The New Building Instruction Design: Official Statement and Editorial Rant

I’m a bit cross. While I am a bit disappointed with the new LEGO instruction manuals, rolling out this next half year, I am quite unhappy with the final reason given for it

In our recent reviews of the new Ninjago and Creator 3in1 sets, we have seen a change in the design style of the instruction manuals. White background with the outline of elements, while a rendered image of the set on a tan background dominates the cover. The cover art for the set, as seen on the box, no longer has any place in the instruction manual.

On the inside, we have an explanation that there might be a mix of paper and plastic bags containing the elements (I’m yet to encounter a paper bag in this setting, but it is still early days).

An earlier version of this instruction style, as well as early paper packaging was included in 4002021 The Temple of Celebrations, the Staff Gift set for 2021.

Today, via the LEGO Ambassadors Network, the Packaging Team released this statement:

The LEGO Group is on a journey to make its packaging more sustainable by 2025. As we are gradually replacing single-use plastic bags with paper-based bags in our boxes, other in-box materials such as the cover of Building Instructions have also been re-designed for a visually consistent unboxing experience.

Warning: Rant Follows

Now, I try to maintain a positive outlook on most decisions made by The LEGO Group, but I am not a fan of this one. There are many things I look for when opening a LEGO set aimed at kids, but a visually consistent unboxing experience is not one of them. I apologise for the incoherent rant that follows.

Why would I want a Ninjago set to feel the same as a Friends set? I certainly don’t need that consistency between themes, and I don’t really need the manual to look the same as a bag of parts. Do you?

I really enjoy the box art: it provides a visual branding for a LEGO theme, as well as individual sets. Unfortunately, boxes take up a lot of space. A lot more space than instructions do. So the box is often thrown out (or more rarely sold on BrickLink), while the instructions are retained – not only for future use but as a visual memento of the box art.

I do feel that removing the box art from the instructions is disingenuous to the designers who produce the box art which sells the product in the first place.

When you have a collection of instructions scattered across the room, dramatically different covers are easier to distinguish between, rather than close focussing on set numbers rendered art, which can get a bit same-same after a while.

The Long Term plan is to see single use plastics eliminated in the next few years (2025 springs to mind), as such, instruction manuals and sticker sheets are likely to be packed in cardboard envelopes. The manual can be its old, colourful self.

While the company are looking for more sustainable solutions, they could simply use the argument “it uses less ink” – less transport, less waste and less to purchase. Whoops, that also reduced the cost to produce. Somehow I don’t believe this change will be followed by a reduction in the base cost of sets…

The Digital Long Game? **Tin Foil Hat Conspiracy theory warning**

I wonder if this is another step towards making paper instructions irrelevant to the consumer. The Thin Edge of the Wedge.

Starting with 2020’s Monkie Kid sets, we saw the introduction of progress bars and celebratory stars on completion of sub builds- giving the paper instructions an App-Like feel.

This was followed by the introduction of LEGO Super Mario- which relies on the digital building instructions to be able to demonstrate aspects of the play experience.

Coming up this June, we have the introduction of LEGO City Missions, where the build experience becomes part of an interactive storytelling experience: the instructions consist of a QR code and, on the flip side, an invitation to try out the other sets in the range. I have had a chance to preview these. I must admit, I really like the sets, but do worry about builds where connectivity is essential for the build experience[review coming soon]. At least with Super Mario, you can download a pdf of the building instructions.

While the building instructions App has a lot going for it: the experience on a tablet of being able to zoom a pdf or rotate and enlarge a build in 3 dimensions is pretty good, let down occasionally by colour matching, which is fine if building the primary model for the first time, as this colour issue is often addressed in the elements available in a given bag. For example – differently shaped elements are used for different colours.

BUT when parents are using LEGO as a screen-free diversion for the kids, the reliance on a screen will disappoint a lot of people.

If nothing else, an instruction manual serves to support a sticker sheet in a plastic bag.

But could this bring a ray of hope? Long term, one of the company’s stated goals is to eliminate single-use plastic in packaging. This will mean putting instruction manuals and sticker sheets for larger sets, at least, into cardboard envelopes, as we saw with the ECTO-1

The cover of the manual is obscured during the unboxing process in such a situation. Surely this makes an argument for a ‘consistent unboxing experience’ irrelevant?

***Conspiracy Theory Warning: YOU will ask for paper instructions to be removed from your LEGO Sets!

Let us follow the planned future with regards to the sustainable packaging agenda:

  • New instruction manuals look unappealing compared with the box art.
  • The ‘Consistent unboxing experience’ becomes such that the number of paperbags of elements becomes the only variable between unboxing new LEGO sets: all elements will be obscured in the bags; the instruction manuals all look very similar.
  • YouTube Unboxing Videos become an obsolete subgenre.
  • People will not want to retain/store/horde instruction manuals as they did in the past: the artwork will no longer distinguish them.
  • Forums/Facebook groups will fill up with comments about how instructions books have become progressively bloated, and they are a blight on the world. Most people will have forgotten the days when a Technic Flagship model could be done in 26 pages. Sure, it only had 668 pieces, but…
  • Ultimately, focus groups will agree that instruction manuals are not adding anything to the quality of the build experience, compared to digital instructions.
  • Instruction manuals will vanish forever. No more paper! Trees saved. Greenhouse footprint reduced.
  • And people will rejoice.
  • Until the Apocalypse inducing Electro-Magnetic Pulse. Then the LEGO Sets will remain, but the instructions will be lost forever.
  • [Tongal world builder idea: Post apocalyptic theme where a team are on a quest to find the original paper instructions for their LEGO elements. Along the way, they build many delightful, but completely wrong alternative builds. ©2022 Ramblingbrick]

But Seriously

Why not just abandon the manuals, but give us a high-quality poster of the box art, which can sit with the sticker sheet, protected by a cardboard envelope? Make sure there is a QR code on the poster. And a copy of the element list on the reverse side. This does not solve the ‘I need to use the tablet or phone with an internet connection in order to build a LEGO set’ problem. But I fear this is the path we are headed down.

This will be a shame: the instructions make LEGO building an egalitarian experience. Not everyone has ‘always on’ internet or tablet access. Not yet, anyway. And even then, low batteries or absent network connection can nobble the experience.

Rant Ends!

So, in short- I like box art more than I like the new instruction design. I keep virtually all instructions, but I don’t keep most of my LEGO® boxes. That said, I would prefer the instructions to reflect the excitement contained within the set, rather than to maintain the same visual language between the paper bags and instruction manuals.

I suspect, it is the leading edge in aassault on the existence of LEGO instructions.

Thanks for listening to/reading my possibly incoherent rant.

Am I being an old fuddy duddy, resistant to change? Reduced the the meme “Old man shouts at cloud?” Or are we entering the LEGO Group’s endgame, whereby only those who own tablets with decent internet connections will be able to get full value out of the sets? I’m pretty sure you might have an opinion about this. Why not share it below, and until next time,

Play Well!

5 thoughts on “The New Building Instruction Design: Official Statement and Editorial Rant

  1. Totally agree Richard. The reason given on the LAN for the change makes no sense. It’s either for cost-cutting (less ink) or perhaps it aids recycling in some way.

    The lack of set numbers on 18+ sets’ instruction manuals annoys me too…

  2. I for one relish building LEGO sets using instructions. A good set is a kin to a good book, so an enjoyable build is literally a page-turner, and this swipe-right app stuff is too much of a distraction from the build. Building a LEGO set is a tactile experience, and having a physical instruction book is part of that.

  3. Fully agreed with everything said here! I have nothing to add – it would be repeating / rewording everything already said!

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