I’ve been working on a paper for ICED17 that takes Pete’s InstructiBlocks rig and explores how design rules affect design variation and innovation. I got 20 participants from the lab, engineering department and an (un?)willing girlfriend to have a go at building some simple LEGO spaceships. When they scanned a brick some information or rules would be displayed on the screen. The task was to follow the rules as they got more detailed over the four rule levels.

Exploring embedded rules in LEGO bricks

Exploring embedded rules in LEGO bricks

As a means of measuring design variation, we clustered all the models, however, this proved to be difficult and not particularly conclusive. Instead, brick adjacency matrices were generated and the matrix entropies calculated. Analysis of the variance of the entropy distributions showed that the rules had a significant effect on the design variation but this was only significant between levels 1 (no design information) and 4 (richest design rules). From this scoping study, the next step is to explore the trade-off between design rules and innovation; where the rules cover safety, quality and environmental as constraints but their expression and delivery can improve innovation.

A selection of models from rule level 4.

A selection of models from rule level 4.

Feedback from the participants highlighted some great areas that InstructiBlocks could be used; these include educational puzzle toys to collaborative space layout configuration to electronic circuit design – all associated with tangibility and quickly being able to explore rules and constraints.