The LEGO Group begins extensive work on developing a new large plastic brick in the mid-1960s. The motive in pursuing the creation of a larger brick is the desire to accommodate a longer stretch of a child’s play age. The product development department of the LEGO Group, LEGO Futura, experiments with creating enlarged versions of the standard LEGO® brick. Prototypes are made on scales of 2:1, 3:1 and 4:1, but the 4:1 brick is not pursued further at this time. However, the brick that is three times as long, wide and high is manufactured briefly and tested in some European markets as set nos. 501, 502 and 503.
The LEGO DUPLO® brick
In addition to the 3:1 brick, experiments are also conducted with bricks on a scale of 2:1. The company wants to develop a large brick that fits the LEGO System in Play. The key to the LEGO System is to ensure consistency and product longevity. By making sure that all LEGO elements, old or new, are compatible, the company can prolong the life of and add value to existing LEGO bricks – and instead of users discarding their old bricks when they buy a new LEGO set, they add value to the bricks they already have.
For a large brick to become part of the LEGO System, it must be capable of interlocking with the standard LEGO brick. Many variations of a 2:1 brick are made, and eventually a solution is created by hollowing out the studs on the brick, making it possible to plug the tubes of a standard LEGO brick into the hollow studs. The new brick is called DUPLO deriving from the Latin word for “double” because of the brick’s 2:1 scale being twice the size of a standard LEGO brick on all dimensions.
The new construction method of combining large and small elements is patented in 1967. In 1968 LEGO DUPLO bricks are tested on the Swedish market, and after a few adjustments the brick is launched globally in 1969.
A new target group
With its new LEGO DUPLO bricks the LEGO Group finally succeeds in expanding the group of children who can play with the LEGO System to include preschool children. The LEGO DUPLO universe displays things preschoolers can recognize from their everyday life: it displays their immediate and recognizable surroundings. In 1977, role-play arrives in the shape of figures. The first LEGO DUPLO figure is square and fairly simple in its appearance but later a rounder figure introduces improved functionality with movable arms and legs.
Independent product program
In the late 1970s, company owner Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen presents a new business model, which introduces a more elaborate differentiation of LEGO products. For the first time the company’s product range is divided into independent product programs: “LEGO construction toys” and “Put together toys for preschoolers”. Since 1969, the preschool products have been marketed with the LEGO logo, distinguished from other products by the DUPLO name – but with the new business model LEGO DUPLO becomes a sub-brand with its own logo and a clearer profile.
Selecting a logo
Over the years, the LEGO DUPLO logo has become increasingly iconic. It all starts with a Danish company, Plan Design, who is given the task of developing a logo – and the now famous rabbit logo is chosen among many different animal drawings. After studying the ratio between the rabbit and the lettering for the logo, Plan Design doubts for a moment whether to proceed with the rabbit logo or whether the word DUPLO is strong enough to act as a logo on its own. To make sure, both versions are tested. The test concludes that the rabbit logo is much better received than its counterpart.
Over the years, the DUPLO logo has gone through minor changes but the present logo still pays homage to the original.
Introducing LEGO Explore®
In close collaboration with experts in child development the LEGO Group in 2001 creates a new discovery system, using LEGO DUPLO elements, to help parents understand the various development steps toddlers go through and what type of play would benefit this development. The products are launched in 2002 under the name LEGO Explore. With the introduction of the Explore name, the DUPLO name and logo are removed from the products. LEGO Explore introduces four universes each supporting a certain step in children’s development: Explore Being Me – Discovering who I am and what I can do, Explore Together – Learning to share and interact with others, Explore Imagination – Expressing my personality and creativity and Explore Logic – Understanding how things work.
The introduction of the Explore name and discovery system confuses many shoppers. Can the new products be combined with the old DUPLO products they already have at home? Even though that is exactly the case, many consumers doubt the compatibility of DUPLO and Explore products. In an effort to reassure, the LEGO Group prints messages on the Explore boxes letting the consumers know that the products are a part of the LEGO DUPLO Building System. The message does not have the effect the company hopes for – and sales of preschool products drop significantly. In 2004, the DUPLO brand returns to replace the Explore name as a response to the repeated feedback the company receives from consumers and retailers.
A part of the mission
The LEGO Group’s ultimate purpose is to inspire and develop children to think creatively, reason systematically and release their potential to shape their own future. As in the case of the original LEGO brick, the DUPLO brick helps children do exactly that. LEGO DUPLO continues to be the gateway to the LEGO System. The DUPLO brick allows preschool children to join the fun and experience the developmental benefits of the LEGO brick and the LEGO System in Play.