Two LEGO® icons say goodbye after 90 years of combined experience

We're saying goodbye to 90 years of LEGO® experience as two legendary and long-serving LEGO icons retire.

Sten and Jan holding LEGO elements they helped develop

Jan Ryaa (right), Design Master, has been with the LEGO Group for close to 48 years. Sten Schmidt (left), Senior Element Coach, has ‘just’ been here 42 years and a bit.

They both ‘hacked’ the LEGO® brick to help provide fantastic building experiences to the older kids (and their parents). And, between them, they have their names on more than 70 LEGO element patents.

“But just because our names are on the patents doesn’t mean we can take all the credit. It has always been a team effort and we’re just proud to have played a part in the development of all these elements,” Jan points out.

Drilling holes in bricks

Jan began his LEGO career back in 1974 building what we today call 3D models. He quickly moved to product development, where he helped develop many great classic LEGO sets. But before that in the early days in product development, Jan was assigned to a new project, LEGO® Technic™, where he quickly made his mark… literally.

Jan: “I was obsessed with getting more movement into the models and I started drilling holes in classic elements to insert axle rods. This is basically how the classic LEGO Technic bricks with holes came about.”

Filing knobs off bricks

In 1979, Sten joined the LEGO Group. He was assigned to something called XYZ, a ‘secret’ department looking to develop big new projects. Not a lot came out of XYZ, and in the mid-eighties he moved to Technic. Here he showed that he is an accomplished model designer – designing, among other models, the classic LEGO Technic Test Car set (8865), which was the first Technic auto chassis to feature a body. He also showed, that like his good friend Jan, he has a knack for ‘tampering’ with existing elements.

Classic LEGO Technic Test Car set 8865

“One of the elements I’m most proud to have helped develop is the Technic beam without knobs, that gives a more stable model and that is still one of the most used Technic elements today. The beam builds on the system that Jan helped invent by drilling holes in bricks, but I filed the knobs off to get them right,” Sten chuckles.

In between XYZ and Technic, Sten was instrumental in shaping the LEGO Education portfolio as he helped develop the first LEGO Dacta sets – LEGO Dacta being the precursor for LEGO Education.

Two well-proven elements

In fact, the pair have had numerous roles in various departments over the years. It would take too long to mention all the projects they have been involved in either as element or model designers. A few highlights, on top of the ones already mentioned, are LEGO Belville, Jack Stone, soft blocks, and our train programme.

In 2002, they were both assigned to the Design Lab. Younger element and model designers have since benefited greatly from their vast experience. One of their principal jobs, besides coming up with ingenious elements, ensuring that all new elements have the right LEGO DNA.

Sten: “It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to work with so many great people and teams along the way.”

“And, it’s fantastic to see that some of the things we have been working on are still used by our designers today. My only regret is that Sten ruined that great Technic element. Apart from that, it has been a pleasure working with him,” Jan says bursting into laughter.

And so, ends 90 years of LEGO adventure for two well-proven elements that have not only stood the test of time but certainly also have the right LEGO DNA. On their last day as LEGO employees, they decided to walk out the door together.

Sten and Jan LEGO employees say goodbye