5 Things We Learned About LEGO’s Boy & Girl Lines

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While some toy companies are giving up on long-held preconceptions about gender-specific products, LEGO has gone the other way. Shedding its gender-neutral past, the company now makes toys specifically targeted at either girls or boys. These products have no shortage of critics, but LEGO says it has good reasons for the separate product lines.

A new report from The Atlantic looks behind the curtain at LEGO and examines why the company has created the products currently on shelves: it’s a mix between customer feedback, research, and focus groups on how children play with toys.

The company’s current gender-specific line, dubbed LEGO Friends, debuted in 2012 to criticism — even being nominated for “Worst Toy Of The Year” — but has since become one of the toy maker’s most popular lines.

Many have criticized the line as being LEGO’s attempt at telling girls how to play and what they should like. But the company maintains it’s just making toys that girls want.


1. An Untapped Market: In 2008, LEGO looked at global data about who was buying their toys. It turns out, that roughly 90% of LEGO sets sold were bought for boys, meaning that nearly half the kid population wasn’t using their products.

“Seeing that the play pattern was really skewing so heavily toward boys, we wanted to understand why,” company spokesperson Michael McNally said. “We embarked on four years of global research with 4,500 girls and their moms. Some of the things we heard were really surprising and challenging in ways that weren’t really comfortable for us as a brand.”

2. Getting To The Bottom Of It: After finding that its toys were mostly sold to boys, the company set out to find out why that was.

Over four years, LEGO conducted global research with 4,500 girls and their moms. The company found some surprising and challenging themes in the way their toys were perceived, McNally tells The Atlantic.

LEGO tells The Atlantic that children in its focus groups consistently had distinct ideas about how to interact with the same toys they encountered, and that expectations seemed to be drawn along gender lines in focus group after focus group, even when those children were very young.

3. Boys & Girls May Use Same Toys, But Play Differently: The most important aspect LEGO says it found was that children play with the same toys very differently.

In one project, the company asked separate groups of boys and girls to build a LEGO castle. While both groups worked together to build the castle, they took different approaches to play afterward.

For example, the boys immediately grabbed the figures, the houses, and the catapults and started having a battle, McNally recalled, noting that the boys used the castle as a backdrop for their play.

On the other hand, the girls were more focused on the castle itself.

“They all looked around inside the castle and they said, ‘Well, there’s nothing inside,’” McNally said. “This idea of interior versus exterior in the orientation of how they would then play with what they built was really interesting. If you think about most of the LEGO models that people consider to be meant for boys, there’s not a whole lot going on in there. But [the girls had] this idea of, ‘There’s nothing inside to do.’”

Overall, the groups of children both expressed interest in the building aspect, but the following interaction showed girls overwhelmingly wanted to build environments and more details in their toys.

4. Selling Toys Kids Want: In the end, LEGO says the research has shaped its newer lines, including Friends, and those products are simply the company’s attempt to engage more children, no matter their gender.

“I think there’s been a lot of momentum around this idea that everything should be gender neutral,” McNally said. “That’s not what we’re striving for. We don’t see anything wrong with the natural ways that children are choosing to play. We try being gender inclusive.”

5. Criticism No Matter What: While the LEGOS Friends line has been a hit with children, increasing the company’s total sales since its debut, the line hasn’t been without problems.

The Atlantic reports that while many children have embraced the toys for their details and environments, the products have created a catch-22 for parents.

One parent told the New York Times that she was glad her child enjoyed the toys, but was afraid they also sent the wrong message, noting that her daughter had recently asked her if she had an oval face.

That notion was planted in the girl after reading a Friends insert in the LEGO Club Magazine, which included beauty advice from one of the LEGO Friends characters about which haircuts are most flattering.

“My little girl, the shape of her face, and whether her haircut is flattering are none of Lego’s concern. It wasn’t even her concern until a toy magazine told her to start worrying about it,” the mother wrote.

The company later said it would take customer complaints into consideration when putting together future Friends inserts.

LEGO has also addressed concerns that many of its toys, which are arguably gender-neutral, lack female figurines. In one particularly public case, the company was scorned over discontinuing its minifig female scientist set. It later relaunched the product, but it remains to be seen if that’s a permanent addition.

How to Play Like a Girl [The Atlantic]

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