I used to get it for Christmas every year as a gift, but I was never disappointed. Every year, I would get several of the little kits. I’d make one on Christmas and then another the next day, and slowly build all of them.
I am, of course, talking about Lego.
I remember building with them, always following the instructions closely the first time through. And then after about two weeks, I’d take it all apart and reassemble everything and change it, using the same parts to build something completely brand new.
Sometimes I’d put two pieces together and think, “Oh, that’s really cool.” And that would be the starting point of this whole miniature world. Thinking back, it seemed like these projects lasted for weeks. The stuff I made became more realistic and complex as my knowledge of the world grew.
I remember sitting in front of the TV with my whole pile of Lego bricks in front of me. And I might be listening to the TV but be totally engaged in what I was building. Today I might have music or a podcast on while I’m working in CAD. Because the work is so geometric and spatial, there’s no language processing going on in my brain. It’s all abstract and non-linguistic. In those moments, I can really lose track of time and zone out.
At the smallest scale, Lego is just an individual unit, a brick or building block. But take those individual units and add them to each other and they become something. There’s a lot of that in the kind of mechanical engineering we do here. We may start with a concept or idea and combine it with this and combine it with that and eventually it becomes this cohesive product. It’s almost like pulling from the big library of Lego parts I had as a kid.
From a creative point of view they’re both very free-form, because you can create brand new things every time. But they are also very limiting in a way. In Lego you’re limited by the physical block size. And in engineering you’re limited by physical or tooling constraints. Both are infinitely combinable, but finitely restrictive. What you can put together is infinite but at the same time bounded.
Take wearables, for instance. Often the things we are designing in them are so small that we run into these quantum problems where we reach the lower size limit on something and it simply can’t be any smaller. So we have to figure out some other way to do it. At some point we’re physically constrained by the real world-ness of what we are designing. It can’t just exist as a 3D rendering, because eventually it has to get made.
I remember as a young kid playing with Lego for hours. Today, when I’m working sometimes it’ll be 10 in the morning and next thing I know I’ll look at my watch and suddenly it’s 7:30 in the evening. That can happen when I’m trying to figure out a small but critical detail. Or sometimes there’s no perfect solution to a problem, so I try to work out the best set of compromises.