5923 Pieces of Fun

Lego’s graphic-only, no-text instructions are understood across language, culture and age. Its presentation provides some clues to how best facilitate bi-lingual communication.

My 2018 kicks off with finishing a big project 😍😍 — the magnificent Taj Mahal in 5923 pieces of Lego bricks!

I love Lego’s monster-size sets, especially the ones based on real life architecture. I had great time building the Tower Bridge (4000+ pcs), the Sydney Opera House (2900+ pcs) and the Disney Castle (4000+ pcs).

Apart from fun with bricks, I love Lego’s no-text instruction books. They seem to have been prepared with great deal of planning going into how best convey complex building idea using zero text. This planning is remarkable in three aspects.

One is the building design.

Lego’s large sets (1000+ pieces) usually consist of modules. Each module is built separately. They are then put together to complete a set. Modules allow building instruction to be presented in multiple booklets rather than one big book. A young builder can go through each booklet building mini projects, which then make up a big structure. In the context of bilingual communication, this is like breaking a down complex issue into small bits of information. These bits are organized in a logical flow. Once each bit is understood, the whole complex issue is understood.

Another aspect is graphic presentation.

Representing a 3D structure on a piece of paper is not always easy. On any given Lego booklet page, a brick or a work in progress is always displayed at the right angle. Instructional graphics always show clearly where the next lot of bricks should go, and in what orientation they should go in. Quite often, Lego’s order of brick addition is counter-intuitive. The order is rarely height-wise or length-wise. It is usually based on ease of brick addition or the least risk of misplacing a brick.

The third one is making good use of reference bricks — bricks in distinct colour or unique shapes. Reference bricks are placed in critical points and critical stage of building progress. They are then subsequently covered by later bricks — having served their all important function. Also at critical stages, when necessary, real-size graphics are provided to help verify correct size as expected of a given stage, or verify the correct length or shades of colour for the next brick to use.

Translating an architectural design into graphics is not unlike translating one language into another.

Organizing communicative graphics is equivalent to writing up a translation.

For Lego instructions, graphics and their order of appearance must follow logic, and must always factor in the needs of users — young fans not yet learned to read. Likewise, for translation users, the translation must be first and foremost of good writing. It must be comprehensible and speak at the level of the audience to ensure all intended messages are appropriately and correctly communicated.

Preamble of a Lego’s instruction book: all graphics and illustrations. Pretty cute😍
This set uses long bricks of varying length. Here, an 1:1 reference is for making sure you are using one in correct length.
Bricks of transparent and solid colour of the same shade are hard to be represented on paper. Hence they are further defined with a close up (far right)— graphically of course.


Gather my wisdom while gathering my knowledge.