is for many LEGO fans, the challenge of creating something that defies what people think you can do with LEGO bricks. In some ways that was the guiding principle of creating this product. What could we do that will make people do a double-take, and surprise you. “Wow, LEGO (bricks) can do that?”
So, we came in with that mindset of “We’re going to go and find all the weird pieces, look and see what we have got that would really surprise people.” I think you can see some of that right away. Seeing the car bonnets and the roof pieces were some of the most obvious reactions of “What?” But we think they work. It was really fun to find all those new uses.
What was it like, working for LEGOLAND and then designing for the LEGO Group?
It’s totally different. For LEGOLAND, I spent a good chunk of my time there working on Miniland, which is at the heart of every LEGOLAND Park. It’s a display of beautifully detailed miniatures, cities and landmarks built out of LEGO bricks. Those are basically one of a kind, for the most part, or maybe there’s a few iterations of them shared among parks. Basically, they’re giant custom models, and the chief constraints around that are about what bricks you used, how long does it take, how much is it? How much manpower you need to use? How easy is it to go place it in an outdoor environment and have it be stable year round, under rain and snow and all kinds of heat and sun conditions? When designing a LEGO product, a lot of those constraints are quite different. Since we’re making so many of them, making it suitable for production and repeatability is key. It has a lot less to do with how long it takes me as a designer to build, but the factors around production. So think of it as all the constraints you would ever have on a custom model, versus all the constraints you might have on making something that’s going to be made many, many, many, many times.
What’s your first memory of LEGO?
My parents have shown me pictures of me playing with DUPLO bricks that I don’t even remember because I was not old enough to have memories that stick with you. I’ve definitely had some old castle sets. I remember Wolf Pack. When Wolf Pack was just going away, my parents got me some of those as they were starting to leave shelves. That’s how old I am.
What other sets have you worked on?
This is my first one. I’ve worked on some other concepts within some themes that are not out yet. But this is my first official set. I’m very, very happy with it.
Where did the botanical concept come from?
I think it’s best to say that for the bouquet and realistic flowers, it was in the ether of the design group and had been for a long time. I started with The LEGO Group in August of 2019. When I got here, there were bouquets of brick-built flowers just around in the building. As we mentioned in the building instructions, my co-creator, Astrid, had made quite a few of those. The idea for flowers tested very well also with consumers. So, it was sort of a yes, from both on high, as well as from designers themselves.
How did Astrid get involved in the design?
Astrid was involved with ATE (Arbejde til Ehrvervafklaring, or work based program assessment). Astrid got included because flowers are one of her passions and one of the things she does at ATE is build bouquets that she’s designed. I think she was just doing it for fun before and someone saw it and asked, “Oh, could I get a copy of one of those as a gift to give somebody or to have in their office?” That sparked a series of requests, and it’s now become a regular thing that she does, and receives regular orders. Of course, as we were getting started on this project, almost every other person who walked by would say, “Oh, you guys are working on flowers. Do you know that there’s a woman in ATE who also makes flowers? You should talk to her.” So, we did. We had her come over and give us her input and support. It was great.
Are there any techniques within the final model that she was responsible for?
The aster in particular was one flower I had in the back of my head asking, “How can we do this?” One of the first things Astrid did was start trying to build it out of the small leaf pieces on clips. That was not something I had done in any other flower to that point and not even really thought about. The instant I saw that I said, “Wow, that’s really novel. That’s quite different. Let’s do that.” So we perfected that one.
Did the idea for the bouquet come before the bonsai tree?
I can’t speak too much on the Bonsai Tree: I didn’t design it. I do know that Nico, the designer on that one, had been making bonsai trees as his side projects and he had been giving out them out to people in the design group. So, those were around, as well. Then the moment just arrived that both products were seen as like, “Oh, these would be great.” And they happened.
Was the design process for the bouquet different from the usual Creator Expert design process?
It’s a bit of a tricky question. I haven’t been here long enough to tell you really what the typical Creator Expert process is. Creator Expert handles lots of different kinds of models. As you can imagine, the way Mike Psiaki, for instance, starts on a car is quite different from how I would have started on the flowers. I would say that the flowers started, in some ways, more organically. We (Astrid and I) were both looking at what flowers would be great to make with LEGO, as well as what pieces do we have. What colours do we have that would be great to work into a flower? What can we do with them?
What were the challenges you had in designing the flower bouquet?
There were a few. It turns out that what people prefer in the colour, balance and arrangement of their bouquets is extremely personal. I received so many opinions that boil down to lots of quite miniscule differences. But you’d be amazed, for instance, how much a bouquet could change by shifting one little flower from cool yellow to white, or one shade of pink to another or one shade of lavender to another. We also had a technical challenge of what do we do about these very top-heavy models. Figuring out what to do on the stem was one of the technical challenges.
How did you resolve that?
As you can see in the set, we didn’t have too many options for how to build long stable stems. So, the thicker stems, as you see, came out to be those Technic connectors, which was also a great solution for how can we offer people some adjustability and then have stable, long elements. The 32 module, Technic axle just became the go-to part. That’s the solution that you now have in your hands.
You mentioned the sand green 32 Technic axles. Were there any restrictions on the elements that you could recolour?
There are always restrictions on sets and how many recolours we can do and new elements as well. In this case, particularly with Technic axles, the colour coding of them is quite important to make sure that using them and using the correct length when you’re building a Technic set or anything that uses them, you get the correct one and you find it quite easily. We got a special exemption just for this 32-module axle because we don’t have anything close to it in length (in the set), so it was unlikely you were going to confuse that sand green 32 module axle for anything else. But shorter Technic pieces and other things like that do have to go under more scrutiny.
What led you to determine the final choices for all the flowers?
I have to tell you that, by the end of the project, my desk looked like a florist’s workshop. I had most varieties of the flowers you see in the bouquet in five or six different shades mocked up. I spent a lot of time going back and forth with a number of different people with different preferences about flowers, working out the arrangement. We wanted this to, overall, have a colour palette that showcased what subtlety could be achieved. That’s not a word you hear used in conjunction with LEGO bricks very often. But could we do it? Can we surprise people with sort of subtlety and maturity, but also keeping a bright tone to it that would feel comfortable having on display in your home or your office for a long period of time? Lots of bouquets that you might find in a florist to give to somebody tend to be very bright poppy colours that are sort of obvious. But we didn’t want this to be obvious. We wanted it to be surprising.
What was the most difficult part about trying to create flowers compared to their real life counterparts?
When you get up close and look at any flower, you realize how much of it is tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny and delicate, so delicate. Then you take a step back and think, wow, what LEGO piece can do that? You have to give yourself a little bit of creative freedom to go find another interpretation. During the course of building this, I would be looking around outside, looking at real flowers and just going, “wow, like, that’s how can we achieve that? How can we get something so small, so delicate, so subtle?”
Some of the answer is, “Right, we’re going to go up just a little bit bigger. We’re going to allow ourselves some creative expression”. Or we’re going to also allow ourselves the chance to find a piece that’s worth including, because it’s just such an interesting new use of that piece. Let’s get that surprise in that way. Mother Nature is so complex and subtle and delicate: How do we achieve that?
How did you decide what flowers would be included? Did you choose flowers that would be recognized worldwide?
It definitely was a starting point. The most obvious one is the rose. That was a build that once we had it, we knew it was working pretty well: People recognized it and we knew it would be known by a worldwide audience. That was one that was instantly in. Then it was a case of ‘let’s see what else can go in and support it and help fill it out.’ Beyond that, I actually had quite a lot of freedom to explore different types of flowers. But definitely having at least a couple icons in there, particularly the roses, was important to us.
The rose colour caused some surprise. What was the driver for the colour (light nougat), which is one that has not really appeared outside of Q-elements in LEGOLAND Parks before?
One of the overarching design goals was for it to surprise people with what subtlety, what simplicity, what elegance we can achieve with LEGO Bricks. Those are adjectives I don’t think you would hear a lot of people necessarily use about a LEGO toy. Many other positive adjectives (were goals) like elegant, sophisticated – I hope we achieved that. One of the things that came first to mind was that we have this beautiful soft peach colour, and we’ve barely used it. We’ve certainly never used it like this. What a surprise for people. What will be unexpected both to fans and people new to LEGO building, who may have had no clue that was even in the palette. They might even be surprised that LEGO elements can do this. So, when that came about, that became a key point of ‘this will get people talking.’
How did you ultimately decide what colour was going to go with which flower?
Before we landed on this arrangement, I actually had three or four different, very distinct arrangements on my desk: One that was a lot brighter, and a lot more popping colours, a lot more of the stronger LEGO colours; and one that was in some ways even more subtle and toned back than this one. Ultimately, it came down to a combination of the team’s thoughts on what worked best, what we would want to see in our homes on display for a long period of time, what had the broadest appeal. Then for individual flowers there are constraints on the colours and things like that. We prioritized the flowers that really would surprise people versus something like the daisies, for instance, which were very straightforward and actually worked, in existing colours. Beyond that, I would just take a flower out, and put another flower back in, in slightly different colours to see what happens: there was a lot of experimentation.
Which flower posed the greatest design challenge for you?
Finding big pieces that would work well as leaves, and really helped fill out the bouquet was more of a challenge than I expected. So much of the visual attention is on the beautiful blooms, but you’d be a little surprised, like I was, how small a bouquet can feel when you don’t have that greenery to help fill it in and give it an exciting profile. So, finding ways to achieve that, with the pieces on hand, was more of a challenge than expected.
There are two other flower sets released this year; roses (40460) and tulips (40461). Did you work with the designer of those sets?
We did have a lot of communication with that team as they were working on those products and they’ve done flowers before. They tend to do flowers for special occasions. It was quite obvious from the outset that red roses for a lot of people are going to mean Valentine’s Day. In fact, if we put red roses into bouquet, it would become too specific for something that we want people to have out for a long, long time. Tulips are also associated with springtime. We talked a lot about that. It seemed a better fit for them to take some of those flowers that evoke specific occasions. For the bouquet we wanted something that would feel like you could have out for a very long time. You’ll see some of the differences in the way that they are built. For instance, their roses and ours come down to preferences among the designers of what is the best way to make a LEGO rose. It’s fun to see some of the choices they made, in variance to ours, but they all look great together.
Did you consult or work with florists? Have you had any reaction from florists?
I took over this project after it had left its concept phase. You are probably familiar with Carl Merriam, another designer on our team. He did some of the initial sketch work. He went with some members of our team to one of the local florists here. I believe they bought a few bouquets and had them around for inspiration. So that was definitely, at least at the beginning, a source of inspiration and looking at what works in an arrangement. I have seen bits of feedback from an occasional florist here and there, and it seems quite receptive. But I’m always curious to hear what people think.
What was the problem in designing the set that you found most satisfying to solve?
It’s a little bit different there. One of the things that was very satisfying to realize would be so simple in its elegance is the relatively new one by two by five plate tall bricks with maybe eight studs [Ed: actually 10], a lot of studs: the ones in the middle of the poppy. That piece was relatively new to us as we were working on this project. When I came around to the build, I realized those would make the perfect, simple core that will just hold it all together and make this flower. So simple: more simple than it had been in previous iterations: That was very satisfying. Another beautiful use for this piece. It’s going to be so practical.
What is your personal favourite technique out of this entire design process for this set?
One of the subtlest things that you might not have any clue why we did it is the two half cylinder wall elements that are in the middle of the Aster flower. The reason those are in there, as opposed to a two-by-two brick, a round brick, is because it turned out to be too hard, with too much friction, to push the axle through once that flower was done with all that stuff stacked. We were in the middle of a quality meeting where we were reworking some of the models figuring out what would be best, and one of my colleagues suggested we swap that out for those new half cylinder pieces. We all put it together, and it just went in and felt so solid. It was so satisfying. That was great. That’s not something that offers a visual appeal; it’s just a satisfying build technique that I want to tell you about because it’s so good.
Was there ever any point where you wanted to create a new element to try to solve a problem?
Because I was new I wasn’t even offered the chance to talk about a new element on this. It didn’t cross my mind until after we were done, what would have helped. I think one of the things that might surprise you, as a challenge, was that we realized fairly early on that we wanted to present the bouquet with a very interesting profile with a lot of volume. That’s usually achieved in a bouquet through the greenery, the leaves that fill it in. We don’t have that many really big green parts, or parts that work well organically in a big size. I think in retrospect, it would have been great to have something that that filled in that gap. But on the other hand, I’m quite happy with the fun we got to have with those alternative pieces, making up those leaves. I’m very proud of those sand green surfboards, by the way.
If you could have a new element created, what would it be?
I’m really looking forward someday in the future exploring what other ways we might make some more organic shapes that might help us achieve some leaf pieces. That would also be great for some organically shaped pieces for our Bionicle building friends. Thinking about the delicate nature of nature, we could have some elements that could pack a lot of colour and a lot of impact into a tiny, tiny space.
Most Creator Expert sets have just one model to build. What was it like designing a set that encourages the builder to arrange it in their own way?
I think you may have answered your own question. The biggest thing with a flower bouquet is not just the individual flowers. But it’s which ones do we include? How do you arrange them? It encourages experimenting. Does this bunch of flowers look good together? What if you split them up and arrange them in different configurations? How does that look?
As I mentioned, the stem design was a solution to a couple of different problems. It turned out we could offer adjustability, knowing that people might want to have them longer or shorter. Also, we deliberately put the leaf pieces on the stems in a way that it will catch on the edge of a vase, so the flower stays above the rim no matter how you put it in. All of this factors into how we make this work. It was a neat challenge, for sure.
This is a very non-traditional 18+ set. Was there a particular audience that you were aiming for, or was it intended for everyone?
Certainly everyone with more of an eye to adults, because it is part of the new adults collection. Beyond that it’s for anybody who loves flowers, who loves crafting, who, like me, maybe doesn’t have the best green thumb. Or also like me, has allergies. We knew this set was going to be quite popular across lots of demographics and really hope it actually reaches people who might otherwise view LEGO bricks just as a toy and start to help convince them that LEGO is more than a toy. And it will always be here to make toys for kids. But, by the way, LEGO building is also really great for adults.
As a follow up to the allergies, any good hints for how to keep the dust off?
All I can tell you from my own personal experience in my own personal collection is having a can of pressurized air sometimes can help.
Was there thought given for including something to hold the flowers together, like rubber bands?
We looked at a few different possibilities for how we could hold them together. We didn’t land on anything that felt great and also didn’t feel like it was restricting people into a particular arrangement. We wanted people to have the freedom and the joy of arranging your own bouquet. There was some thought about that, but ultimately, we thought it was best to let you work out how to arrange them.
What were the challenges in developing the building experience: making sure that the flowers were fun to assemble and made sense to people?
We evaluate the building experience in the flow for all of our models, not just this one. I think one in particular that I know will be challenging is the lavender, because it uses such delicate connections. So, sitting there, just thinking, “How do we go about putting things together?” Making sure, for instance, those stalks don’t get too tall and fall over in your hands. It is a general process we go through and try to improve, particularly knowing this is going to be, in some ways, quite different to a regular set.
The 18 plus branding has opened up new kinds of sets, like the bouquet. Is this the kind of set that The LEGO Group could have done two or three years ago?
I’m not sure I’ve been here long enough that I could answer that question. I wasn’t here years ago. It was quite exciting to start here at the time that they were really ramping up exploring what could be done, and it’s been very exciting to see all the ideas floating around of what could now fit under this umbrella.
A lot of AFOLs make life-sized flowers for their MOCs. How did you balance designing the set and avoiding the perception of copying?
Although I am definitely an adult fan of LEGO, I myself, have not connected much into the community. My introduction to that world came when I first started at LEGOLAND. LEGO building has always been my job. So I may not be as aware as many of you are of all the great work that fans have done. I will say that for myself and everyone here: We want to be original. We want to surprise you. We want to do something new. I think it’s great that there are so many ways to build flowers. There are already so many here and so many people who had some thought about it even within the design organization. It was just very straightforward to say let’s look at this flower. Let’s go into the stock room and see how we can make it and let the idea come out of our own heads.
Did you considered putting a buildable vase into the set?
We certainly looked at it for a bit and explored making different kinds of vases. One of the things that was a guiding principle was “How can we surprise people?” I have a number of theories about it, but for whatever reason, when we had our versions of the bouquet in brick built vases, whether they were quite simple and elegant or decorated or whatever, versus just vases we had around the building – even in very simple things like water pitchers – people responded more to the magic with “Wow, is that really LEGO?” when it was in a regular vase. It was just something that we realized this is actually really helping to elevate that sense that the product is surprising you.
I have seen many people building awesome custom vases out of their own collections and finding great new ways to display them I would not have thought of. I know there are people now exploring using the Ship in a Bottle from LEGO Ideas to make a vase. I applaud that creativity, that’s so amazing. I love to see what people are doing. So there’s no wrong way. But for us, it came down to “let’s focus on the flowers, get people as close as possible, and create a really full bouquet”. Then make as many people do a double take as possible when they see it sitting in a vase there.
Is there another type of flower that you’d like to try to create? Perhaps a second bouquet?
There’s some stuff we explored that’s the most beautiful, nice piece use you’ve ever seen, and we just couldn’t fit it in with the restrictions we had. I really hope we get a chance to come back around and do it for you guys. Because I think people will go, “Wow, of course. Of course!” And that’s all I can say about it.
You started your career in LEGOLAND. For our readers who want to be LEGO designers, what is your advice?
I think the best things you can do are challenge yourself to (A) build outside your comfort zone, build things that you are not used to building to show versatility and (B) build things that most people don’t think can be built out of LEGO, even if it’s not necessarily in your passion area. Prove everybody wrong! That teaches you familiarity with bricks, it teaches you building techniques, it teaches you how to look at something just for its shape, or just for colour and see it as something else. I think some of the best builders here are the people who can do that: it’s second nature to them to just go walk around our brick stock aisles, see something funny that is coming in Technic, and turn it into a beautiful alternative. Somebody who can see a car hood as a flower petal and not think twice about it. That’s what you need.
Many thanks to Sara Skahill and The LEGO Group for arranging this and for Andy Ward Grubb for taking our questions.