It’s not always easy to get the whole story about how young people think, feel or behave. How, then, do we effectively connect and create with Gen Alpha and Gen Z audiences to discover what’s really on their mind?
Today, young people expect to be increasingly involved with brands and products, and no one understands that better than LEGO. I wanted to know how LEGO meets that expectation and how co-creation benefits both consumers and LEGO, so while writing my book, The Gen Z Frequency, I had the opportunity to meet up with Dan Winger to find out.
Here, Dan Winger offers insights into the magic of youth co-creation:
We always want to inspire kids to be creative and tell their own stories… giving them the frames of reference and letting them go and create is the goal.
Dan Winger | Senior Innovation Designer at LEGO
Let’s start by giving readers some background to the ways you embrace co-creation at LEGO?
In 2011 we launched LEGO Ideas: a crowdsourcing platform that allows users to submit their LEGO creations, with a possibility of bringing them to market and earning royalties on the sales. The platform creates value for the users by providing a channel to express their creativity through LEGO bricks, share these custom models, get inspiration and feedback from others, engage with a community of passionate building enthusiasts, browse fun and exciting projects and, for a select few, have their creation immortalized as an official LEGO product.
The diversity of projects we have seen on the platform is mind-blowing. Many of the submissions are ones we would probably not have come up with through our internal development process, or creations that would be highly challenging to prove a market viability for without community voting.
The benefit of this endeavor for LEGO is that we have a new line of highly innovative products that have the ability to reach new segments of consumers. The products we have released through LEGO Ideas include an interactive marble maze, The Beatles Yellow Submarine, a trio of realistic birds, and my favorite, Women of NASA.
In addition to LEGO Ideas, we also have the LEGO Life platform. This social network lets users share their creations, be inspired by other builders and safely connect with the community, but also features a variety of interactive content ranging from creative challenges to trivia questions. This product is a more playful and social experience for younger LEGO users (ages 13 and under) to engage with the LEGO brand. Beyond co-creation with users, we also work with various partners to develop new products, entertainment and technology together.
What is your goal for co-creation within the LEGO Creative Play Lab team? What co-creative methods do you employ, and, in your experience, what are the most effective?
Since our core market is boys and girls ages 5–9, not a single LEGO employee is our primary user. Children are the LEGO experts! Therefore the goal of co-creation is to better understand our user: their interests; motivations; pain points; lifestyle trends; fine motor skills for interactions and more. Co-creation sessions with kids are invaluable to define new business opportunities, steer product and feature development, and ultimately determine what they find fun and engaging.
Over the years, I have used several different methods which include in-home visits, informal play sessions, formal testing, foundational research, Design Thinking and Lean Startup processes. There is no one method that is more effective than another, they all have their value and use cases. It all depends on the phase of the project and the type of project, along with the expertise and interests of the project team.
Personally, I love building things and bringing ideas to life, so I gravitate towards the Lean Startup approach as it focuses on learning through rapid and iterative development. It begins with defining an area of uncertainty and framing a hypothesis (or hypotheses), then building out a minimum viable product for testing these area(s) of focus. The prototype is then brought to a co-creation/test session with users in which we gain validated learnings and reduce the area of uncertainty. The cycle then repeats as the insights help steer the project forward towards the strongest path for success.
How has your role (or process) of co-creation evolved during your time at LEGO?
I’ve been at LEGO for a decade, so I’ve seen many changes over the years. From my experience, co-creation has evolved to be more focused and more frequent. We enter co-creation sessions with a clearer vision of precisely what we want to learn (but of course, being open to learnings outside of that scope) and have smaller tests more often.
What advice do you have for brands that are starting out, struggling with, or want to improve their co-creation methods?
Never lose sight of the needs of your user. If you are not within your core market, remember that your opinions may be different from that of the user. So be sure to have frequent co-creation sessions with users and immerse yourself in their lifestyle. Rather than being an outside observer, learn to empathize with them, think like them, and act like them… when appropriate, of course, because sometimes my wife doesn’t appreciate it when I act like an 8-year-old.
The ultimate tip:
Discover the unspoken truths: insights and innovation are most often derived from what’s unsaid. Establish mutual respect, provide a conducive environment and design participant experiences that don’t feel ‘researchy’, in order to reveal genuine insights and bright ideas from Gen Alpha or any targeted demographic consumer group you seek to reach and engage.