Makey Awards 2011 Nominee 12: Lego, “Best Product Documentation”

Education Fun & Games
Makey Awards 2011 Nominee 12: Lego, “Best Product Documentation”

Lego, founded by father and son Ole and Gotfred Kirk Christiansen in Billund, Denmark, in 1932, injection molded its first modern-style Lego brick in 1963. Shortly thereafter, in 1964, they introduced the first of their Lego system toys that included printed instructions. Since that time, Lego has manufactured models that range from about ten pieces up to their largest set ever, the Creator Series Taj Mahal (#10189), which weighs in at a whopping 5800 distinct Lego elements. The Lego Star Destroyer (#6211) pictured here contains just over 3000 pieces.

While the smaller Lego models have been praised (notably by Donald A. Norman) for their intuitive no-instructions-necessary design, models with thousands of pieces obviously have to include separate instructions. The Taj Mahal set, for example, includes three instructions booklets totaling 156 pages.

Lego instructions have evolved a distinct, recognizable, and highly effective visual style over the years. Modern Lego instruction manuals are multilingual—indeed, essentially the same document is supplied with each set the world over—and this universality is achieved mostly by omitting words altogether and telling the assembly story only in pictures. The visual conventions of Lego instructions are both intuitive and consistent: first-timers usually have few problems figuring out what’s going on, and once they have, they can read and understand pretty much any set of Lego instructions. Finally, as is rapidly becoming best practice for companies that care about documentation, Lego maintains an online archive of its instruction manuals for those who have lost their originals or are simply curious.

It’s no secret that we love Lego around here. They do a lot of things right, and are often recognized for excellence. But we felt like the quality of their instructions, though well known, has never really been singled out for the praise it deserves. To that end: Congratulations, Lego, and welcome to the 2011 Makeys!


If you have a suggestion for a company to be nominated for “Best Product Documentation,” or one of the other three 2011 Makey awards, please send an e-mail to or just leave a comment, below.

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

View more articles by Sean Michael Ragan


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