How LEGO almost went bankrupt, plus the design of Atlantis

There is an article from the Daily Mail/Mail Online discussing the financial woes that LEGO recently went through around 4-5 years ago as well as how the Atlantis series came to be. It has a cheesy title – ‘When Lego lost its head – and how this toy story got its happy ending’, but it’s actually a well-written article. It discusses how in 2004 the company was in serious trouble, with its biggest loss in the company’s history – £217 million (around $352 million USD in today’s rates), nearly bankrupting the company. The writer met CEO Jorgen Vig Knudstorp who discussed it with him, as well as how the company has done since then, mentioning 51% growth in sales last year in the UK – here in the US it wasn’t as high, but it was over 35% (see this ABC News Nightline article). It discusses how in 2004 the company instituted a “back to basics” approach to get back to where they used to be, acknowledging that they had partially lost their way in the 1990s. This included selling off some properties, getting out of the theme park business as well as videogame business/development, and instead licensing it to outside companies. They also shortened product development from the idea/creation to the box down to one year instead of two years. They also cut down on the number of actual components.

On a side note, the CEO’s “business card” is in fact a minifig of himself with his contact details printed on the back of the minifig.

The writer also talked with William Thorogood who was the team lead on the Power Miners and currently Atlantis. This is where it gets really interesting – the article goes into detail about the design of the Atlantis series, mentioning that a focus group of mostly 6-12 year old boys along with child psychologists gave feedback on the Atlantis sets, with some interesting results:

With Atlantis, for example, it emerged from the boy experts that there were certain key icons the product simply had to include: propellers, dome cockpits, big lights, helmets, harpoons, torpedo-like weapons, tridents, giant squid and, of course, evil sharks. In this new world focused on profit, the company sees no shame in admitting that, like it or not, what most excites little boys is conflict.

‘We always have good guys and bad guys together in the box, so they can fight, but for boys there has to be a reason for the fight. In this case it’s over the transparent treasure rings, which open a portal. Boys are very familiar with portals. They also have very strong views on objects made of transparent Lego, as we found with the energy crystals eaten by the rock monsters in Power Miners. If it’s transparent it has magical powers, apparently.’

It also mentions LEGO Universe, the massively multplayer online game (MMOG) coming out next year. It features some neat photos, including showing the LEGO production line in Billund, Denmark, where heads for minifigs/minifigures are manufactured and printed. It mentions LEGO’s archives going back to the beginning. There’s also photos of some of the minifigs from the new Toy Story line as well as a CAD drawing of Buzz Lightyear’s minifig