This is an article from Businessweek about Lego’s new line targeted at little girls. While I don’t agree with the pinkification of a beloved childhood toy, there are some really good tidbits about what the anthropologists learned studying the differences between how girls play vs. boys.
In the last few years Lego has been making a big profit because it hyper-targeted the little boy market: Star Wars, mechanized sets, pirates and spaceships. Because of its superfocus on the boy market, it severely alienated the other side of the spectrum, and the girlier Lego is the company’s response.
What they learned about boys:
“The skate maneuvers had taken hours and hours to perfect, defying the consensus that modern kids don’t have the attention span to stick with painstaking challenges, especially during playtime. To compete with the plug-and-play quality of computer games, Lego had been dumbing down its building sets, aiming for faster “builds” and instant gratification. From the German skateboarder onward, Lego saw it had drawn the wrong lessons from computer games. Instead of focusing on their immediacy, the company now noticed how kids responded to the scoring, ranking, and levels of play—opportunities to demonstrate mastery. So while it didn’t take a genius or months of research to realize it might be a good idea to bring back the police station or fire engine that are at the heart of Lego’s most popular product line (Lego City), the “anthros” informed how the hook-and-ladder or motorcycle cop should be designed, packaged, and rolled out.”
“Encouraged by what it had learned about boys, Lego sent its team back out to scrutinize girls, starting in 2007. The company was surprised to learn that in their eyes, Lego suffered from an aesthetic deficit. “The greatest concern for girls really was beauty,” says Hanne Groth, Lego’s market research manager. Beauty, on the face of it, is an unsurprising virtue for a girl-friendly toy, but based on the ways girls played, Groth says, it came, as “mastery” had for boys, to stand for fairly specific needs: harmony (a pleasing, everything-in-its-right-place sense of order); friendlier colors; and a high level of detail.
Lego confirmed that girls favor role-play, but they also love to build—just not the same way as boys. Whereas boys tend to be “linear”—building rapidly, even against the clock, to finish a kit so it looks just like what’s on the box—girls prefer “stops along the way,” and to begin storytelling and rearranging. Lego has bagged the pieces in Lego Friends boxes so that girls can begin playing various scenarios without finishing the whole model. Lego Friends also introduces six new Lego colors—including Easter-egg-like shades of azure and lavender. (Bright pink was already in the Lego palette.)”
The results of their research is fascinating, ones I completely agree with. I suppose what I am adamantly against is the separation that is made in the first place — why do I, as a girl, need a separate set? Why can’t I play with the boys’ robots? Girls can have a lot of role-playing fun in a pirate ship, too, can’t they? The people in it might not be fighting, but the sets look cool and can be reappropriated as necessary.
And then there’s games like Sim City or the Sims. If you think about it, aren’t these games kind of like adult lego? You build things from scratch with the almost unlimited number of tools that you are given. Why wouldn’t a model like this work for kids, too? I thought it did, back when I played with them. I thought that was the point of Legos — something from nothing, but different every time.