Good design or circular design. Lego shows us how.


Good design or circular design. Lego shows us how. There are more than 11.5 million children under 16 in the UK. Over the course of 2016 they were given, or bought, an average of nine toys each, costing £105 per child on average. That’s £1.9 billion in total.

The US accounts for around 3% of the world’s children and 40% of the toys bought globally. That’s a lot of plastic, among other things.

Of course, all this plastic has some long-term implications for the environment:

  • The raw resource too often finds its way into landfill
  • The raw resource is lost to the supply chain
  • The raw resource pollutes and kills parts of the ecosystem

Kids, huh?

Thinking about the long-term effect of product design is interesting. It’s easy for manufacturers to focus on shipping units and increasing turnover year-on-year. But, with some consumer pressure, we can drive change back into brand behaviour. We, as consumers, are starting to create our own trends and forcing brands to listen.

Looking back to look forward, we can see that trends in toys come and go. Everyone has a favourite from their era: train sets, Action Man, Barbie, Cabbage Patch Kids, Fidget Spinners… yet there are a few perennials. One is Lego. There are an estimated 90 bricks for every person on the planet, that haven’t changed in design in 60 years. If you bought and kept plastic Lego when it launched in 1958, you can still use them with modern bricks. More recently, Lego started selling its designed kits, but even the axles and fittings that were metal are now thermoformed plastic of the same material as the bricks themselves.

If you’ve ever tried buying a cheaper alternative to Lego, you’ll know why this is a false economy. As a design icon, Lego is already the most durable of toys featuring the best design of its kind, and now it has proved to be…  actually, no – not circular.

For a product to be designed to fit within a circular lifecycle, it has known obsolescence built in. A known tendency to break or a weakness is a larger part of the reason why toys fall out of favour. In Lego’s case, this doesn’t apply. Designed with longevity built-in means that the iconic bricks don’t stop being useful as they were intended to be.

So Circular Design is one way of helping the product lifecycle be more sustainable. Truly great design is another, and probably better.

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