Our girls already play the hell out of their Legos, so on a purely personal level, I don't really feel too worked up about the new Lego Friends thing that supplants traditional minifigs with girlier "ladyfig" dolls and sets them up in a stables & salons Lego town.
And though Brad Wiener's whole Businessweek article on the development and launch of Lego Friends is interesting, this felt like the big so-what, as the McKinsey folks say:
The key difference between girls and the ladyfig and boys and the minifig was that many more girls projected themselves onto the ladyfig--she became an avatar. Boys tend to play with minifigs in the third person. "The girls needed a figure they could identify with, that looks like them," says Rosario Costa, a Lego design director. The Lego team knew they were on to something when girls told them, "I want to shrink down and be there."Whether that's true, or some key gender developmental insight, I don't know--I'd love to hear more about it--but I bet it's become gospel truth around Lego HQ.
Which, fine, right? As the neuroscientist puts it to Businessweek, "If it takes color-coding or ponies and hairdressers to get girls playing with Lego, I'll put up with it, at least for now, because it's just so good for little girls' brains."
But even as the CEO is getting all this credit for turning the company around--by "focusing on boys"--there's no mention of what Lego has actually become, which is, as Daniel Sinker points out, "a movie-tie-in model set" maker. Which has been almost entirely focused on boys and boy franchises.
So while I wouldn't go so far as Sinker's provocative headline and suggest that Lego is "evil," I would say that they built their play pattern bed, and a generation of kids--including the ones in their "anthro" focus groups--are lying in it. If boys play with minifigs in the third person, maybe it's because the minifigs are mini-movie characters. If girls, previously excluded, and then presented with American Doll-style Lego mini-mes, of course they're going to identify with them. I think this is called confirmation bias.
But Lego isn't trying to uncover great truths of cognition here; they want to move product. And if this works for them, great. Meanwhile, the girl brains I'm most concerned with will be stimulated by another case of plain bricks, so they can finish their Empire State Building. If their Playmobil construction figures have a tea party on top, I'll be sure to let you know.