14 July 2020 Luca Artesini

The case of LEGO® and the cognitive offloading favored by the assembly instructions

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There are different ways in which we can observe the things that surround us, the events of the world and also of objects and products that we buy. This is the case for a smartphone for example. Some people spend hours, days, even weeks, before buying a phone. Others, however, less interested, go listlessly to the nearest store and buy the first product available for the price they had set themselves. These same people will arrive home and will open the package quickly, configure the phone without paying too much attention, experiencing this event as something annoying or if not anything else, not particularly exciting. The first group instead, that of hyper-documentation, will live that moment as a ritual. People who will read the information written on the package even if they have spent the previous three months pondering that purchase ending up getting to know it better than the product manager of the manufacturing company! I took the example of the smartphone because it is probably, to date, one of the objects to which we pay particular attention and that we have all (or almost all) experienced in the purchase and unpacking phase.

Cognitive Offloading

In this short article I would like to retrace the ritual of purchasing and unboxing a series of products from a brand that, after moments of crisis, is experiencing exponential expansion. I am referring to LEGO®, a well-known brand inextricably linked to building with bricks. LEGO® is now such a vast brand that it is necessary to specify its core business which, at least in our mind, is still that of construction. But what ritual will there be in unpacking and assembling a product that is apparently as simple as a LEGO set? And how can this ritual go beyond the brick and permeate our life? Let’s go through the different phases and see if this article was just a way for me, author, to write about LEGO®.

The purchase of the LEGO® set

Buying is actually a very simple moment. On the packaging there is little information, for years present, for years organized in the same way, for years there, within reach. This essentiality must not be misleading. It facilitates the purchase process by fans who are no longer children in a clear and effective way. The purchase funnel is almost said: do I like this set? I look at the image. Am I missing this set from the collection? I’m looking for the iconic serial. What minifigures are there inside? I look at the shoulder of the pack. How many pieces (and therefore how much enjoyment) are there in the set? I find the information on the front. An eye-tracking activity carried out on adult LEGO® enthusiasts, I am quite certain that would confirm a high findability of the elements, in all their essentiality. There is little information, it is hierarchical and easily identifiable with the look … a concept that is particularly important as Christian explains in this article.

Unboxing and assembly of the LEGO® set

Our Lucas, the name of absolute fantasy, for a phantom LEGO® set enthusiast, now arrives at home. He carefully opens the package and finds himself with a dilemma. Which bags to open first? LEGO® however, has thought about this dilemma and has carefully put numbers on the bags, thus identifying the order in which they will be opened to facilitate the process of finding the pieces. This element is interesting for two reasons. The first is that in doing so, LEGO® created a first level of information architecture. He did not organize the pieces by color, shape, size or any other feature. The first level is represented by the construction order.

At the end of the first construction step, therefore, the worktop will be clean, free of pieces that belong to the last step of the assembly act. However, this does not mean that we will not be the ones adding further layers to this information architecture. We can open the first bag and organize the pieces by color and then by size. This work we have just done is nothing more than a type of card sorting task. We started from pre-packaged categories, we embraced the logic and cascade, we decided what was best for us in organizational terms. LEGO® limited itself to suggesting the first level, the following ones, lets them create (or not create) the user.

The time and enjoyment of the construction phase will subsequently be the litmus paper of the effectiveness of this tree. This verifiability of the information architecture, with a light transposition play, is exactly what, on digital products (but not only), can be tested by a treetest, here inserted in a typical test flow of the information architecture.

So here is how a simple act of purchasing a LEGO® set went through several known, logical and testable phases. A more or less unaware flow of actions that have only one logic: to facilitate and make the experience more pleasant, which, in the case of LEGO®, is a path that does not necessarily culminate in the final product, but in the assembly. As if on a website we almost preferred browsing the menus, rather than the landing page. It would be partly bizarre, but at the same time a symptom of frustration-proof navigability and dead ends.

At this point I just have to take my LEGO® set, open all the bags at once, take hours to find a piece and take days to get to the finished product. So thanks for the thought, LEGO®, you tried to give me a logical and sensible menu, but I am wrong and I use the search function on the site. One of those old search functions, which never finds anything, but today we talk about bricks, and to me, in this case, it’s okay.

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TAG: UX and UI eye tracking usability test experience design retail analysis user testing